There was a time a few years ago when I felt like I was ricocheting from one emotional stress to another. It was tie to dig into my arsenal of tools and apply them to myself. One of those tools was affirmations.

For those who missed the affirmations memos floating round the web, affirmations are positive statements we write or say to help us feel more positive, stay on track for our goals or even attract what we want.

I started with some big dreams. "I have paid off my mortgage" and "I am happy in every way", that kind of thing. 

Only thing was, I didn't feel inspired and motivated. I felt deflated. I didn't believe what I was affirming - in fact, they just highlighted the abyss between where my life was and the life I actually wanted.

And this is the problem. If we can't even begin to believe what we're affirming, how can it elevate our mood? If we don't believe our goal, how will we stay on track for it?

So here's when affirmations are a problem:

  • When the affirmation is such a stretch goal we feel overwhelmed instead of motivated
  • When we're in so much pain regarding the affirmation topic that it just presses on a wound and reminds us of what we don't have
  • When the affirmation is something we feel we "should" want, but deep down we don't
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    When our immediate response to the affirmation is to think of all the reasons why it isn't or can't be true
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    When for any reason, reflecting on the affirmation makes us feel uninspired, overwhelmed, depressed or even more stuck, or when our body or energy contracts in any way

How to get affirmations to work for you

You'd think I'm all "Bah, humbug" about affirmations then. But I'm not. I love them. I use them myself consistently. Since those efforts a few years ago, I studied lots of different styles for using affirmations and applied my mental health experience to understand how to use them in a way that eventually created the shifts I was looking for.

So here's what I did differently:

  • I used affirmations while moving my body. When I dragged my miserable butt walking, I listened to Erin Stutland's "Soul Stroll". I'm not an affiliate (although I totally would be!), I'm just incredibly grateful for the months when her affirmations drowned out the misery in my head. Check her out here, her Soul Stroll is available for free. Exercise creates positive effects on our mood which makes it easier to feel positive about our affirmations, the movement also provides an outlet for the negativity that may arise in response.
  • I addressed my negative responses. This is something I learnt decades ago listening to a talk by Michael Domeyko Rowland. The idea is to write down a positive affirmation, then immediately write any negative response that comes up. For example if I wrote "I am happy", my immediate response might be "I will never get what I want in life". The idea then was to address the negative beliefs that were really running the show. 
  • I chose affirmations that were large enough to inspire, but not so large that they overwhelmed me or highlighted the gap. And I choose topics that didn't feel out of reach. Russ Harris, who is a local expert on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), describes the gap between what we have and what we aspire to as a "reality slap". It really feels like a slap when reality is not showing you the life you wanted. When infertility seemed to be my fate, I realised that goals of children felt too painful to focus on, as they just highlighted what I didn't have. So instead I focused on gaols and affirmations about studying a natural medicine degree. This was something I believed I could do, so these affirmations inspired me and got me out of bed in the morning.
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    I used affirmations that made me feel happy, inspired, calm and grounded.

Those dark days seem like another lifetime now. The sting has gone from the memories. Affirmations weren't my only guide back to happiness, but they are a favourite. Have you tried affirmations? And how did you go? Let me know in the comments below.

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