How I Use Affirmations
And some suggestions if you would like to start, too.
If you are a browser of self-help and self-improvement books like I am, you have come across affirmations. Affirmations are statements meant to help you be more positive, treat yourself better, and improve your life. The concept is relatively simple, but the practice of using them is not.
Often, affirmations make people uncomfortable. They are tools meant to change your very nature — it makes sense that they make people uncomfortable. They are designed to take you from your little pocket of negativity and self-loathing to a place of validation, contentment, and peace.
We all want to improve ourselves, but what we don’t realize is how much work it takes. It’s not easy and it’s certainly not painless. It’s not for the weak.
How does this transformation happen? How is it supposed to work? How do you use these little phrases to help you along your journey, even when every bone in your body wants to resist and say “God that sounds stupid and ridiculous”?
I understand, I too thought the whole concept of affirmations was ridiculous. I never thought they would work for me, and when I tried using them before, they didn’t. How could little phrases really change me?
How affirmations work, in my mind.
Before we dig into logistics and the process, I think this is important to understand: your thoughts and beliefs are all little phrases and sentences too, aren’t they?
For example, when you fundamentally believe something like: “I’m not enough,” that looks like a negative “mantra” or affirmation. If you repeat it to yourself all the time, consciously or unconsciously, it will cause you to act in certain ways consistent with that belief. You might seek validation by buying makeup and new clothes all the time to validate yourself and feel like “enough.”
Or, you might believe “I’m not a good enough writer to write and publish a book.” The result? You have no book, and you might even be prohibiting yourself from getting started. You have validated your belief — you have no book.
But these kinds of unhealthy, unsustainable validations don’t get to the core of the fundamental beliefs you have about yourself. Buying makeup and clothing, or not getting started on your book are like bandaids over a gaping wound — the wound will fester.
You have to instead do something to uproot, re-direct, and change your fundamental beliefs. For many people, this is where affirmations come into play.
How do you get a song that is stuck in your head out of your mind?
The first thing I do is I listen to the song that’s stuck in my head. Sometimes it takes a few times, repeating it over and over again to feel at peace with it.
And then I play a new song. And I keep playing new songs until the first song reintegrates with the ocean of music in my mind.
For me, negative beliefs and affirmations work similarly. The negative belief is the song stuck in my head. I have to really learn and know that song before I can move onto a new one. I have to hear it out.
The positive affirmations are the new songs I introduce so that my mind will return to equilibrium and be at peace. It takes many new songs before a song stuck in my head will release itself, sometimes. It’s the same way with affirmations — it can take many of them, and lots of hard work, for me to change my mind about a fundamental belief I have been holding onto over time.
The Logistics and the Process
I am going to describe what works for me. I recognize, though, that what works for me, might not work for you. There are many ways to use affirmations that I do not do, including but not limited to:
- Saying affirmations out loud
- Choosing many affirmations to use at one time
- Listening to a voice recording of affirmations
- Drawing pictures of affirmations
- Displaying affirmations around your house or work area
I’m not saying that these tactics don’t work — I know for many people they do. But, if you do something too far out of your comfort zone, it’s unlikely that you will maintain it. You should also consider your learning style. How did you learn best in school?
For me, I like to write. I would guess you might be similar since many people who read my work are also writers. But, you might also be more of an auditory learner than I am, and would really benefit from saying affirmations out loud or listening to them on recording.
That’s great! You do you.
Affirmations really became effective for me when I started doing morning pages as part of my Artist’s Way journey.
I have not yet discussed the morning pages with much detail, though a lot has been written about the morning's pages. The morning pages and the artist’s dates are two key features of The Artist’s Way that continue from week to week, and ultimately, for the rest of your life.
The morning pages is a style of journaling.
It is meant to be a brain-dump of negativity. You dump all of your random, and negative thoughts onto the page to rid your mind of the first thing in the morning. You recognize your negative thoughts so that you can move on from them — much like recognizing that pesky song stuck in your head — and you let it all out so that you can move on with your day.
The morning pages are meant to be hand-written and are supposed to be 3 pages front and back. It’s not easy to fill those pages every day. If you run out of things to say, Cameron recommends simply writing “I have run out of things to say” or “I don’t know what else to write” over and over again until something surfaces. And it will — it always does for me.
You are supposed to do morning pages every day, without exception. It is not easy, but it can be rewarding.
While the morning pages are meant to get rid of negativity, randomness, and that feeling of being scattered, the artist’s dates are meant to fill you up again. They are meant to refill your soul with creative fuel. You are meant to take yourself, alone, on an artist date every week.
The artist’s date you do physically alone, but emotionally or metaphysically, you take your inner artist child with you.
Every person was an artist when they were a child, Cameron says since every child approaches art with wonder and without fear. It isn’t until we are told we are “not good enough” to do our art that we stop being artists. Part of creative recovery and reconnecting with that child inside of you.
The artist’s dates are meant to be fun. They are meant to be whimsical. It’s as if you are a divorced parent, and you only get to see your artist child for one day every week — wouldn’t you want to spoil her and do something wonderful? It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, but it has to be enjoyable.
For me, my affirmation practice falls somewhere between the morning pages and the artist’s dates. The morning pages hold all of my negativity. The artist’s dates show me what life might be like living in my zone of creative genius for short periods of time.
The affirmations are in-between — they are the every-day work.
How to choose an affirmation
There are a couple of tactics for choosing an affirmation that makes sense to me. The first is negating your negative thoughts or making your negative thoughts positive. It sounds much easier than it is.
If we go back to the belief that you are not a good enough writer to write and publish a book, an example of negating your negative thought might be creating the affirmation: “I am a fantastic writer and my writing is worthy of being shared with the world,” or “I will write a book and find a publisher.”
I find this affirmation strategy really challenging. In fact, I find it so challenging that I avoid doing it. To me, it feels like looking directly into the sun. It’s just too much and too direct. I can never get the affirmation to really stick and become my truth, and it makes me feel defeated.
My preference for choosing an affirmation is a bit different. In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron lists 20 or so affirmations for blocked creatives. Some examples of these include:
- I am willing to create.
- I am allowed to nurture my artist.
- I am willing to experience my creative energy.
- Creativity is the creator’s will for me.
To choose my affirmation, I go to the page where all of Cameron’s suggested affirmations are, I close my eyes, and I chose the one that my finger lands upon.
Yes, this might seem silly. But, choosing my affirmations in this way has been extremely powerful and effective for me. I suspect it’s because of synchronicity.
Synchronicity is a concept that Cameron draws upon, but was originally construed by psychologist Carl Jung, a contemporary of Sigmund Freud. Cameron says that a loose definition of synchronicity is “a fortuitous intermeshing of event.” Synchronicity often feels like a fortunate coincidence — the universe lining up in your favor.
By choosing my affirmation by chance with my eyes closed, I believe I am allowing the opportunity for synchronicity into my life. I am giving over some control to the universe to guide me to the lesson I need to learn. It is exciting, and it hasn’t failed me yet.
For example, last week I selected “I am willing to create.” I discovered a random splinter of silver metal that came out of my finger, and it inspired one of my most recent poems, Silver. Last week, I took risks. I wrote my first sonnet and published it here on Medium. All because despite my limitations, I was willing to create.
Working with the affirmation
Once I have selected the affirmation, I keep the same one for an entire week. I feel like a week is the perfect amount of time for me to work with an affirmation. The affirmation sinks in and has enough time for me to really process it, and work through it a bit.
I work with only one affirmation at a time — each one gets my undivided attention.
After I complete my morning pages, I write my affirmation 10 times, as you can see in my featured image.
That is a page from my morning pages book — the rest of the content in my morning pages is super-secret, super private stuff that isn’t meant to be shared with anyone. But here, I wanted to show exactly how I use my affirmations every day, and show you I’m not just talking the talk, I am very much walking the walk.
When I do my morning pages and affirmations, I turn my phone onto airplane mode. No one can bother me, and I can’t be distracted by whatever is going on in my life. Everything can wait for the half an hour it takes for me to work on myself each day. I’m worth it.
For those of you doing morning pages or thinking about doing them, using affirmations in this way is powerful. I often reflect on my affirmation in my morning pages. It can certainly help when I feel like I’m running out of things to say.
Even if you don’t want to do morning pages, selecting and writing an affirmation out each week will still be powerful, and potentially life-altering.
Don’t have The Artist’s Way book? No problem! You can google “affirmations” and tons of articles will appear with affirmations you can use. You could even copy and paste the ones that speak to you into a word document, and select from there.
I recognize that my method is not for everyone. I also recognize that affirmations are not for everyone. Until recently, I was one of those people — I did not think affirmations were for me, at all.
I couldn’t stick to them. I couldn’t relate to them. They wouldn’t jump into my head like a bad song from the 80s, or negative self-talk, can.
But, I felt like I needed to figure it out for myself. Too many people told me about how affirmations changed their lives. I knew I needed to make changes, too. I wanted affirmations to work for me, I just didn’t know how when they had never worked before.
It’s a slow process, but each and every day I try to show myself patience and compassion. I’m not perfect, and I never will be, but I love myself a little more every day. And I owe a lot of that to the work I have put in with my affirmations.
Want to know more about The Artist’s Way? Are you interested in joining a book group to read it? Feel free to comment below or reach out to me. We will be starting our next book series in January 2020! I will be sharing more information very soon.
Sam Kimberle is a Writer, Poet and Artist. Her primary creative mediums are words and clay. She received her B.A. from Dickinson College in Religion and Philosophy, M.A. from Temple University in Comparative Religion, and J.D. from the University of Baltimore School of Law. Instagram: Sam Kimberle, Facebook: Sam Kimberle, Writer Creative Entrepreneur