Are you that person who would never read a self-help book because it came from “that” section of the bookstore that you would never get caught dead in – the area 54 section where only airy fairy folk hang out? Are you too scientific, rational, and intelligent to ever spend time thinking about relaxation, meditation, or positive affirmation, much less waste time practicing something that crazy? You're not the only one.
At the round table, we can all agree that in Western society we are very good at affirming our weaknesses with inner rebukes and insults that range from critiquing our ability to play tennis, answer questions on Jeopardy, and/or to walk and chew gum at the same time. We can find a million ways to find fault with our appearance, intellect, ability, achievement, and skills but can hardly come with a list of 10 things that we are good at. When we consider the habits that we have formed of belittling our actions and performance, and rarely allowing ourselves to praise our achievements, then perhaps some help in the form of affirmations is in order. However, it doesn’t mean that you lack self-confidence or engage in self-abuse to recognize the possible benefits of positive affirmation.
Affirmations, when understood and used properly, can be powerful in helping even the most rational, calm student move forward toward their goals and better performance. I am not talking about buying rocks with “hope” and “peace” painted on them or wearing a necklace with letters that spell out “love” in pink candy, although there is nothing wrong with that (Friends disclaimer). Instead, I am referring to a strong positive statement that describes something that you want to help you move forward. Think about it. An effective affirmation is a short, simple statement that clearly states what you want and helps you focus your energy in that direction. It could be “I am going to ace my class,” “I fully enjoy my medical school experience,” “I am the best student doctor I can be,” “I have all the answers I need today.” Or it could be, “I am going to stay one day ahead of my lectures in this class” or “I am going to help Mr. Demanding-more-pain-medication learn how to do relaxation today.”
Change Intention Into Action
A strong affirmation puts intention and expectation into effect. You do not just hope or wish for something to happen, you intend to act on it. You are determined to act on your intention. With the repetition of your affirmation, seeing it and saying it every day, letting it become your mantra, you become focused on your intention. From here, it becomes an expectation for you. An expectation for success. And indeed, you will find that you will see yourself taking steps toward that goal and come to expect it.
Ok, are you lost? Are you nay saying already? Let’s think about it. If you see a flea on your leg, what happens? After you catch it, scream, and flush it, don’t you start itching all over, expecting that there are 10 other fleas on you somewhere else? Then you start looking through your bedding and your carpet and your doggy suddenly isn’t as cuddly as he was 10 minutes ago? Here go the expectations… And perhaps the intention and plans of getting rid of the millions of fleas and perhaps the dog all because you found one flea on your leg that probably came in on your pants from the parking lot. So let’s turn it around to work FOR you in a more positive direction.
As a friend of mine completed her doctoral work, she wanted very much to share her thoughts and expertise by writing a book while juggling a busy private practice. To make it to her goal of completing her book, a daily message to herself of “my road to happiness is sharing my story” helped her finish and publish her manuscript now known as The Power of Your Belief System. The words didn’t just flow out, but linking her contentment with completion of a goal that she had wanted for so long set her intentions and expectations for the day to think about, organize, research, and write her book. She never doubted that she would complete her book.
To make an affirmation work for you:
1. Make it short, to the point, and simple
2. Keep it positive
3. Believe it is possible – very important
4. Write, repeat it, put it where you can see it
5. Celebrate it
6. Really, really want it
7. Make it fun, catchy, or inspirational
8. Take a step toward making it happen
A successful affirmation requires action. You have to take steps toward your goal so you can see yourself make it happen. Then it becomes self-fulfilling prophecy. However, when you have a setback, belief in your affirmation keeps you moving forward. The expectation that the outcome will occur has a potent effect on the outcome. This anticipation of certain outcomes has some unusual effects on our brains that we can use to our advantage. As published in the esteemed Science journal in 2004, two research studies showed that when subjects were exposed to a painful experience while using a placebo cream, they felt less pain. One study used an electric current to induce pain and the other used heat. In both studies, the subjects reported feeling less pain when an ordinary cream with no analgesic properties was applied to their wrists. The mere expectation of a positive outcome resulted in greater blood flow to the prefrontal lobe of the brain which is associated with planning and anticipation. They felt less pain because they expected to feel less. Could we then make the leap that pleasant feelings will arise if we have the expectation that they will occur? Can the power of positive affirming thoughts successfully helping you achieve a goal really be so farfetched? Is creating an affirmation that is meaningful to you to help you anticipate and create action toward that goal really so “out there”?
Maybe what is most important is figuring out what is most important to you and then creating an affirmation that attends to that. If you have an affirmation for everything in your life, it becomes white noise.
Perhaps the most effective affirmation occurs once it is internalized, past the point where it feels like a goal. When it becomes a part of your belief in yourself.
Placebo-Induced Changes in fMRI in the Anticipation and Experience of Pain
By Wager, et al., Science 20 February 2004: 1162-1167.