What is Affirmation? (And What it isn't...)
Go ahead. Groan. Roll your eyes. Maybe pout a little and taste the cynicism lingering on your tongue.
These are all the things that I would do if I read a blog post title like "The Power of Affirmation". Even now. Even now I know very well just how powerful affirmation can be.
But first let's just throw a few buckets of cold water on the fire of cliches that could spark up following a title like this:
Affirmation hasn't changed my life, but it's greatly improved a number of things in my life.
Affirmation didn't cure me of self-doubt, I still regularly court that expletive.
Affirmation didn't remove anxiety from my life, but it did help me to make positive changes that have helped me deal with anxiety better than I used to.
Affirmation isn't going to change your life, but it could make some bad days easier, and it could be part of a bigger process that does help you.
Having a list of positive affirmations for my daily life, affirmations for when I'm experiencing anxiety or stress, and affirmations for when I am struggling with depression really have enhanced my life in many ways. And it's so so so simple...
That's why I'm writing this post.
My Experience of How Affirmation Works
In the summer of 2015, I was a very new mother. I struggled with the changes this brought to my life (which you can read about in these Motherhood Diary posts, or in this post about my experience of post-natal anxiety and depression) and found myself seeking escape in all the right-wrong places like Instagram, cake and crying in the shower.
My hours on Instagram saw me trying to find other mothers to follow so I could feel somewhat comforted by others experiencing the highs and lows of motherhood, and in doing so I stumbled upon @theyesmummum, Hollie De Cruz, a hypnobirthing expert and creator of the Yes Mum affirmation cards. As I scrolled through photos of these cards saying positive statements I immediately felt moved and encouraged and yes, positive. I started to whisper some of them out loud over the sleeping or feeding head of the baby I was holding, my sweet but demanding newborn son. "I am the best mother I can be." "Everyday I learn and grow as a mother." "Everything is going to be okay." I bought a pack and eagerly awaited their arrival.
When they came I picked out my favourites and placed them in spots around the house that I knew I'd look at in my darkest or loneliest moments - the bedside table, the bathroom mirror, on my desk next to my computer. A few months later, when I went back to work, I ordered the Boss range and they now live in my office next to other essentials like my teabags and paracetamol.
And they worked. If you define "work" as "having a positive effect on how I was feeling." They made me stop one line of (negative) thought and switch to another (positive one). They made me see things differently. They reminded me of things I'd forgotten - that I am enough. That I am doing my best. That I'm allowed to be happy. They didn't solve all my problems because chaffing nipples, backache from breastfeeding, and having no clothes to fit my still-bloated-but-not-quite-pregnant-big stomach are problems only time, better posture and lanolin cream can fix. But they helped.
I now try to practise affirmation every day, both with my Yes Mum cards and with my own collection of WriteNOW Cards, which I created specifically for writers, because yep, writers are especially good at feeling negative or downhearted about their craft. I have found creating these affirmation cards one of the most positive experiences of my life, not only because I've been staring at and repeating lots of positive statements for the last year, but I've been sharing affirmations with other writers and I know it's helping them. At the risk of going all-out gushy and gooey on you, THIS FEELS REALLY RATHER GOOD!
Definition of Affirmation
Good old Google defines affirmation as "the action or process of affirming something" and as "emotional support or encouragement." And "to affirm" means "state emphatically or publicly". There is something about an "emphatic" or "public" statement that suggests it has extra weight or meaning, and this is and should be true of affirmation. It's much more active and open and real than "thinking" something.
Practitioners and believers in affirmation are quite deliberate about stressing that any affirmation statement should be spoken out loud and it's not hard to see why when we have so many busy and wandering internal thoughts. In fact, our minds apparently have up to 60,000 thoughts a day, so you can understand why I would describe "thinking" or reading internally an affirmation as far less effective.
Stating something emphatically and/or publicly be it to the mirror, to your partner, on social media, or written in a notebook, well, that has more power and weight. This is why you affirm something positive and empowering about yourself. Give the extra weight to something that is going to boost you, soothe you or calm you. Affirm things that are true and make you feel good.
So, How Does Affirmation Work?
An article on Pyschology Today explains that "affirmation can work as it has the ability to program your mind into believing the stated concept". That's really the essence of what affirmation is and how it can work. Our brains are complex things, but we can re-train them to think and react differently to things through exercises and practice, including going from having negative to positive thoughts. It's the same but reverse logic as the science that suggests that people who complain a lot and have negative thoughts often are more miserable than those who have positive attitudes. While I'm not going to touch on how mental health problems can affect this balance - because believe me, I know only too well how this is the case - please just assume that when I talk about how affirmation works, I talk about it working in very general and simplistic terms.
While the effectiveness of affirmation really does depend on the person, the circumstances and the affirmation itself, there is a lot of evidence to support the act of making statements publicly and repeatedly having positive effects on peoples' lives from combatting depression to improving your relationships with others. I think another way to look at it is that affirmation doesn't solve problems but it can help you to solve them.
The other thing to remember is how incredibly easy and cheap affirmation is. It costs next to nothing. It takes minutes or even seconds. When you think about effort to reward ration, affirmation is a winner.
Why Affirmation is Worth Trying (Really!)
If you're not convinced on this affirmation malarkey, that's fine. But why not try it anyway? Write down a handful of positive statements - I am enough. I work hard. I feel good about myself. I have great hair. Whatever! JUST BE POSITIVE! - and start saying these to yourself either at the beginning of the day or when you need to hear it, or both! Just do it and see how it makes you feel...
And if you're a writer, or want to be, then you may want to get some of the WriteNOW Cards I created to help writers. They are specifically for people who want to write more or enjoy writing more, and have been created and designed to make you feel more confident, more focused and for want of a better expression, more in love and at peace with writing.
I'd love to hear about your own experience of affirmation, if you have any. Please do leave a comment!
Frances M. Thompson
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