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“The words ‘I am’ are powerful. We are declaring who we are to the universe.”—Ora Nadrich
One of the most intimate aspects of your day-to-day reality is the ongoing conversation you have with yourself. Your self-talk or internal dialogue provides a steady stream of linguistically structured thought that can help you define, evaluate, and derive meaning from your life and reality. A vital component of this internal dialogue is affirmation—declarative statements of what you believe or hold to be true.
An affirmation is a foundational means by which you create your reality, structure your worldview, and confirm your beliefs. Every day, knowingly or unknowingly, in the form of affirmations, you give your subconscious mind instructions about who you are, what you can do or be, and what your life means. These instructions have tremendous power: They can help lift you up to your full potential or keep you mired in limiting beliefs and self-sabotaging behavior.
The word affirmation literally means “to make firm.” It’s a sentence or statement that asserts that something is true. Like a mantra, an affirmation can be repeated either silently or aloud. However, whereas a mantra has no meaning and is meant to settle mental turbulence and transcend the thinking process, an affirmation is meaningful and actively programs your patterns of thought, habit, speech, and action.
Affirmations Create Neural Pathways
When you use an affirmation on a regular basis, it forms a neurological pathway that becomes more easily traveled through repetition. As neurologists like to say, neurons that fire together, wire together. What this means is that the more frequently you think a thought, the easier it becomes for that thought to take root in your mind and grow stronger.
For example, if you’re not a runner and were to say, “I am looking forward to training for and completing my first half marathon,” your mind might recoil at that statement. However, if you continued to repeat it frequently enough and under the right conditions (see below), eventually your brain would begin to form a more fluid pathway that would make the thought more acceptable. Affirmations create the mental “groove” that allows your thoughts to move more easily in the direction of your conditioning. Eventually, the affirmation seeps into your subconscious mind, from where the infinite organizing power of intention can begin to sort out all the details for manifestation.
An affirmation is essentially the declaration of a desire—a seed for manifestation that when planted and watered with attention contains all the instructions it needs to bloom into spontaneous fulfillment.
In his book The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz reminds us that “It is through the word that you manifest everything.”
With an affirmation, you’re acknowledging the power of the words you speak and consciously choose language about yourself that represents the best of what you wish to be. This notion is closely aligned to the Buddha’s teachings on right speech, or using words impeccably to bring about healing, transformation, and joy to the listener. In this case, the listener is you, and by using positive affirmations, you are reminding yourself of the wholeness and unlimited potential you carry within.
The Structure of Affirmations
Now that you understand the theory behind affirmations, it’s time to get down to the nuts and bolts of how to put their power to work for you. Let’s begin by looking at the structure of an affirmation.
- Affirmations are clear and direct declarative statements. They are expressed in no uncertain, overly wordy, or wishy-washy terms. They define the state of how you wish things to be with confidence and authority.
- Affirmations most frequently begin with the words “I am.” When you begin any statement with I am, you are sending a signal to your subconscious mind as a definition of what is. I am sets the stage for what the subtler realms of your mind will structure to be real for you. With each I am statement, your mind begins to look for evidence to confirm that belief, whether it’s true or not. Therefore, any words you place after I am need to be chosen with mindfulness and care.
- Affirmations are written and spoken in the present tense. Affirmations are not about stating what you want to happen in the future or some unspecified time. Affirmations are stated as if something is already true here and now. Your subconscious mind doesn’t operate in a future state. Stating “I am enjoying the job and career of my dreams” is more powerful than saying “I will attain the job and career of my dreams.”
- Affirmations are spoken in positive, not negative language. Your subconscious mind can’t tell the difference between positive or negative words. Therefore, affirm what you want rather than what you don’t want. Instead of saying, “I don’t want to get sick” or “I won’t fail this test,” affirm, “I am healthy and strong” and “I see myself passing this test with flying colors!”
- Affirmations with emotional leverage have more power. When you create and use an affirmation, focus on harnessing the “whys” of what you wish to accomplish. Seek an emotional driver within to supercharge your intention and use words and language that gets your juices flowing. The more your affirmations can create the feeling state that what you’re stating is already real, the more power they will have to transform your reality. The deeper you can feel the end state of an affirmation, the stronger the neural pathway it will form in your brain and mind.
Here are a few examples of positive, present-tense affirmations:
- I am healthy, happy, and strong.
- I have deep and fulfilling relationships.
- I attract abundance and prosperity in all forms.
- Success effortlessly flows into my life.
- I enjoy my work and am fulfilling my life’s purpose.
- I appreciate and love myself just as I am.
- I am compassionate and forgiving; I release all beliefs that prevent me from expressing my highest self.
When and How to Use Affirmations
You are already using affirmations all the time (often unconsciously), but to make the most of an affirmation practice, you want to have a conscious intention to create and use your self-talk for transformation in your life. Here are some suggestions for creating a conscious affirmation practice:
- Begin by dedicating some time to carefully crafting a few affirmations that you are passionate about. You can write as many as you like, but in the beginning, you may want to stick to 7–10 to keep the information manageable for your subconscious.
- Next, pick a dedicated time during which you will practice your affirmations. First thing in the morning can be an ideal time as your conscious mind is still be ramping up from sleeping. It also helps set the stage for how you want your day to go. Another option is immediately following a meditation practice. Your conscious mind is much less engaged during and right after meditation so repeating an affirmation at that time can be like dropping an intention directly into the fertile field of awareness from where it can more easily grow. No matter which time you choose, picking a consistent time and practicing with regularity will help the new patterns sink deeply into your mind.
- Consider practicing what I call Affirmation Override, which simply means using affirmations any time during the day when you experience obstacles, challenging situations, or negative self-talk that could benefit from a little uplifting internal dialogue. For example, if you forget to pay a bill and catch yourself thinking I am so scattered, or some other self-critical thought, do an Affirmation Override such as I completely love and accept myself. I am organized and enjoy getting my life in order.
Now that all the steps are in place, here’s a simple plan for making affirmations work for you.
- Find a time and space where you can focus on your affirmations without interruption or distractions.
- Start by acknowledging that your words have power, and with them, you are intentionally scripting the life you wish to lead.
- Place your awareness in the area of your heart and begin repeating each affirmation mindfully and deliberately three to five times each. Avoid mindlessly parroting your affirmations. Consciously listen to each word with the intention of letting it sink deep into your being. With each repetition, imagine the affirmation rippling out into the world from your heart center.
- Focus on generating a feeling state that what you are affirming is already true at this moment. Feel the happiness, excitement, gratitude, and other positive emotions of seeing your affirmation fulfilled.
- Conclude your practice with a moment of gratitude for your ability to be a conscious co-creator of your world.
You become the story you tell yourself. Through affirmations’ creative power lies the ability for you to author a story of unbounded happiness, love, and fulfillment. Speak your truth and watch your life transform.