I used to think that positive affirmations were nonsense. I’m not alone. Most of my friends truly can’t stand them. It just reminds you of the corny self-help audiotapes from the 80s and 90s.
And many of those corny affirmations are still around. The other day, I stumbled upon a picture of a sunset with this on it: “I radiate beauty, charm, and grace.” That stuff doesn’t resonate with me.
But the idea behind affirmations actually does work. There’s even a science behind it. The problem is that they have a bad rep. You just have to do it in a way that doesn’t make you cringe.
So if you’re skeptical about affirmations, this article is for you. I’ll show you how I actually use this age-old strategy to improve my life.
Affirmations are validations of your core values
Scholars define self-affirmation as a process of thinking or writing about one’s core values (Falk et al, 2015). Affirmations are positive statements that overcome negative thoughts by affirming your self-integrity.
Self-affirmations are NOT about praising yourself or telling yourself lies. It’s also a bad strategy for people who are temporarily low on self-esteem or are depressed. In those cases, false affirmations only make you feel worse.
Genuine self-affirmations serve as a reminder of what you deeply believe in, what you want to do, and what you have to do to get what you want.
Positive affirmations that work
The key to positive affirmations is this: Don’t lie to yourself. That’s all! Telling yourself things you don’t believe doesn’t help. For example, “I’m the greatest person in the world.” We can tell that to ourselves a million times, but it won’t change a thing unless we truly live by it.
Here’s a list of positive affirmations that have worked for me. Feel free to use them as inspiration. I recommend creating your own affirmations, or picking a few that are a match with your values.
1. “You’ve done it in the past, so you can do it now”
When I’m doing difficult work, like writing a book or creating a course, I can get overwhelmed during the process. But then, I think, “I’ve written a book before, so why can’t I do it again?”
You can use that for everything. If you’ve written one article, you can probably write another one, if you’ve written 100 articles, you can also write a book. And so forth. Start small and build it up.
I was talking about this concept of relying on small successes with my researcher, John. He said he does something similar: ”When I first started running as an adult, I could barely finish a 10-kilometer race. I was still halfway through and I already felt like passing out! But I finished it, even if I was among the last finishers. And though it was a difficult victory, getting that done gave me the confidence to do another 10K. Eventually, I became confident enough to do a 12K, then a 25K, then a marathon, then an ultra.”
That’s such a great example of gradual improvement. He’s now running ultra trail marathons (more than 50K on rough terrain), which is even harder.
Telling yourself, “YOU CAN DO IT” if you never did something doesn’t work. We all have an internal bullshit detector that goes off when we tell ourselves a lie. Instead, focus on things you’ve done; and get better at it.
2. “Do it today, not tomorrow”
Now and then, we feel like skipping the gym, not completing our tasks, or hitting the snooze button, etc. Everybody procrastinates. We tell ourselves excuses like, “I’ll do it tomorrow” or “I’m too tired.”
We often procrastinate because we don’t feel like doing something. There’s a word for that: Excuse.
Look, we all have the tendency to cop out when things get hard. In those times, it’s good to remind yourself everything will get harder the more you delay your tasks.
That’s why I often think of this: “Do it today, not tomorrow.”
3. “Learn to love it”
I have a tendency to rush my work because I want to get to the finish line. I like to get things done (see next affirmation). But if you always rush your work, you might overlook important details. And as a result, the quality of your work will suffer.
If you can recognize yourself in that, remind yourself to also love the process. It’s important to have goals and to finish projects. But it’s also important to enjoy your work. After all, you’re spending a lot of time working.
So you better learn to love it.
4. “Get it done and move on”
When I’m working on boring or mundane tasks like paying bills, cleaning my apartment, buying groceries, you name it, I tell myself to get it done and move on. I know that Buddhist monks tell you to enjoy doing the dishes, but that’s just not me.
I love being more present, but not for that kind of stuff. I just get it done and move on to something I actually enjoy. We have to do many things we don’t like. You don’t have to enjoy everything. Just do it and get on with your life.
5. “Almost there! Almost there!”
In everything we do, there’s always that point when we’re about to give up. Let’s say you’re on a run and you want to stop because your lungs are on fire, or you’re trying to build your first business but life keeps getting in the way.
If you really want to achieve your goals, you can’t quit halfway through because it can become a habit. If we don’t do what we set out to do, we often feel disappointed. It’s a terrible cycle.
Telling yourself you’re almost there can help you to keep pushing forward and become a finisher, someone who does what they say.
6. “So what?!”
I love this one. It’s so blunt, which makes it effective.
- “I’m tired.”
- “So and so said bad things about me.”
- “But there are already a million blogs on this topic.”
And literally every other minor thing in life… The answer is: So what?! Honestly, why do we even care about so much nonsense? Life is already hard enough, so don’t make it harder by taking everything so seriously. Just say “so what” more often.
7. “Let’s go”
You’re getting ready to work out, but it’s raining and you don’t feel like getting in your car to drive to the gym, and you say, “Maybe I’ll go some other time.” Or you’re about to launch your online business, and you’ve done everything to prepare, but you’re scared to publish your website.
When this happens, remind yourself that the only way out is through. When you’ve put in the work, it’s time to go. No need to overthink things and trying to be perfect. Stop hesitating, tell yourself, “Let’s go,” and just go.
Focus on the work
Self-affirmations are all about reminding yourself about your core values. It’s not about tricking yourself into becoming more self-confident. Most of us are too skeptical for that anyway. But all of this stuff remains connected. Are you self-confident because you use self-affirmations or is it the other way around?
No one knows exactly because humans are complex. The goal is to find a way to remind yourself of who you are and what you want. Without those reminders, we fall back on our bad habits. Ultimately, that’s what you want to avoid.