Look after your mind – Affirmations
The word ‘affirmation’ comes from the Latin meaning ‘to make strong’ and via Middle English with the sense of making firm. In terms of wellbeing an affirmation is a statement we repeat to ourselves and aim to achieve and live by.
Quite often in self-development books you’ll come across one of the most famous affirmations, coined by the French psychologist Émile Coué (1857-1926) – ‘Every day in every way I am getting better and better.’ Personally I find the statement to be problematical on three counts; namely that it’s vague; that it’s all encompassing; and that it can prompt what I call the doubt factor…
If I stand in front of the bathroom mirror each morning and tell myself that every day in every way I’m getting better and better I might be tempted to question it. In every way? Not playing the piano, because I don’t play the piano. Not running the four-minute mile. And so on.
Not that this invalidates the idea and effectiveness of affirmations, as long as the right techniques are used. The most powerful affirmations are –
- Present tense
- Unconditional (i.e. with no ‘buts’ or ‘except whens’ attached)
One of my personal affirmations is, ‘Every word I write is teaching me to be a better writer.’ For me this has the added benefit of turning a potential negative into a positive. If I turn out a poor piece of writing I can reflect on what went wrong and consider ways of improving it.
Another important aspect of making affirmations work is to apply the, ‘as if’ principle. By this I mean that once the statement has been constructed, act is if it was already taking effect. This might take some practice. As adults it’s easy to be cynical about pretending that something is so when we ‘know’ it isn’t. Children are more accepting. During a writing workshop I ran in a school, one boy came over to me and said, “I can’t do it.” I replied, “Well pretend you can and show me when you’ve done it.” ‘Pretend’ takes away the scary reality of the task while ‘when’ is called a presupposition of success, planting the idea that I inevitably expect him to succeed. He went away and completed the work, a clear example of the, ‘as-if’ principle in action.
So why not go ahead? Create an affirmation, pretend it’s true and congratulate yourself when it works.