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Every spiritual guru and their sister advises repeating affirmations as a way to train your brain into believing new things. One of the biggest things people struggle with is the idea of self-love, and so turn to affirmations for self-love.
The actual definition of “affirmation” is the action or process of affirming something or being affirmed, or confirming something to be true. Another definition is that “affirmations are statements that are made with confidence about a perceived truth.”
And therein lies the rub. “Perceived truth.”
When you write and repeat affirmations, you have to believe what you’re saying. They won’t do you any good (and, in fact, will work against you) if you DON’T believe them.
Let’s say you’re trying to lose weight and someone tells you to just repeat affirmations like “I’m skinny and beautiful,” or “My body is perfect,” or “I’m thin.” First of all, none of those are true, and second of all, you don’t, won’t, and can’t believe them!
When you’re crafting affirmations, you have to be intentional about them and make sure that you BELIEVE them. You can keep rewriting and evolving your affirmations as you start to believe new things about yourself, but you should never try to affirm something that you already know isn’t true. It just doesn’t work.
So how do you begin to craft affirmations for self love when you’re starting at the bottom?
Step 1: Get it Out of Your Head
Do a thought download. This is my #1 tip for solving so many problems, and that’s just because it works. Write down all the thoughts you have about yourself, both negative and positive.
And do this with a pen and paper, too. Don’t type it out on the screen. It needs to be tangible and you have to take the time to formulate what you’re going to write down. Writing it by hand forces you to slow down and really understand what you’re thinking about yourself.
Some questions to ask that will help you with this:
- What don’t I like about me?
- What DO I like about me?
- If I could change things, what would I change?
- Is there anything else?
- What do I think about my relationships?
- What do I think about me as a person?
Answer all these questions, and whatever other questions that come up when you’re writing. Ideally, you should dedicate an hour to this process if you’re doing it for the first time. There might be a lot to unpack and get out of your brain. Don’t judge yourself for how long it takes, though. All that matters is you take the time to extract all the thoughts you have about yourself and write them down.
Step 2: Analyze a Single Thought that Feels True
Review the list of thoughts you just wrote. It’s normal to feel terrible about yourself when you read through it. Nothing has gone wrong if you find yourself uncomfortable and upset. However, you don’t have time to indulge in that discomfort.
Pick one thought that feels true to you. Just one. You don’t have time to analyze all of them right now.
Once you have that thought, ask yourself how it makes you feel. Write that word down. Try to be specific, and pick just a single emotion that resonates the most when you think that thought.
Now, identify all the things you do or don’t do when you feel that emotion. Write down as many things as you can think of that come from that feeling.
In the example of wanting to lose weight, the thought that feels true could be “I will never be skinny.” The feeling could be “despair”, and the actions could be “do nothing about weight, eat comfort food, beat self up, wallow, etc.” From here, it’s easy to see that all the actions taken create the result that you’re still not skinny, and never will be.
Step 3: Find a Ladder Thought
Because you could never go from “I will never be skinny” to an affirmation of “I am skinny”, you need to find a thought or a “ladder of thoughts” to bridge the gap between them.
What could you believe right now about yourself that is slightly better or more positive than the thought that feels true? It doesn’t have to be mind-blowing. It could be as simple as “It’s possible that I could be skinny.” Even “It’s possible that I could lose one pound” counts as a ladder thought.
Ladder thoughts make it easy to find a step-by-step collection of thoughts that will take you from your current belief to something you actually WANT to believe about yourself: something you can repeat as one of your affirmations of self love.
Step 4: Practice Believing New Things
This step takes advantage of the concept of familiarity. We’re used to the things and ideas we’re familiar with. We’re comfortable with them. If we’ve always thought the things we’ve always thought about ourselves, those thoughts are familiar. They’re “safe” regardless of how much damage they actually cause.
Practicing believing new thoughts is the only way to move up the ladder of bridge thoughts from where you are now to the affirmations of self love you actually want to believe.
The first piece of this is awareness. When you recognize when you’re thinking the thought you don’t want to think anymore, it’s not useful to judge yourself and think that you shouldn’t be thinking it anymore. Be gentle. Show compassion and kindness for yourself. Acknowledge the thought, and then remind yourself that you’re not believing that thought anymore. Let it go and repeat your ladder thought.
Keep doing this for each ladder thought you have. Eventually, you’ll be affirming the truths about yourself that you believe because you’ve practiced believing them.
When we’re familiar with something, we accept it. I used to be very unfamiliar with public speaking, and therefore hated it. My experiences were nerve wracking and embarrassing. That was what was familiar. What was UNFAMILIAR was the concept that I could be adept and even comfortable with public speaking.
I joined Toastmasters, which introduced a place to BECOME FAMILIAR with public speaking, not just in a safe space, but also with regularity that fostered familiarity and helped me get used to and comfortable with public speaking.
The more you practice thinking thoughts, the more familiar they become, and the more you believe them.
Step 5: Keep Them Visible
The last step here is to keep your affirmations of self love, no matter where you are in the process, visible. Post them on your bathroom mirror. Write them on sticky notes and stick them on the edge of your computer monitors. Hang them on the fridge with a magnet. Make it your desktop or phone background. Whatever it takes, make sure that you can see them every day.
This helps build familiarity, helps keep them top of mind, and helps you continue practicing believing them.
Rinse, Repeat, Improve
Keep moving up the ladder. Believe new things about yourself not because you think you should, but because you WANT to. Repeat the process every time you want to change a thought you have about yourself. Evolve yourself to the next level of self-improvement and self-love.
It’s as simple as starting from where you are.