I’ll let you into a secret… Cognitive Behavioural Therapists don’t really teach positive affirmations. The reason being that CBT is about finding a balanced alternative to a negative thought and is not so much about ‘thinking positive’ as some people expect.
So the idea of positive affirmations is one that hasn’t been on my radar until relatively recently.
However, the trend for positive affirmations appears to be growing and many people seem to find them helpful.
I used one myself this morning when I needed to have a difficult conversation and it was very helpful to me. If you are wondering, it was: ‘I can approach this conversation with strength and compassion’.
If I did teach positive affirmations, I would probably teach them like this:
Take small steps towards increasing positivity in your affirmations
If you currently believe ‘I am a bad person’ and your positive affirmation is ‘I am a good person’, it is probably a leap too far.
This is how people sometimes apply ‘positive thinking’ and it often doesn’t work, simply because it doesn’t feel believable. You can usually tell if you are trying to trick yourself into believing something you don’t!
Steps might include language like:
‘I am working towards believing I can be a good person’
‘Sometimes I feel like a good person’
‘I am doing the best I can to be a good person’
Make them your own
I saw a client recently who has been using positive affirmations from a list of somebody else’s affirmations. A list of affirmations or suggestions from others may give you some good ideas and help to get you started but it may ultimately be more helpful to word them in a way that is more personal to you.
The more personal you can make your positive affirmation, the more believable it is likely to be.
The more believable it is, the more helpful it is likely to be.
When you make your own, you can also make them situation specific as I did this morning. This may be of more use than something generic.
Use evidence to back them up
In CBT we use evidence for and against thoughts. When you can see that there is evidence against a negative thought, it undermines the believability of the thought.
Likewise, if you can find evidence to support a more helpful thought, it feels more believable.
So, carrying the logic forward, if you have evidence to support your positive affirmation, it is likely to feel more believable to you.
For example, if your affirmation is ‘I am a good person’ and today you did a favour for a friend or helped someone in need, the evidence fits the affirmation.
Nod… yes nod!
OK, this one is not mine. This was something I heard on the (awesome) Savvy Psychologist Podcast by Dr. Ellen Hendriksen who cited a very nifty psychological experiment. You can listen to the episode here: https://soundcloud.com/savvy-psychologist/245-3-secrets-to-beat
In a nutshell, participants were asked to test a set of headphones while listening to either positive affirmations or negative statements by either moving their heads up and down or from side to side. Afterwards, their physical performance in an exercise task was measured.
Those who ‘nodded’ to positive affirmations performed the best and those who ‘nodded’ to negative statements performed least well.
The impact of the positive affirmation was boosted by performing a physical action ‘confirming’ the statement, even though the participants were not aware that this was what they were doing!
I highly recommend that you take a listen to the Savvy Psychologist Podcast!
Dr. Hendriksen has an abundance of helpful tips on a range of issues and in my opinion, has wonderful warmth and humour.
I would love to hear your comments about positive affirmations. Do you use them? Do they work? Are you already using these tips? Do you have other tips?
Thanks for reading!
Image credit: Pixabay