Although some of you may have heard of positive affirmations, you may not be sure exactly what they are or what they can do for you.  In a nutshell, they can be an extremely powerful tool to challenge and overcome the negative beliefs that hold you back.  In this article, I explain what positive affirmations are, why they can help you, and how to implement them in a simple 3-step plan.

How Negative Beliefs Limit You

I’d like you think about an area in your life that you are struggling with.  Perhaps you’ve been unable to progress in your career, or have been trying to lose the same 10 pounds (or more) for the last several years.  It is very likely that part of what’s holding you back is a belief system that limits you.  For example, perhaps deeps down inside you believe that you don’t deserve that promotion, or that you deserve to be thinner.

The tricky thing with negative beliefs is that we are often unaware that we have them. And because they are outside of our conscious awareness, they become all the more dangerous, sneaking their way into our thoughts.  If you truly believe that you do not deserve to be happy or healthy, then you will unwittingly sabotage yourself each time you are faced with a new opportunity for growth.  Those who have tried to diet and failed many times over know how true this can be; each new attempt to lose weight results in frustration and hopelessness.

Negative beliefs work their dark magic in three ways. First, they do not allow you to progress beyond their upper limits.  You can only be as happy or healthy as your beliefs will allow you, not more.  Second, they attract people and situations that confirm them.  If you believe that you have no control over food, then each time you overeat will simply be a confirmation of that truth.  You will also attract people who reinforce your identity as an overweight person.  Third, they lead you to discount situations or behaviours that are incompatible with the negative belief.  If you manage to lose five pounds, you’ll tell yourself it’s only a matter of time until you gain them back.

The beliefs that we hold create our realities. Therefore, to change your reality you must change your beliefs.  Positive affirmations help us to just that.

How Positive Affirmations Work

A positive affirmation is an expression of your deepest desire. It is oriented towards producing an external reality that reflects your dreams, wishes and goals.  They are designed to challenge the beliefs that limit you.

Remember having to write lines on the blackboard in elementary school when you got in trouble? (I, of course, was a perfectly behaved child so I know nothing of this.) That’s exactly how positive affirmations work.  It’s likely that your negative beliefs, wherever they came from (messages given to us by others, hard lessons we learned in life, etc.), have been repeated unconsciously over and over for years.  And to replace them, new beliefs must be repeated over and over until they become just as deeply rooted.

The beauty of positive affirmations is that they can help you uncover negative beliefs you didn’t even know you had. And until they become conscious, you can’t challenge and overcome them.  You’ll see what I mean in Step 2 below.

Putting Positive Affirmations Into Action*

Be sure to put aside at least 15 minutes for this exercise.  Go somewhere quiet where you won’t be disturbed.  You’ll need to be able to concentrate fully.

1. The first step in your positive affirmation exercise is to create the affirmation itself.  The affirmation should be about the one thing that you need in your life that you are struggling to achieve.  Some examples:

* “I am the happiest and healthiest I’ve ever been.”

* “I am bounding with energy to achieve the goals I have set for myself.”

* “I have the skills and the motivation to move up in my career.”

* “I create a relationship that fulfills and nourishes me.”

Here are some guidelines to help you create an effective affirmation:

* Use positive language (“I am slim,” not “I’m not fat”)

* Use the present tense (“I am slim” not “I will be slim”)

* Focus on changes in yourself, not others

* It should force you out of your comfort zone, and be slightly on the unbelievable side (“I am bounding with energy” not “I have enough energy”)

* Keep it short

2. Next, pull out a piece of paper and divide it into two columns. On the left hand side, write out your positive affirmation over and over, line by line.  Concentrate fully on what you are doing.  Start listening very carefully to the little voices that pop up.  At first, you may not notice them, but you might be surprised at what comes up.  They’ll usually be saying something like, “I can’t,” “I don’t want to,” “I’ll never,” “Yes, but.” Don’t react to these voices, just observe them and write them down in the right hand column as they come up.  Continue writing out your affirmation until the page is full.

3. The third step involves challenging your negative beliefs. Turn your page over and again, divide it in two.  One by one, write out the negative beliefs that came up and deal with them using the 3 R’s:

* Refute them: be objective and try to find evidence that is counter to the belief.  For example, if “I’m too lazy to lose weight” comes up, look for other goals in your life that you aren’t too lazy to achieve.

* Replace them: write out the opposite, positive statement.  For example, “I don’t deserve to be thin” becomes “I, just like everyone else, deserve to be thin.”

* Run through them: by repeating the positive affirmation over and over, eventually your mind will get tired of protesting.

Do this exercise daily for 30 days and watch what happens.
You might start noticing changes almost immediately, but to get the full effect, you must give it time and be consistent.  This really does work, but if you find it difficult to get in touch with your limiting beliefs or uncover beliefs that are disturbing to you, you may want to consider reaching out to someone that can help.

* This exercise has been adapted from Lynne Grodzki’s “Building Your Ideal Private Practice.”