By Larry Smith, CAS
“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.” — Henry David Thoreau
Affirmations: Webster’s Dictionary definition:
1) The act of affirming; something affirmed; a positive assertion
2) A solemn declaration made under penalties of perjury by a person who declines taking an oath.
The context of the word affirmation best fitting to this article is, “a positive assertion.” Affirmations, as they apply to people in recovery, are used to change negative, self-serving and egotistical thoughts. Affirmations are useful in the process of fixing broken belief systems. They can be in the form of a vow or simply a positive statement about yourself. Affirmations are verbalized self-talk that, when repeated, actually changes your brain chemistry, thus changing your mindset. Over time, affirmations can become reality.
Why do we need affirmations?
Many people in recovery have a warped sense of perception. Somewhere along the line, whether it was from our parents, our schools systems or our peers, we started believing we didn’t measure up. It is believed that more than 90 percent of all human thoughts are negative. Adding negative thinking to low self-esteem creates a feeling of unworthiness. Feeling unworthy is rocket fuel for addiction.
Watching the tube and listening to the “talking heads”, we could all easily perceive that the world is an awful and wicked place. Over time, we all internalize our environments. This is why I constantly point out to people in recovery, that we are 100 percent responsible for our actions and our thoughts. Therefore, we need to make decisions about what we will allow to penetrate our minds.
Affirmations, if used properly and regularly, will change negative thoughts about yourself into a self-enhancing, more accurate perception of your self-worth. Authentic affirmation will help us on our journey to peace, love and serenity. Not all affirmations are created equal, however. I have heard many affirmations that I believe make actually be damaging for people in recovery.
The fact is, affirmations work. This can become problematic when making the wrong affirmations, which tends to lead to disappointments, loss of faith and loss of hope. You may ask, “What could be so controversial about something as simple as making an affirmation?” First, let’s discuss the dos when creating your affirmations.
Recovering people should consider these guidelines:
• Affirmations should be stated in a positive tone. Instead of saying, “I am not going to drink or use drugs ever again” (which includes many negative words), say, “I will be sober today.” These words are positive, realistic and achievable.
• Less is usually better. This means that concise positive assertions are initially more effective than long, puffed-up statements. Affirmations such as, “I am honest”; “I am loving”; and “I live in abundance” are easy to use. Many effective, concise affirmations start by saying, “I am…” and fill in the blank.
• Use affirmations often. I recommend daily, and, if possible, as part of your morning meditation. Affirmations also work well when you are under stress to prevent negative and destructive self-talk.
• Update your affirmation list often. You can add, subtract and change the wording of your affirmations as you see fit, always remembering that it is the repetition that actually changes your brain’s neurochemistry.
• Counteract the negatives in your past. Let’s say your parents constantly said to you, “You are lazy”, and maybe it was true. Maybe you were lazy, or maybe their standards of ambition were unrealistic. What is important is that now you say over and over, “I am ambitious.” And if you are not presently ambitious, it doesn’t matter, as long as you wish to become ambitious.
• Add the word really. To emphasize good traits you are known for, use the word really in the affirmations. “I am really a good listener”, and “I am really a loyal friend” are good examples. Remember Stuart Smalley (aka, Al Franken) from Saturday Night Live? “I am good enough, I am smart enough and doggone it, people like me.” The character was hilarious, and the point was well taken. Affirmations alone will not make you “whole” (Greek for sanity), but used correctly and repeatedly can make a real difference to your self-esteem.
Here’s where I step on some toes. I suggest you do not use the following slogans or similar statements as affirmations:
• I’m the best.
• I’m number one.
• I expect miracles.
• I deserve a break.
Since affirmation work really well, they need to be realistic. Prideful assertions may program you to be arrogant. These assertions indirectly compare you to others, totally missing the point intended by practicing affirmations. I believe if you were called stupid as a child or compared negatively to another sibling, a great affirmation is to say, “I am intelligent”, not “I am the smartest kid in my family.” “I am intelligent” helps you get over the myth of your stupidity, and at the same time builds your self-esteem without belittling others.
Statements such as, “I’m Number 1”, or “I’m the best” indirectly make comparisons with others and break one important rule about affirmations: Affirmations, as well as personal boundaries, should be about you and you alone. Many people, while active in their addiction, bounced between feelings of inferiority and superiority, neither of which was accurate. Recovery is about getting real.
Avoid affirmations that include expectations and entitlements.
One of the most prolific discoveries in my recovery was, the less I wanted, the less I expected, and the less I felt I deserved, the happier I became. Anytime we state, “I deserve”, we display a self-centered sense of entitlement that is not an attractive trait.
Expectations can set you up for disappointment. In recovery, we do the next-best indicated thing. We take action to help others as well as ourselves, plus we strive to be honest, open-minded and willing. These actions may produce miraculous results without the disappointments that expectations create. Acceptance is the best antidote for expectations.
Affirmations work best with action.
Some affirmations require a lot of action. If you are in poor health, consider making an affirmation: “I am healthy person”. Hopefully, this new mindset will inspire you to follow up by improving your diet, getting exercise and proper sleep.
Affirmations create a mindset that builds a foundation for change.
Examples of words to use in affirmations: “I am____”
• alert, dependable, honest and present
• attentive, enthusiastic, humble, punctual
• authentic, generous, kind, receptive
• compassionate, genuine, loving, supportive
• creative, grateful, loyal, vulnerable
More sophisticated affirmations can be derived by adding meaningful words:
• “I am wonderfully rich in consciousness.”
• “I am aware of God’s divine presence with me.”
• “I am completely at peace and totally in acceptance.”
• “I am connected with the beauty of nature.”
• “I live in abundance and prosperity.”
• “My true nature is to be of love and service to my fellow man.”
Affirmations help us change our belief systems and reinvent how we
live our lives daily. I adjust my daily affirmations to coincide with
the area of my life I am trying to improve.
Remember: The most important conversation you will ever have will be the one you have with yourself. –Unknown Author