When many people of my generation hear the word "Affirmations" they immediately think of the SNL skit by Al Franken. You may remember "Stuart Smalley" and his highly positive self-statements. 

I do love Stuart Smalley and the comedy of Al Franken, but affirmations are a serious tool! They can be extremely effective and improve your overall psychological health! They are positive statements which you listen to or say repeatedly. Over time, just like a catchy jingle, they start to stick with you and can help to replace negative attitudes about self and others. This was Stuart Smalley's goal but some of his affirmations are a little hard to believe if you're suffering from low self-esteem. A truly helpful affirmation is one that you can say "Yeah! That's true! I believe that!" So the key is to focus on things that ARE true--right now. I have found a wonderful treasure trove of affirmations on the internet (you can search on YouTube or just do a google search) but my favorites are recordings done by Belleruth Naparstek for Kaiser Permanente.  Here are some of her affirmations to exemplify how affirmations should be things you can believe to be true.

I know the more I can acknowledge and accept what I feel without criticism and blame, the more energy strength and focus I have.
More and more, I can allow myself to let go of worrying about things I cannot control and refocus my attention on my own inner peacefulness.
I am learning to trust my body and make good use of the information it offers me.
I know that when I can forgive myself and other for errors of the past, I allow myself to be peaceful, calm and well.

As you can see, Belleruth Naparstek uses words and phrases like "acknowledge", "accept", "allow" and "I am learning". This makes her statements believeable and therefore more helpful than Stuart Smalley's might be. If, while I'm listening to an affirmation, I'm saying "No. That's not true..." then there may be a tendency to argue or discount the statement because, clearly, its unbelieveable.

When to practice affirmations

The thing I love most about affirmations is that they're about the easiest tool to use. If you can listen, you can do them--no practice required! Go to the link above or search on YouTube or google names like "Jon Kabat Zinn" or "Shakti Gawain". As long as you're listening to affirmations (not guided imagery which is another tool I'll talk about in the coming months) you can do anything else while you're listening (drive, get dressed, eat breakfast, shower, etc.) and you will notice, most likely, that certain phrases jump out at you or stick with you more than others. You may find that you repeat some of them, or say "what did she say? I need to hear that one again." You may find that the experience is so calming and relaxing that you simply nod off to sleep if you're just listening to them at home while sitting in a comfy chair. I personally find them extremely beneficial when driving in LA traffic. The traffic is going to be bad regardless but at least it helps take the edge off my anxiety or frustration better than listening to the radio or simply thinking in my head negative things about the drivers around me.

How often to do affirmations

As Stuart Smalley told us, practicing daily affirmations is ideal. Try to listen to affirmations, or say your favorites at least once a day. If you listen while driving, as I do, you can practically guarantee twice-a-day listening which is even better! Do this for a few weeks and see  how you feel. After a few weeks you may want to try some other skills, leaving this one for a time, to return to at a later point again. You may find other favorite affirmation-leaders after you've listened to one person for a few weeks, so branch out and listen to someone else or try writing your own.

Write my own?

Yes. Its not all that difficult, really! Here's a step-by-step guide to writing your own affirmations.

1. Write down a negative belief you have. For example, "I can't do math" or "No one wants to spend time with me."

2. Write down the opposite of the belief. "I CAN do math" or "EVERYONE wants to spend time with me."

3. If you say "I don't believe that" then soften it a bit using phrases like "I am learning", "I am beginning to...", etc. So we may change the example from step 2 to read: "I am learning to do math" or "I am beginning to find more people that want to spend time with me."

4. Once you have found a statement that is MORE positive than your original negative belief but is one that you can believe, keep repeating it to yourself. Write it on a post-it note. Write it on your phone. Write it on your bathroom mirror. Write it in your math notebook. Where ever you find that you have the thought, write the replacement thought so that you can remember to replace the old thought with the new.

5. As you come to more automatically say or think the new, more positive thought, you can increase the positivity of the statement. For example: "I am learning to do math" becomes "I am good at math" until, eventually, you might get to the original restatement in step 2--"I can do math."  "No one wants to spend time with me" becomes "There are many people that want to spend time with me."

Why practice affirmations?

Affirmations are an easy way to change your negative thinking (which leads to depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem) to something if not completely positive, at least to something more neutral or realistic. This, in turn, improves self-esteem, and lowers depression and anxiety. Slight changes in our thought processes can make pretty significant changes in our feelings and behaviors. If I'm beginning to believe that I can do math, I'm more willing to keep trying to find a solution to a math problem or look more creatively for answers. If I'm willing to believe that I'm beginning to find more people that want to spend time with me, I'll be on the lookout for these people. I'll possibly try to learn to be a better conversationalist (through research or practice with a therapist). With each revision of our negative thought into a slightly more positive one, we're giving ourselves permission to do something different than we have in the past.

I encourage you to check out the link provided above and give affirmations a try. Who knows, you might even become like Stuart Smalley and truly feel: "I am good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggonit, people like me!"