Words: Caitlin Harper
I’m sure we have all heard about affirmations by now – positive phrases that you say to yourself, and somehow, magically, all the things you that want just falls into your lap. They are everywhere. But what are they exactly and do they even work?
In 2020, I started looking into affirmations to try and add a sentimental and “useful” element to my jewellery brand. To me, it was important to make pieces that have a purpose, and not just be pretty trinkets.
At the time I understood affirmations to be something positive I say to myself, and an “otherworldly” power would step in and make those things happen, but only if I said them enough and believed them enough.
I saw affirmations as an extension of manifesting and the law of attraction. To be fair I was partially right. You do have to repeat the positive things to yourself a lot and you do have to believe them.
In the simplest terms, affirmations are positive phrases or statements that can be used to challenge and change negative or unhelpful thoughts. It is as simple as that. No magic required! There have been studies done that show the brain’s neuroplasticity plays a big role in why affirmations work. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to modify, adapt and create new pathways in response to experiences. Luckily for us, our brains can’t always tell the difference between reality and imagination. The same neural pathways get activated when you are really in a situation or if you only imagine that you are. We are in control
of which pathways get formed and which ones get stronger. Saying positive affirmations to yourself often strengthens those pathways and you will start to act on those beliefs. For example: Doubting
if you are good enough or capable enough to make that career change you have been thinking about, leads to you not even applying for the job or looking at your options. But after having said to yourself “I am more than capable, and I have the confidence to do this job well”, you can act with confidence and give yourself permission to apply for jobs or even come across better in interviews. You still might not get the job, but you have a much better chance than if you didn’t apply at all.
The key to remember is that affirmations don’t work on their own. Once you have gained confidence you
still have to take the physical steps to make your goal a reality. But the great part is that these moments build on each other. The more you notice the good things, the easier it becomes to see and look for the positives. The path goes from being a tiny dirt track to being the main superhighway of your mind. The one you use to get everywhere. Every situation can now be seen in a positive light. I guess that is where the magic comes in. It feels like all the positive things are coming to you from a mythical place and that you have unlocked this magical flow of positivity. But you are just seeing the world in a different way. The good things were always there, but now you are focusing on them and noticing them a lot more.
We know it isn’t magic but rather our brains doing what they do best. Being lazy. Our brains are designed to keep us safe and to make snap decisions to achieve this goal. This leads to shortcuts being created and shortcuts can be used to our advantage. Confirmation bias can be both negative and positive but when we use affirmations we can harness it to make our subconscious brains point out, to our conscious brains, all the things that prove our affirmations correct.
Even bad things don’t feel as bad. I have become one of those annoying people who say things like “Well it
just wasn’t meant for me. My good thing just isn’t ready yet. I can wait.” It might not be 100% true, but it helps me to take the attention off what I am lacking and put it back on to what I am looking forward to. This in turn makes it easier for me to try again rather than wallow in doubt and feel defeated. In this way, positive affirmations can be a great tool to disrupt a negative thought pattern. One that you could have been telling yourself for a long time. Now for the real hard part. Building these affirmation habits from nothing. Effort is required. I’m sorry it can’t be like actual magic, just say the spell once and it is done. You do have to work at making these thoughts your automatic ones.
Annoyingly negative thoughts also often come to mind easier. This is another evolutionary adaptation. Remembering or imagining the dangerous or harmful situations we encounter through life helps us avoid them in the future and react quickly in a crisis. But that means you have to work a little harder to train your brain against negative thoughts. But, in a good way, building an actual physical practice rather than just putting these things out into the ether and hoping the universe is listening, is actually more comforting. There I go again, seeing the positive of the situation.
What affirmations to say? Well, it is all up to you. Finding affirmations that really resonate with you can be perfect. Or maybe you want to make up your own! They can be as long or as short as you want. They just have to speak to you and align with your core values. There is no point in me saying “I am an amazing leader” when I do not value leadership in myself. It is not part of who I want to be. But saying
“I am kind and I share that kindness in my work” fills me with pride and love for my talents. My confidence grows from an affirmation like that. It is a losing battle to try and use an affirmation to convince yourself ofa belief you do not hold. Affirmations can make you feel even more negative if you are not seeing the results or feel you aren’t living up to the affirmation. If you are struggling to believe what you are saying or you feel yourself rejecting the affirmation, try changing it to be more achievable. Rather than “I am a successful business owner” say “I will do my best and appreciate all the good things on my path to success”
How do you use affirmations?
Some people use them as part of their meditation practice or morning ritual. Some people use them within their yoga practice and mentally repeat them during their rest asanas. There are even affirmation apps now with customisable reminders. Saying them to a mirror and writing them in a
journal can also be very beneficial. I found having my affirmations in prominent places where I would see them often was the best for me. I have them on my wall above my desk, on stickers on my bathroom mirror, and mentally attach I them to the jewellery that I wear. Every time I put on or take off my jewellery, or even just touch it, I have that little thought “I am abundant, my life is abundant” and this has made it easier to organically remind myself of the good things in my life.
You just have to find what works for you and what is sustainable for you. You won’t see changes immediately and this can lead to you giving up. To get the rewards, it has to become a part of your lifestyle. Highways aren’t magically built in a day
Caitlin Harper is an artist and jeweller, and the owner of Distinctly Caitlin Designs
Instagram and Tiktok: @distinctlycaitlindesigns