In the beginning. I love that as a way to start things. In the beginning isn't where this story starts though. It starts in the middle. In early September of 2006, I had an emotional collapse. I'd had this happen once before in my life (for this story, that's the beginning). That time, it took the better part of a year to get out of that place. And I got out of it in unhealthy ways.
This time, there was a lot more riding on it. My wife had given up her job to work in the home, we'd had children, and had bought a house. So I'm in hock up to my eyeballs, and lots of people are counting on me.
A lot of things led up to this collapse. It really started when I was small, I was physically abused as a child. Amongst other things, this set up a lot of patterns in how my mind worked that made it possible to get sucked into a depressive hole. And I had no clue about how to get out of it in a healthy way.
I'd happened across a number of ideas between these two episodes. I studied the neuromechanics of how the brain works. I'd studied a little psychology. Interpersonal dynamics in relationships, worked evenings and weekends with my wife doing relationship coaching for clients. Also worked in my day job programming computers. I saw parallels between how computers worked and how the brain works. I developed the idea that I could reprogram myself, if I could learn enough to figure out how. Because of my background in the sciences, I had a lot of trouble believing anything that couldn't be backed up at least by some kind of scientific reasoning, if not by scientific proof or reproducible measurements.
During this second episode, in the midst of great despair, a number of the things I'd read and studied all came together. And created a very simple way to effect the reprogramming I was looking for.
It starts with the idea that we all have a "self monolog", a set of partially verbal automatic response patterns to stimuli, both internal and external. Our automatic judgments about ourselves and others (both people and circumstances) are part of this monolog. (When learning to cultivate what the Buddhists call "the watcher" or "the observer", one develops the ability to watch this monolog.) Our "inner critic" is part of this monolog.
Some forms of depression, specifically ones which may present with an inability to be soothed, constant fear/anxiety, a reduced level of functioning in either work or social contexts, and/or the tendency to be easily triggered can be made worse by our self monolog. This does describe some of where I was at.
That if we have a central idea or group of related ideas that are predominant in our consciousness, that we will tend to notice opportunities related to those ideas, and that the thousands or millions of unconscious decisions we make every day will tend to be automatically made in a way that supports these ideas where possible, and without regard to whether these ideas are good or bad for us.
That this self monolog influences what's currently central in our consciousness.
That this self monolog is the result of thought patterns that often started early in life, are influenced by experience, and are habituated patterns that have become basically hardwired into our brains.
As the ad agencies know, the way to alter the default buying behavior, which is to say, what the monolog says about what we might elect to buy, is to inundate the mind with messages about the buying choice you want them to make.
If we can replace that monolog, we can alter our responses to the world, can have more control over those "central ideas", and perhaps to some extent can mitigate depression of the type described above. And that we can accomplish this by inundating the mind with the new messages we want to create. This leads us…
Now back to my depressive episode. It began in September of 2006, and grew steadily worse into late October, where it leveled off at a just barely functional place.
Once I'd come to the ideas above, I created a set of affirmations which were designed to alter that monolog. They are affirmations about who I am and how I respond to things, rather than about things I want to have (which is the usual way affirmations have been described in the things I've read and the workshops I have seen). These affirmations included things like "I have the emotional resilience to handle whatever life brings me".
Initially, this was a set of about 60 affirmations. I recorded my own voice speaking each affirmation in MP3 format. I set my player to random/loop, and played this all night long while I slept. The idea was to begin to "wear a new grove" into the patterns of my mind. Admittedly, I wanted this to work, so this wasn't a comprehensive proof of anything by itself.
The next day, I observed 3 different places (after the fact) where I had automatically stepped out of my usual patterns, without conscious intent to do so.
For the next several weeks, I played them at a very low level each night and most days while working on the computer for at least part of the day. I also sometimes played them while driving. I also added to the original 60 a couple of times, within a month I had 220 recorded (14 minutes overall).
Over the course of days 2 through 5, I moved from being almost nonfunctional to a return to baseline before the depressive episode began.
Starting on about day 4, as I encountered difficult situations, new affirmations just started bubbling up of their own accord. I saw this as a very good sign, as it means my inner monolog is habituating to thinking about things from that place, about how to alter the monolog to support me.
Since then, my observations of myself, as well as those around me, has been that the change has been rapid and dramatic. Old, suboptimal patterns of behavior are altering themselves in real time. I have moved from depression to baseline, and from baseline to a much more positive and effective place than I have ever been.
On the day I started writing this, my wife and I had an interaction we've had thousands of times since we met, one that's always been difficult for us both, and every time it's come out basically the same way, no matter what we've tried. This time, when it started, I almost literally heard echoes of the affirmations which were relevant to the circumstance, and the outcome was completely different and completely satisfying to us both.
In the mean time there are some basics about how to put the affirmations together that help make them optimally effective. Effective at what? Making our internal monolog support having our lives be better in whatever way we want. Each of these points is important to getting the optimal effect we're looking for. We're reprogramming our brains. Here are the most important points for getting the best effect:
This is *THE* most important piece of using affirmations to reprogram ourselves, and has little to do with the affirmations themselves, but rather how much "air time" they get in our ears and minds.
If I have an affirmation that I have ten million dollars, and I spend 10 minutes each and every day focused on this… And at the same time, I spend the other 16+ waking hours a day fretting about being in debt… That I are in debt, and that I have strong feelings about that, will be what I spend the most time thinking about. And what I spend the most time thinking about is what I'll make come true in my life. So in this example, I'd tend to remain in debt because being in debt was what I were spending the most time on.
It's very important to have most of our focus be on what we want to create. That is what enables us to see the opportunities and make the unconscious decisions that will support our dreams.
So given all that, we want to expose ourselves to our affirmations as much as possible. If you can, do what I did, record them. Play them often. Very low or with headphones if needed. As often as you possibly can for the first 60 days. That number is important because of how the brain works. The process is called habituation, and you're replacing the old habitual monolog with the new one. Habituation takes between 25 and 50 days, depending on the individual.
When I was in the car alone, I'd try to repeat them back about one second behind the recording. Speaking them out loud reinforces them. I also made time now and again to play mine when I could put my full attention on them. Listening and really tuning out the rest of the world, really absorbing them.
I also think having it be my voice that I was hearing was important, though as of now there's no proof on that. My thinking was that it's my inner voice that's creating this difficult situation, perhaps my own voice can help change it.
For the best possible effect, our affirmations should describe the person we want to be. Affirming that we have a hundred million dollars is all well and good, but if I'm not the kind of person who can use it wisely, I might well wind up gaining it, and then losing it all again. Instead of affirming to have the money, affirm that you are the kind of person who can gather and use money wisely.
Affirmations are most effective when they're stated in the positive. So, first off on this point, do not say what you don't want. So an affirmation like "I don't want to be in debt" is about you don't want. Turn it around. What is it you do want? Is it really to be debt free? Then say that: "I am debt free". Or even better, why do you want to be debt free? So there's an abundance of money for other things? If so, forget about the debt free aspect, and focus on what it is you really want: "I have a lovely home, a nice car, and I get to take Hawaiian vacations every year". Take the whole list of things you don't want, and turn each of them around in this way.
For optimal effect, affirmations should be able to be stated as "an is" (in the now) rather than as an "is becoming" (in the future). If you're idea is that you're becoming successful, you'll be affirm being on the path, and not attaining the goal. Remember that goals can be flexible, you can change them over time. Have and state the best goal you can imagine now, and be ready to revise it to an even more effective goal tomorrow. Having said all that, sometimes the best we can do is "is becoming". "I am becoming better and better at using affirmations help me direct my life." Is perfectly reasonable if your beliefs won't let you swallow "I am effective at using affirmations to create positive change in my life."
Another item for optimal effect is "Keep the affirmations about the goals, not the strategy for achieving them". As soon as we get attached to a strategy, we start losing flexibility. An example would be "I have relationships that delight me" rather than "I have delight in my current relationship". Having delight in whatever relationships you have can allow room to change the relationship if it's not the right one for you.
Your affirmations should include aspects of the you that you are right now that you wish to keep. Celebrate them! It builds the excitement mentioned above. What you're excited about you invest energy and time in. This will help you be excited about you. In addition, if you have things that are easy for you to believe in the mix, it will be easier to come to belief about the things which aren't as true right in this moment. A key piece of who you are today that you want to keep are your values. Include them in the mix. Spend the up front time to think about your values, and what you want to include. Again, it helps with the absorption of the rest of your material.
You want to go into as much detail as you can about the person you want to be. The more vivid your imagining of this person, the easier it will be to step into being them. Imagine all the breadth that this you might be. Who are they at work? With family? In a crisis? In relaxation? At balancing your life? In solving problems? In their (your) body? What do they feel in different circumstances? It's also important to forgive yourself when you don't live up to being this person. You're doing the best you can with the models that you have, cut yourself some slack. Keep trying to do better, but from a place of knowing you're doing your best. One of mine is "I am patient", another is "I forgive myself", and "when I hurt, I self soothe". Imagine a you that loves you. That forgives you. That supports you. The more detailed you go, the more affirmations you’ll have. How many is enough? Depends on how much you want to change. You might only need 10 to address some specific points. I wanted to make all of me more capable of dealing with the challenges of life: social, workplace, relationships and my relationship with myself. I wound up creating more than 500.
"I am strong", as an affirmation, is not the same as "I feel strong". It may be that you need to speak to multiple aspects of yourself. For instance, on the issue of being strong, this is what I used:
· "I know I am strong" – Addresses my Intellectual self
· "I feel strong" – Emotional self
· "my body is strong" – Physical self
· "people perceive me as strong" – Self in relationship/community
· "my spirit is strong" – Spiritual self
You may need to speak to more than one aspect of yourself. That's OK. Be aware what parts of you you're crafting this affirmation for. You may need to speak to all of them, some of them, or only one of them.
An important point about affirmations, they are not an intellectual tool. They sometimes look like they are, but really they're about creating an "emotional landscape" that supports making the dreams come true. Emotions are what drives and motivates us. We are trying to direct the energy of your feelings. People are able to imagine and achieve what the sum of all their emotional experiences tells them they can. If you look at your affirmations with dread, like just another chore, you're not going to be drawn into them. Affirmations need to create a positive, can-do kind of feeling in you. So whatever you're making an affirmation about, it needs to be something that makes you feel good. We'll go into this more later.
Preferably less than 7 words. You need to keep it sort because you want to remember it when you're not thinking about it. The shorter the affirmation is, the easier it is to remember. "I have a life I love" is much easier than "I have a life that's filled with abundance, love, energy, time, work that I love, and well behaved kids". Split it up into many rather than making it long. That said, sometimes using more words enhances the feeling of meaning in an affirmation: "I am happy, healthy, enthusiastic, fun, and connect joyfully with others" might well give you more of an emotional boost than splitting them up. Short when possible, long when necessary.
Wherever possible, the view of the improved you should include descriptions of your interactions with others. "I have abundance" is one thing, "Abundance flows to me, and through me to the benefit of all" is more effective. By including how these changes benefit others, you help insure that the people around you will also be delighted with the new you and be more supportive.
One of the tools I started using early on was affirmations that leveraged my ability to create and use affirmations. For instance: "I am an expert at changing myself for the better". This is a very deliberate item for me to include in my list. By placing this there, what I am saying is that each time I say or think on my affirmations, I am altering my beliefs about myself so that I'm more effective at making and using affirmations. Over time, instilling this belief will make it easier for me to use the affirmations for other changes I also want to make. It "potentiates" the other affirmations.
For me, I needed to hear "It's all going to be OK". Some people might need to hear "I'm safe", "I am loved", "I am smart", "The world treats me well", or anything else.
What you say outside the context of your affirmations impacts their effectiveness as well. It's a very subtle thing. If you want something, like money, but are constantly talking about how it's a bad thing, like dwelling on greed or debt, for instance, then your languaging won't support your affirmations. Another example would be saying "I envy your ability to do that" says that you don't have that ability. Saying "I admire your ability to do that" says "maybe I can do that some day". Generally, saying something is "good" is more effective than saying that it's opposite is "bad".
Now we're going to discuss, step by step, a way to put these affirmations together.
The first list is of what your values are as a person. Things like Honesty, Compassion, Work, Sharing, Relationships, Freedom, and many more. For everything in this list, you should be able to put together a sentence like "I value freedom". Whatever you value is OK.
Some common words for values:
- Self expression
Who have I been? This one involves you listing everything you can about you, good and bad. List all of these things in the past tense: "I have been trustworthy" or "I've carried hatred for my sister". Take some time on this. Really make it as complete as possible. When I did this, I left a pad of paper within easy reach, and whenever I thought of something more, I'd dash over and add it to the list.
Now write a list of everything you can think of about you. Remember, good or bad. Everything should be written in the past tense, as in "I have been a ..."
- I have been an inventor
- I have been an ADD child
- I have been a person with a talent with photography
- I have been a person with a talent with self observation
- I have been a scheming manipulator
- I have been an accomplished lover of women
- I have been a very horny person
- I have been Not A Man
- I have been a computer wiz
- I have been a handyman
- I have been a priest
- I have been an addict
- I have been a bully
- I have been a writer
- I have been a storyteller
- I have been a teacher
- I have been a strong person
- I have been a person who's good at some kinds of change
- I have been an often thoughtless person
- I have been Someone who often makes mistakes at the first time of doing something
- I have been an Autodidact (a person who self educates)
- I have been good at talking to a crowd
- I have been a comedian
- I have been an actor
- I have been a good coach
- I have been a jerk
- I have been a sex addict
- I have been in judgment of myself
- I have been in judgment of others
- I have been generous
- I have been thoughtful
- I have been thoughtless
- I have been intolerant
- I have been ambitious
- I have been lazy
- I have been driven
- I have been afraid of pain
- I have interpreted all frustration, anger, sadness, fear and depression as pain
- I have been afraid of being alone
- I have been afraid of making real change
- I have been afraid of stepping out of my comfort zone
Next, make a second list, hopefully a smaller one, of circumstances you know trigger you. Get you instantly upset:
- I have been triggered when I saw my wife talking to other men
- I have been triggered when I thought someone was telling me what to do
- I have been triggered when I thought someone was getting more than me
- I have been triggered when I was attracted to someone but didn't know how to approach them
- I have been triggered when I thought someone was telling me I was wrong
- I have been triggered when I thought my wife was asking something of me that I didn't know how to do
Keep adding to this. As many things as you can think of. The more of them you can find, the better.
Your past is the self monolog you want to change. This step is where you say what you want it to change to. This is the most important part of this process.
What you want to keep: Next, take everything on the last list that you made which is an attribute you want to keep, and copy them to the next list: What attributes you want the future you to have. As you copy those items, change their phrasing to be in the present tense. "I have been trustworthy" becomes "I am trustworthy". Next add to that list your values. This list that we're building is a description of the new you. The you you'd like to create.
What you want to change: Review the first list from step two again. What about the past you might you like to change? How can you turn that idea around? For instance, "I was someone who didn't spend enough time with their children" could become "I am someone who is a wonderful parent for my children".
How do you want to respond: How would you like this perfect you to be able to respond to the triggering situations that you listed in the last step?
What about the rest of your life: Next, think about the situations you see in your life each day. At work, at home, in relationships, in community, etc. Without worrying about how to do it, without worrying about whether it's realistic, think about how you'd like to be able to respond to those circumstances. Below are some questions you might ask yourself in the process of thinking about each of these situations.
- Who am I?
- What can I do?
- How do I respond?
- What am I drawn to?
- What feelings come up?
- How does the world treat me?
- What do I want in this circumstance?
- What do I need or want to hear from those around me?
- What is my relationship with my body?
- What are the needs of my body?
- What is my relationship with my emotional self?
- What are the needs of my emotional self?
- What is my relationship with my intellect?
- What are the needs of my intellect?
- What is my relationship with my partners and family?
- What are the needs of my partners and family?
- What is my relationship with my community?
- What are the needs of my community?
- What is my relationship with spirit?
- What are the needs of spirit?
For me, I wanted this perfect me to be more thoughtful, to not take things personally, to have the drive to do the right thing even when I might not have in the past.
Now it’s time to review your "new you" list. We discussed above the different points that help make an optimally effective affirmation. We want to review our affirmations to see that they meet these different points. Be sure to review every one of them for each of these points:
- Who you want to be, not what you want to have.
- In The Positive.
- Phrased in the now.
- Goals not strategies.
- Includes attributes you want to keep, especially including values.
- Speak To The Right You.
- "I know I am strong" – Addresses my Intellectual self
- "I feel strong" – Emotional self
- "my body is strong" – Physical self
- "people perceive me as strong" – Self in relationship/community
- "my spirit is strong" – Spiritual self
- Build Excitement.
- Keep it short - Preferably less than 7 words.
- How being this you benefits all.
- Leveraging Affirmations – at least some should be about how affirmations are effective for you.
- Include things you just need to hear.
The key to this process is to make it an automatic, habitual reaction to reach for the new definition of you. The advertising companies know how to change our habitual behavior: play the new message over and over and over and over and over. It really is the case that the more you play it, the deeper it works the messages into your brain.
For me, I used my MP3 player/recorder, along with a microphone and microphone amplifier from the local electronics chain store. This made it easy for me to record each one separately. This meant that if I screwed one up, I just do it over until I like it. It also meant I could set the reply on random. And I played it every night while I slept, while sitting at the computer, and while driving. At a very low background level.
I also took a few of my affirmations and made art to put on my walls. Really lovely photographic images with the affirmations superimposed on them. It kept it in front of me more often.
You could put notes around the house where you’ll see them often. Be creative. It helps keep it all from getting too repetitious.
Finally, play it as often as possible for at least 60 days. People will accept new patterns quickly, and if you keep doing them daily for 60 days, they will get habituated in the brain. Some people can do it in fewer days. Just about everybody can habituate it in 60 days.
Review your affirmations now and again. Are they still all relevant? For me, I needed to have some of my affirmations in a particular way to help get me out of depression. Once I’d done that, then I needed to adjust them a little, to make me more effective at work.
Over time your needs will change. Don’t keep playing out of date affirmations, that will be counterproductive.
There's something called The Law Of Attraction. I used to think this was just new age bunk. A little while back, tho, I figured out a logical reason why this works. If you constantly hold in your mind an idea or a group of related ideas, you will tend to notice opportunities and make your day to day decisions in ways that supports the idea. We make millions of decisions every day… Big things like to buy a house, but also little things like where we set our spoon down on the table. Big and little and a million ones of all sizes in between. And we see dozens of opportunities. It's not that you make a specific decision or group of decisions that support the idea, but that so many decisions and opportunities all come together and have an effect over time. What we notice in our world is either things we're programmed to notice, or things related to the ideas we're carrying. So if you have a central focus of ideas, you'll tend to make them come true eventually.
I've also learned that this can be a painful process, as beliefs and thought patterns we've been holding often have to change to accommodate the new possibilities we're trying to encompass.
Affirmations are tools to help create change in our lives. Affirmations need to be in your mind often. They can be prayers, they can be mantras, they can be notes on your bathroom mirror.
Affirmations work for some people and not for others. This is what I've seen over the course of my life. I was one of those people for whom it didn't appear to work. I didn't have a million dollars by my 30th birthday. But I did have the things I'd been excited about having. I had a loving wife, a house, a small business of my own… The things I had been affirming without even thinking about it.
From studying several different sources, including in particular the lives of myself and others for whom affirmations worked and didn't, I identified some critical aspects of how they work. And so far, they appear to work for everyone if you can follow the structures I've outlined.
The most important thing to know: Affirmations are tools. They will not give you everything you want just because you mouth the words once a day. But if you use the tools, use them consistently and to the best of your ability, you will see benefits.
The point behind a program of affirmations is to create what I call an Emotional Landscape. This means the whole emotional background of who we are. For instance, I was for a long time trying to be more connected to some of my communities, but at the same time, in my childhood, I'd had it literally beaten into me that people are dangerous. So I wanted desperately to share the connection I saw other people sharing, and at the same time, my emotional landscape, the background ideas that people are dangerous, wouldn't let me make that kind of connection.
Emotional Landscape isn't a single belief, it's the sum of everything your emotional being thinks it knows about the world. It's the filters through which we experience everything else in the world. Everyone has this. And so part of the function of affirmations is to help us design an emotional landscape which is receptive to the kinds of things we want in our lives.
If your emotional landscape is already supportive of your ideas, then affirmations tend to work very quickly and easily. If your emotional landscape is filled with blocking beliefs and other obstacles, then realizing your dreams, whatever they may be, can be much more difficult.
This term, who we are being, refers to the person we become when we have a particular emotional landscape. For example, when I was depressed, the person I was being was ineffectual, moody, lacking in energy, introverted, and generally just not able to make my world be the way I wanted it to be.
Your beliefs control your automatic responses. Jealousy is a common automatic response. There's nothing instinctive in it, and yet it often feels like it is. Cynicism is another one, one that I'm particularly familiar with.
Beliefs are important, they're there to help keep us safe. They are a key piece of the fight or flight mechanism. They often feel like they're instinct, and unchanging. They're also changeable. When you examine the judgment in a belief you can decide it's not relevant any more. This means being able to examine the thought process that leads to a reaction. For me, this most commonly happens in arguments with my spouse. I have to be able to be conscious enough to see that I'm reacting, and look at the belief.
Sometimes, there are layers of belief. I might look at my internal dialog and see that I had a belief that she was going to leave me. So I look at the past and say "well, she's still here, so that isn't valid"… But I'm still upset. Now I have to look for why, what beliefs, led me to conclude she was going to leave. If I believe that me expressing anger will make her want to leave, then that's the lower level belief.
The upshot of all this is that sometimes who we are gets in the way of who we want to be or what we want to have. Creating affirmations about being the person who can accept the affirmations we want helps shift the focus to new habits.
- I am an expert at changing myself for the better
- I am is delighted by change
- I like challenge
- I find my own center
- I am delighted by my partner's delight
- I achieve whatever I put my mind to
- My creativity contributes to others
- I am delighted by my gender
- I create abundance
- I like himself
- I am happy
By creating these kinds of affirmations, we also give ourselves something positive to hold on to in times of crisis. Each of these, if we can believe them at all, gives us strength to deal with the changes and circumstances we find hard in the world. These affirmations also help us just be more positive in general, they can improve our outlook in any circumstance.
This is actually the most important part. The affirmations about who we are. Because who we think we are feeds what we think we can have. Let me explain…
One of the points in what I said above is that we carry beliefs about everything in our world, about who we are and our relationships to everything else. These beliefs can either support or hinder the effectiveness of our affirmations. Beliefs are usually experiential learning of some sort. They're made up of:
1) An Observation – could be something you have experienced, or someone telling you of their experience. As long as you can imagine the circumstance, then you have the ability to generate a belief about it.
2) A Judgment – You judge the observation to be of emotional importance in some way, could be bad: Spiders Are Dangerous… Or good: Redheads Make Me Horny.
3) A Chemical Payload – Once you have the other two, you're now set to have a "reactive response" to the observation. A chemical payload, peptides, gets released into your bloodstream whenever you think about the observation. Some beliefs will carry a stronger payload than others.