Affirmations are a form of setting expectations with yourself. High expectations have a higher risk of failure, low expectations are certain to sell your true potential short. Pretty much, you are screwed no matter what.
Now that we’ve gotten the pessimism out of the way, we can talk about how to create a new truth when affirmations are so risky. Here’s the trick, pick affirmations that are universally true and create immediate emotional safety.
A lot of people use affirmations as part of the process of personal empowerment, to achieve personal goals. Goal strategists talk about the benefits of thinking about performance goals and practice or learning goals differently. If you are a beginner in the area of your goal, a performance goal is a dangerous stab in the dark that can totally mess with your ego, because you don’t have much to base expectations on. In this case, practice or learning goals are the appropriate place to start.
I am going to assume you want massive breakthroughs in your life, and that you are ready for radical change. I am going to assume you want access to success in areas you’ve hardly let yourself dream about. This means you are not an expert, and performance goals are therefore off-limits, simply because they are likely to be counter-productive at best.
Practice goals on the other hand are super-duper awesome, and there’s a lot to be excited about. Here, let’s get out our pom-poms and sexy little pleated skirts, and get ready to inspire and encourage Team Us.
When parsing the most useful affirmations I’ve used, I see four distinct types of affirmations: Attitudinal, Divine, Gratitudinal and Specific.
Attitudinal affirmations rewire your thinking about how you will succeed. How is really important. When we are breaking into new ways of thinking, it feels pretty fantastical, or like a lie. But taking a leap of faith often includes the unknown, so how can you be sure you aren’t deluding yourself with wishful thinking?
Be specific about how you will approach the problem, be vague about the what the exact solution will look like in the end.
I don’t have to know what kind of vehicle I’m going to take to the moon. I have to know what kinds of questions, actions and values are going to keep me trying for the moon. How doesn’t have to name a specific vehicle (or rocket design). It’s best to name affirmational goals around your principals of inquiry. Staying committed to high quality principles means the specifics of the vehicle are always improving.
Two of my favorite attitudinal affirmations are, “I trust myself and my process” and “I accept all the love and support in the universe.” I used to accept all kinds of crap, but now I only accept love. It’s the currency I deal in, and I simply decline all other transactions. Nothing personal.
Divine and gratitudinal affirmations are love hacks. It doesn’t matter what faith you were raised in or if you are a total heathen—it’s way too easy to feel like the universe hates you, that everything is conspiring against you. These are bad thought habits. Tweaking an old habit is easier than eradicating a bad one, so I use old bad thoughts as reminders to say the new affirmation. This way I’m not in trouble, or experiencing failure, for who I was. In fact, who I was
becomes the foundation for who I’m becoming—which is totally cool because that’s the way it’s going to be no matter what. This way there’s just a lot less self-attacking. It’s way easier to heal if you aren’t inflicting new wounds along the way.
If seeing the “divine” written here is giving you the heebee geebees and making you a little nervous that maybe I’m about to start preaching, no worries. I’m nearly 100% certain that your concept of God doesn’t match mine, not unless you’re version of God has pigtails, but that’s a story for another day. Today, all versions of God, or non-gods, accepted. Divinity in this sense is an appeal to truth and love, nothing more.
One more thing. When I talk about “you” I’m not talking about you the musician, the quarterback, the mom, the daughter, the taxi cab driver. Your identities come and go. I mean the truth, the love, and the sacredness inside of you. You are a divine spark.
My favorite divine and gratitudinal affirmations are “I am the compass by which I steer,” and “I am beloved.” “Thank you for revealing my heart’s desire to me,” and “Thank you for illuminating my next step.” Those last two are humble affirmations, which is really the best way to go about getting crazy empowered. Paradox is a wild thing. In short, human perception is limited. In long, you are an extension of all the genius of the universe. It’s confusing to live in both realities at once. These affirmations integrate an understanding of personal limitations while building self-esteem and tapping into unimaginable power beyond.
Finally, and totally saving the best for last here, are specific affirmations. Specificity is sexy because it’s so personal. Tell me whatcha want, what ya really, really want.
Usually we crave two things, to stop the pain, and whatever we think will make us happy. We are often wrong about what will make us happy, which is why being grateful for having our hearts desires revealed is so dang useful. We are going to skip affirmations about pursuing pleasure. Oh yeah baby, we are going to focus on the pain. Let’s hear it for all the masochists out there. For the rest of us, pain is isolating, and it just plain hurts.
Specific affirmations are meant to be used and thrown away, they are meant to change and grow with us. Don’t be a perfectionist in this process. No perfection needed. Just grab a pain, whichever one is bothering you most. Great. Now that you have that handy, we are going to rewrite it. It’s a little like playing the opposites game. Do your best to turn your fears upside down, and expect the opposite.
Some of my pain points were time, money, weight, feeling stuck, low self-esteem, and constant critical thoughts. Listen closely to the exact wording of your fears, and how they loop. Likely you didn’t even write this script, you learned it as a child. Now you are going to rewrite the script, cast yourself in a new role, whatever metaphor you like.
“I never have enough time, “ and, “I don’t have any money,” were like songs stuck on repeat in my head. I believed them so much I just thought it was “the truth.” When I decided to change my truth, I put a sticky note in my bedroom that said, “I have time and money.” As soon as I read that, I looked at how much time I had, or how much money I had, and I started deciding what to do with it. Extremely empowering. And more factual.
My other fears were reversed with “I have transcended old patterns. I glory in the value of my worth, and it spreads like wildfire,” “Happy, healthy, and full of glee at 143 (lbs),” and finally, “Or maybe there’s a rational explanation,” which is what I use to deflate rabidly critical thoughts about myself or others.
Your pain and your fear are the best road map you have to the shitshow you inherited, and it’s the most re-writable part of your life. None of your pain is yours alone, you didn’t create the pain you were born into. Try not shouldering the burden of finding all the solutions alone. Work with a counselor experienced in trauma and somatic work. Rewriting your truth is big magic and requires setting expectations for your future that make you the person whose trust you treasure.