Russell Wilson Credit: Photograph by Peter Yang

Russell Wilson
Credit: Photograph by Peter Yang

Dear Michael:

I liked your recent meditation column.  Someone told me that they do “affirmations” to help them stay focused.  What are these “affirmations” and do you think they really help or are they just a bunch of new age fluff?

Curious in Downtown



Dear Curious:

Affirmations are very helpful to some people and others find them not so.  “Doing” affirmations is pretty simple: you choose statements that affirm (or support or reinforce) qualities. feeling states or emotions that you want to experience.  You can say these affirmations to yourself or out loud.  You can also record them and listen to them that way.

Many of my psychotherapy clients who have recorded their affirmations have found it helpful to listen to them when they feel confused, insecure or panicky.  They also listen to their affirmations when they have trouble falling asleep or when they wake up anxious or worried at 3AM and can’t get back to sleep.

When your worry thoughts create a negative “loop” that keeps repeating over and over in your head, affirmations are good “counter-programming”.  Other clients of mine tell me that they listen to their affirmations first thing in the morning so that they can wake up in a “positive” space.  It sure beats waking up to the death, doom and disasters you hear on the morning news!

There is nothing new about affirmations, they have been around at least as long as Andrew Carnegie and his ideas on self-improvement.  Affirmations have nothing to do with religion or any particular philosophy…you can custom-tailor them to what you want more of (or less of) at any point in time.  As your life changes, your affirmations will probably change too.

Here are some affirmations that you might use as inspiration or as a starting point (thanks to my friend Pat Dunn for most of these):

Affirmations to calm yourself down:

May I breathe peacefully and deeply.

May I rest in the breath.

May I be quiet.

May I be relaxed.

May I be still.

May I be calm.

May I be tranquil.

Affirmations to offer yourself compassion:

May I be free of sorrow.

May I be free of pain.

May I be kind to myself and others.

May I be patient with myself and others.

May I be safe and protected.

May I be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.

May I take loving care of myself.

May I forgive myself for past mistakes.

May I love myself just as I am, right now.

Affirmations to offer yourself love and kindness:

May I be filled with love.

May I be filled with kindness.

May I have mental happiness.

May I have physical happiness.

May I have ease of well-being.

May I be happy and free.

May I be peaceful.

May I be strong and healthy.

May my heart be open.

If these appeal to you, start saying them to yourself in any way you like.  I recommend writing them down and keeping them in places where you can see them when you are stressed out, e.g., keep a copy in your car (for traffic jams), at work (for bad days) and at home (ditto).  Put your favorites on post-it notes and stick them around your house and in your car.

Feel free to make up your own if these don’t resonate with you.  The object of “doing” affirmations is to affirm to yourself what you want to be the truth for you.  It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.  You’ve expected doom and disaster before (haven’t you?) and gotten it.  Why not affirm/expect happiness, peace and health and see what happens?

Some people – cynical souls that they are – say affirmations are a lie:  “I have cancer so how can I have physical happiness and health?”  Well, given your situation, why not expect as much physical well being as you can get? Why not try it and see what happens.

Give affirmations some time.  They are not an instant cure-all, but if done persistently and consistently, they often bring powerful, gradual changes.  Saying affirmations is like planting a seed: it takes a while for the seed to become a full-grown plant, it doesn’t happen overnight.  You may not feel peaceful today or even next week, but if you keep affirming “may I be peaceful”, you are likely to experience feeling more peaceful over time.

Try it and let me know how it goes for you.