Having an Attitude of Affirmation

We’ve all heard of affirmations. As soon as I say, “you should have an attitude of affirmation,” you might already have an opinion about that. I find that many people I work with do. Where does that notion come from? Maybe you tried speaking affirmations at some point and, in your experience, they didn’t help. Let’s start with the execution of your affirmations. A common idea is much like that old SNL skit ‘Daily Affirmations with Stuart Smalley’ where he sits in front of the mirror looking at himself while he repeats, “I deserve good things. I am entitled to my share of happiness. I refuse to beat myself up. I am an attractive person. I am fun to be with. I’m going to do a terrific show today! And I’m gonna help people! Because I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggonit, people like me!” (If you need a chuckle, look up one of the videos. They’re great.) Even though Stuart Smalley might not have had it all right in his focus, verbiage, or maybe even in his execution most segments, he wasn’t 100% wrong in focusing on the possible power of personal affirmations.

I am a pretty vocal person. What I mean by that is I say what I am thinking more often than I should. A few months ago, my daughter and I were cleaning up the kitchen after a meal. I was washing dishes, and she was wiping down the counter. I had thrown all the knives in the sink with the rest of the utensils and plates. I was trying to finish quickly, not paying attention and I cut myself. The first thing that I said was, “I’m so dumb.” It was a gut reaction to a thought process I had in my head along the lines of why did I not think about the knife in the sink or wait to put it in. That dialog wasn’t me at my best. A week ago my daughter wanted me to braid her hair so she came into the living room with her brush. I asked her if she had a ponytail holder and she said (I am sure you are guessing), “I’m so dumb.” Talk about a hit in the gut. Of course, she is listening and taking hints from my words. News flash: Others around you are always listening and taking in more of your words than you realize, especially when you are a leader to them. It boils down to starting with me. What I say, even to myself, matters. It doesn’t surprise you when I say putting “I am so dumb” into my brain as an acceptable standard reaction has such a negative effect. It was easier to catch when I was worried about the negativity it could bring her than it was to catch the damage it could also do to myself. Yet, this example reminds us that the negative effect is not just on me when I am leading. The ripple effects our words can have is powerful. Man, I hope my daughter absorbs words of affirmation as easily.

So why use affirmations? Why not? According to a study done by Standford Psychologist, Dr. Claude Steele, self-affirmation decreases feelings of self-reported stress as well as cortisol levels. Listen, affirmations can decrease stress, help encourage you, motivate you to take action, increase determination, and improve happiness! Enough said. They act as personal superpowers. They help you battle your negative thoughts in the back of your brain that holds you back from being your best self. They help build confidence. They feed your brain good stuff instead of bad stuff or even no stuff at all. Just like eating healthy is better than eating junk food every day or not eating at all, affirmations make you stronger and happier. It is also worth pointing out that what you feed your brain is going to come out in your everyday life. Everything begins with your thoughts and words to yourself! I say that and you think, duh. However, how do you talk to yourself? I find that I am constantly having to battle things I say to myself that I would never say to a friend. So how do you communicate with your own head and heart? If someone who looks up to you was listening to your internal dialog, what would they hear? Honestly.

When I say affirmations, what exactly do I mean? An affirmation is a statement rooted in present-tense positivity that you say to yourself or someone else. It might be used to boost your confidence, get you motivated for something you are worried about, or words that simply reinforce positive thoughts. Nowhere does it say an affirmation is a magical potion that will solve all your problems. I can’t stand in front of the mirror affirming that I am going to be a legendary basketball player when that is something I have never been and am not currently (or ever…just so you know) working towards. Standing in front of the mirror telling myself I am going to be a legendary basketball player would be as effective as me standing in front of the mirror repeating, “I am a short person.” God made me tall, the only kind of shrinking I am going to be doing is when I take my heels off. Just like looking in the mirror and saying, “I am a millionaire” isn’t going to make it magically come true. Be real with what you are saying. If affirmations are going to work, they need to be realistic and true. NO FAKE AFFIRMATIONS.

Fake affirmations can lead you down a nasty path. Your affirmations being aligned with your actions are important. An important example of this is saying “I love myself” but then engaging in self-harm. That is cognitive dissonance, and that kind of inconsistency is damaging. That is not at all the definition of having an attitude of affirmation. That will reduce your affirmations being effective. On that note it is also worth saying, using positive affirmations to deny the situation you are in is not going to help either. You can’t “positive affirmation” yourself out of a situation you “bad choiced” yourself into. That is a misuse of an affirmation. It’s as beautiful to own up to your mistakes as it is to ask for help when you don’t need to navigate a difficult situation alone.

Now that we have talked through all those important pieces, let’s break down an approach for speaking with an attitude of affirmation.

Step #1: Flip Your Statements

How often do we approach a struggle with, “I don’t want to be a failure, so…” The words “don’t” already put negative and fear into your brain. You are already processing a worry. Instead, try flipping your statements to “I am succeeding at _____.” Find the good that is already happening and flip your statement to build you up and promote positivity. It may sound like, “I am working so hard at this exciting goal” rather than, “I am afraid I can’t accomplish this overwhelming goal.”

Step #2: Point Out the Present

It’s easy to get stuck in the overwhelming pieces of the big picture. I am not against really exciting goals. However, if you start using words like “I wish, want, or should” the goal can start to feel overwhelming. Affirm the facts with a solid “I am” statement. “I am conquering this workout” or “I am proud I showed up for this workout even though it’s a tough one” put the mind in the now, which can be more encouraging and easier to control.

Step #3: Make it Routine

This isn’t easy and can feel like one more thing if you let it, but if you are not already using affirmations to build yourself up in how you communicate with your own head and heart, then it is a new habit worth building. I challenge you to work on it until it is second nature. That might mean you schedule a time every morning, or you are intentional about your drive to work, or start conversation at the dinner table as a family with affirmations (which will honestly build that muscle for those in your circle of influence too). You can’t say some good affirmations on a Monday and feel the results of them a week later. Make it a routine.

Now might be a great time to take a second and write down a couple of affirmations that might make a great mental difference! Good luck conquering your affirmations. You’ve got this!

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