When many of us hear the term “affirmation,” we quickly dismiss it—and maybe even roll our eyes. Maybe you think affirmations are a waste of time or useless. Maybe you’re asking yourself, “what are affirmations?” Or, maybe you see affirmations like meditation: something helpful that somehow just doesn’t make it into your schedule.
But here’s the thing: Throughout the day, all of us have a running dialogue inside our minds. We’re constantly talking to ourselves about what’s currently going on, what we need to do, how we’re feeling, and where we’re falling short.
You can’t turn off this inner dialogue, so, why not make the words we tell ourselves supportive and helpful? I decided to try using affirmations for an entire month to try and make my self-talk more positive, and it proved to be an important and illuminating experience.
What Are Affirmations?
An affirmation is simply a statement that affirms or declares an intent or desire, says Rev. Connie L. Habash, author of “Awakening from Anxiety,” a psychotherapist, spiritual mentor, yoga teacher, and ecotherapist in the San Francisco Bay Area.
They are a type of positive self-talk that can take on a more structured form, but both are designed to overcome negative thought patterns.
“Affirmations give our minds a focus, like a touchstone that brings us back, again and again, to what we really want in our lives,” Habash says. Some basic examples of positive affirmations include: “I am smart,” or “I am powerful,” or “I love myself.” It’s important to note that affirmations aren’t empty, positive platitudes that deny pain or reject reality.
Affirmations speak to “something that is either true now or has the potential to be true later,” says Britt Frank, LSCSW, a psychotherapist in Kansas City and author of “The Science of Stuck: Breaking Through Inertia to Find Your Path Forward.”
Affirmations can also be referred to as mantras, but mantras are typically used during a meditation practice are are shorter, sometimes just a single word.
How to Use Affirmations
As with many self-care practices, there’s no right or wrong way to use affirmations. These are just a few ways you can incorporate affirmations into your life:
- Repeat affirmations to yourself throughout the day that match what you need in the moment.
- Start and end your day by saying your affirmation.
- Choose a monthly affirmation to focus on.
- Say your affirmation in the mirror every day.
- Fill a full page of a notebook every morning with your affirmation.
- Find a song that matches the intent of the affirmation—or create a whole playlist!
“The more you repeat your affirmation, and reinforce it over days, weeks, and months, the more powerfully it will transform your life,” says Habash.
What I Learned Doing Daily Positive Affirmations for 30 Days
As I was figuring out how to approach my affirmation-focused month, I realized that I didn’t want it to feel like another task on my to-do list. Instead of creating specific, strict rules around using affirmations, I decided to be spontaneous: to give myself what I needed in the moment.
Reflecting on it now, I wanted this trial run to feel open and flexible. Subconsciously, I was yearning for both effort and ease: the challenge of loosening my habitual grip on rigidity and the comfort of responding to my needs in real time.
What did this look like, day to day?
During a morning Zoom yoga class, when my thoughts turned to work, I’d remind myself: “It’s okay to relax right now. I don’t need to be doing anything else but this.”
In the midst of a difficult pose, when my thoughts turned negative, I’d encourage myself: “I can do this. I am powerful. I am strong.”
During a demanding work assignment, I’d nudge myself to lean into the challenge and let negative thoughts pass right by: “This is tough, and I can get through it,” “I am focused,” “I can do difficult things.”
When my brain ran a mile a minute, as it often does, especially when it feels like the whole world is burning, I’d remind myself to focus on this moment. Literally, one moment, one second in time: “I am here now. My feet are firmly planted on this floor. I am grateful for this moment.”
Over the last 30 days of using affirmations, I found myself becoming kinder in my self-talk as a whole. For starters, using affirmations helps you pay attention to what’s going on inside your mind at any given moment. And it provides an opportunity to change it, even if slightly.
During my trial month, I found myself asking more often: What thoughts am I having? What am I telling myself right now? Is it helping or hurting? How’s my self-talk affecting my actions? Is there a gentler way?
For me, using affirmations in the moment based on my needs made the process light and accessible. It felt supportive, instead of restrictive or overwhelming. It became like a compassionate, dynamic conversation with myself.
Using affirmations also provided some much-needed perspective. During a tougher day, I could acknowledge a pain-provoking situation and cultivate a grateful heart. Using gentler, kinder self-talk, I was able to hold space for both experiences.
Tips for Creating and Implementing Affirmations
Affirmations are most helpful when they’re personalized. As you’re figuring out what resonates with you, experiment with different approaches.
Below, Habash and Frank share their tips for creating authentic affirmations that actually work for you:
Take Baby Steps
If you struggling with negative self-talk and find that self-compassion is tough to muster, create a progression of positive affirmations to work through that help you reframe your thinking.
Specifically, Habash suggests:
- Start with a negative thought or belief
- Write its exact opposite
- Creat a series of statements that lead you there, step by step
For example, Habash works with many clients who believe they’re failures. Their series of affirmations might look like:
- I’m okay sometimes
- In this moment, I’m doing okay
- I’m doing well with ________
- I feel a little more successful each day
- I appreciate myself for what I’m able to do
- I feel successful in this moment
- I am successful!
Add “Also True”
“Using also-true affirmations helps my clients (and me) stay out of binary, black-and-white thinking,” says Frank.
For example, she says, you can change “Everything is terrible” to “Lots of things are going wrong right now. Things are genuinely difficult. Also true: I have people who love me who will help me with some of it.”
Display Your Affirmations
Habash suggests writing down your affirmations on sticky notes and putting them in easy-to-see places. For example, you might post your supportive words on your bathroom mirror, fridge, computer screen, or car dashboard.
“Draw images that support your affirmation [and the feeling you want to experience from it],” says Habash. “Or make a collage from magazine photos.”
Making art around your affirmation can help solidify the words within you, says Habash. “Every time you see it, the energy you put into that creation will fill you with the affirmation.”
Tap Your Support System
“Find a safe person to help support your affirmation,” says Habash. For example, your loved one can remind you of your affirmation by sending you a text or mentioning it in conversation. And you can do the same for them.
Hold Space for Multiple Realities
Life is nuanced. Use affirmations to reflect your various experiences by acknowledging current challenges, the resources you have at your disposal, and healthy actions you can take.
According to Frank, we can practically do this by creating a table with four quadrants that list:
- What you’re grateful for
- What is painful
- Resources you can turn to
- Choices you can make
Frank shares this example:
- I am grateful to have a safe place to live and enough food to eat.
- I feel pain about the way I’m being treated at work, and I have a right to my pain.
- I have access to a therapist and supportive friends who can help me.
- I can choose to set boundaries with my family.
Refocus on Right Now
Many of us struggle with focusing on the present, particularly when the future feels extra shaky or bleak. To shift your attention from worries and what-ifs, Frank suggests trying this affirmation:
“I cannot control the future, but I have choices in the present. Three choices I can make today are…..”
If spiritual words resonate with you, Frank recommends reciting the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Affirmations are supportive statements that can help us be kinder to ourselves, focus on the present moment, and make other healthy changes.
Ultimately, affirmations can create a glimmer of hope in seemingly grim moments: when we’re struggling, we feel incapable, or we can’t shake our stress.
Will I keep using affirmations?
I intend to. After all, the only person who’s constantly with me is, well, me. If I can add a few encouraging, grounding, empowering, compassionate words to my internal world, it can make a big difference in my external one. It already has.