Mind, Body, Spirit Column:
There’s more to affirmations than the Saturday Night live character Stuart Smiley shared with us. A Google search for “affirmations” returns 422,000 responses. There’s even www.affirmation.com.
Used in religious practices and self-growth programs, affirmations help many people think more positively and achieve what they want in their lives. The basic theory is you control your thoughts, and your thoughts control what you create in your life – both the good and the bad. Even simpler: What you believe, or think, is what you get.
“An affirmation is a positive thought or idea you consciously focus on in order to produce a desired result,” says Melissa Bush, an independent marriage and family therapist and life coach in Columbia.
Bush says affirmations can play an important role in “life coaching,” which she says is a relatively new approach to self-growth that involves therapy addressing specific personal goals.
“In life coaching, clients can jump start their lives through affirmations,” she says. “For example: ‘I can lose 10 pounds,’ or, ‘I will create a plan to change careers.’ There is no diagnosis or working through pain. Instead, there is a strong belief that positive change is inevitable when a plan is in place and a coach is promoting success. Each person can develop their own inner coach to encourage the successful achievement of dreams.”
Bush recommends the following steps to create healing affirmations:
Pick an area of your life that needs healing – health, work, finances, et cetera – and decide what you want to occur in that area of your life, such as a wellness plan.
Using the first person, formulate a concise statement that expresses the desired outcome. Write your affirmation in the present tense and state it positively.
Repeat your affirmation each day and share it with friends who are supportive.
In the internationally renowned book The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, author Julia Cameron uses affirmations to help people discover or recover their personal creativity. Based on 12-step programs, the book offers information and exercises. Cameron strongly believes in the power of affirmations.
“Affirmations help achieve a sense of safety and hope,” Cameron writes in the book. She goes on to say that affirmations might seem “dumb, hokey and embarrassing” when someone starts working with them because people are used to talking negatively to themselves. As a result, Cameron argues, talking positively to one’s self feels almost vain. Cameron suggests writing down such negative responses to affirmations because the responses can show what areas one needs to work on. She also suggests writing an affirmations 10 times in a row.
In that sense, affirmations are similar to another positive-thinking tool – mantras, says Michelle Gauthier, a meditation teacher at the Ganden Mahayana Buddhist Center in Columbia. “Mantra is a Sanskrit word meaning “mind protection,’” Gauthier says. “Explaining the meaning of the words in the mantra help one to focus on a topic; for example: compassion.”
Mantras are repeated silently in one's head, spoken out loud or sung formally or informally. Sometimes mantras are done in a group or class and other times on one’s own. “Repeating it over and over mixes it into your mind, protecting you from anger and hatred,” Gauthier says, adding, “It’s about changing into a more positive person, so it affects everything in your life.”
Columbia College dance professor Martha Brim uses affirmations in a different way – to provide feedback on choreography and performances. “When watching someone else’s work, it’s easy to want to change it, “ Brim says. “But as colleagues we need to help the choreographer realize their dream.”
Brim uses what’s known as “the critical response method,” which was developed in the early 1980’s by Liz Lerman, a choreographer, MacArthur Fellow and the founding artistic director of the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange Company in Takoma Park, Maryland. Lerman outlines the critical response method in her book Critical Response Process: a Method for Getting Useful Feedback on Anything You Make, from Dance to Dessert.
Brim says the method has four steps, the first of which is affirmation, requiring the audience of colleagues to look for what they like about a dancer’s piece. The other steps provide opportunities for the choreographer to be questioned about the piece and to ask questions and opinions of their audience.
Brim says she also finds affirmations helpful in a yoga class she attends. “A lot of the practice is philosophical and exploring the goodness in self and others,“ she says.
Two of the oldest and most well known books about affirmations are You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay and Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain. Both books have sold millions of copies internationally and are comfortable for readers new to the idea of affirmations.
So be careful what you think. Pick one affirmation and give it a try. There’s nothing to lose and so much to gain.