Critical thoughts are so harmful because they’re habitual, not because they’re true. Positive affirmations work because they help rewrite a story you’ve been telling yourself for years.
In the topsy-turvy life-upside-down era that is the coronavirus pandemic, mindset shifts and positive thinking are—and I cannot stress this enough—essential tools for your mental health and wellbeing.
This is exactly why I’m pointing out the power of positive affirmations.
You’ve probably at least heard of positive affirmations, right?
These are the motivational quotes sprinkled through your Instagram feed as you mindlessly scroll to zone out after a rough day. These are the helpful picker-uppers written in cursive that you pin to whatever Pinterest account eases your pandemic blues. (If you don’t have one yet, check out mine!) They’re the mantras you see online, the positive phrases written on cards you can buy in bookshops, the one-sentence positivity burst your best friend just posted in her story.
Once you look for them, positive affirmations are kind of everywhere. And for good reason: they actually work. Scientific studies back them. I back them because I see evidence of them working. I use them in my own life and encourage them in my practice as well. Why? I’m going to dive right into their power and break it all down. Hopefully, I even convert you into an avid positive affirmation user!
Your thoughts impact your mood. Affirmations are a way to plant positive thoughts.
As a mental health therapist, a huge part of my job is to help women lift their mood, bring joy back into their lives, manage overwhelm and control anxiety. Motherhood feels hard because motherhood IS hard. Motherhood is especially hard during the early days (it’s a MAJOR life change! Why wouldn’t it be?) and even more so during a global pandemic! So many women come to me asking “How do I feel better?” “How do I feel happier?” “How do I enjoy myself?”
Certainly there are times in life that call for a big change. That could be a job change, an overhaul of lifestyle habits, a change in city or in a relationship that needs to shift. That’s one thing.
Sometimes though, the day-to-day needs a little tweak or edit so that you can feel joy again or so that you can feel that your days include YOU, the things that make you happy and the things that you are personally interested in.
“The way that your thoughts work and how they impact you is at the core of why we use affirmations.”
When examining the day-to-day stress, anxiety or just overall dissatisfaction, your thoughts are the perfect starting point. The way that your thoughts work and how they impact you is at the core of why we use affirmations. This is because your thoughts directly impact your mood, your emotions, your feelings and also your physical self. Sometimes as a result, those thoughts can have a major influence on your day.
Not quite convinced?
OK. Try this: imagine a food or drink that you really love. As you’re picturing that margarita pizza or strawberry cheesecake or whatever it may be, pay attention to how you feel physically. Does anything change? Maybe your mouth starts watering! That right there is an example that illustrates how a thought can have power over you in a physical sense.
The same things happen with emotions. Our thoughts come first (a memory, our reaction to a movie we’re watching or even a song we’re listening to) and then an emotional response comes right afterwards.
See where I’m going with this? A positive affirmation or mantra can be that “thought” triggering the good mood and positive associations that follow.
Once we understand the thought to emotional response connection, we can start to influence our feelings.
Once it clicks that your thoughts often dictate whether you feel happy or sad, you can also understand that you have the power to influence this whole connection. That’s an incredibly good piece of news.
How do you want to feel? A really common element of thought work that many women in particular find useful is self compassion.
Are you someone who is really hard on yourself? How many times a day are you coming down on yourself or beating yourself up? That pattern is something you can shift. If you want to feel lighter, and happier and at ease in your life, you can shift your thinking.
Sounds easier said than done, right? I have a metaphor to help with that.
Enter the forest metaphor.
To understand how we can create new thoughts that resonate, picture for a moment what it’s like to walk through a forest on a well-groomed trail. It’s easy to walk on, it’s a well trodden pathway, it’s a walkway that has been taken time and time again.
Thoughts that we gravitate towards or that feel almost automatic are like that well-groomed, highly travelled trail. When you think something over and over again, it’s just like wearing a path through a thick forest. Eventually, it becomes that well-groomed trail that is so easy to walk on especially compared to the surrounding untouched landscape. Now, if you went hiking in that particular forest, you’re going to take the path of least resistance. Think about it: why would you even attempt to hack your way through the bush when you have a much simpler option right in front of you?
Even if we have recurring thoughts that have absolutely no use or positive purpose, we can think them so frequently that they carve that path—a wellllll beaten one! Your brain then becomes like you hiking through that forest: it takes the path of least resistance and automatically goes down that road.
This is exactly why establishing new thoughts takes so much work. These new thoughts are competing with that established, well-groomed trail. Think about that forest: carving a new path through all that bush takes so much work and effort in the same way that establishing new thinking patterns does.
Knowing all of this, why don’t you examine some of your own negative thought patterns. What is a critical thought that you often gravitate towards that doesn’t serve you? It could be something like “I’m a bad mom.” “I’m always so overwhelmed.” “I’m a bad partner.” or “I’m so boring, nobody likes me.” It’s so common that people carry these kinds of thoughts for years and years.
Critical thoughts are hard to let go of because they’re habitual, not because they’re true.
If you want to create a new thought, give your brain something to go on. When you catch yourself drifting to that original critical thought, give it an alternative or a replacement to think of instead. For example, those could be “I’m a great mom and I’m doing my best.” “I provide my kids with everything that they need.”
When the replacement thought doesn’t feel true…
Oftentimes, the new thought or affirmation won’t feel true at first. That’s OK and that’s totally understandable. You’re in the early stages of rewriting a story that you’ve told yourself for years so it makes sense that you won’t always believe the counter-statement right away. It might even feel phoney. That doesn’t matter. That’s not the point.
The purpose is that you are laying the foundation for your brain to take a new pathway. You’re starting to carve out that new trail to replace the old one! So, when you use an affirmation, it might work right off the bat, it might not. What the affirmation is doing though, is it’s giving your brain a new direction. It’s giving your mind another possibility.
Some of the affirmations that I created specifically for mothers can be found here. The reason why I created these cards is because I believe in their power and because I wanted to support mothers to have self-compassion. It IS acceptable to carve out time for self care and give yourself your own love and attention.
How to use Affirmation Cards:
There are no rules with affirmation cards, just try out different ways to use them and see what fits best for you. Here are some things I do:
1. Intentionally pull one card each day.
I like to keep a pile on my desk and each morning, I flip them over so I can’t see, and then I choose one card to give me a morning message. You might choose one card for the week and focus on that message.
2. Tuck them in your purse, desk, post them on your fridge.
It’s fun to find them when you’re not expecting it. Maybe you have a favourite card that seems to deliver the exact message you want to hear – in that case, I leave that card out in plain sight!
3. Have them available to you on a regular basis.
When we use these on a daily basis, they have a positive impact on our thought habits, our self confidence, our belief systems and our mood.
I also believe that when self care and working on ourselves starts to feel like a huge thing to add to an already overburdened schedule, we become overwhelmed.
So start small.
Affirmations are so simple, they’re effective and they will help you achieve your overall goal of feeling happier and more at ease in your day-to-day life.
I’d love to hear what you notice when you start using affirmations! Feel free to share, get in touch, or leave a comment letting me know your experiences.