Stigma is a funny thing.
It is often subtle; you can’t quite put your finger on what you are feeling. Yet there it is.
Sometimes, all you must do is say the word and feelings, emotions begin to form inside you. A switch is thrown, and your senses are activated and on alert.
See? I know you are reacting in some way to that word. I have seen it before. And it is not just me and unhelpful thinking doing my fortune telling rendition of reality. In addition, the media has made the word affirmation a word you be careful not to say in public, around people who do not know you well.
Heck, even around my trusted peers and support groups, around friends I have known for years, I have not said the word affirmation. I may not know why others feel uncomfortable around the word, but I have real world examples of ways I have heard it used that make me cautious about revealing my use of the phrase.
I remember episodes of Saturday Night Live where Stuart Smalley, aka Al Franken, spoofed the use of affirmations on national television. Those of you who have followed his political career know what happened later.
My thoughts on a daily mantra have changed over the years.
I am finding that repeating “Depression is not my boss,” and “I have depression, depression does not have me,” is helpful to me. It reminds me of what I need to pay attention to. I say them mostly when I am writing. I do not have a daily routine where I look in the mirror and say these things out loud.
But that all changed after my Chicago trip.
One of the LCSW peer advocates told stories of how she uses positive affirmations in her work. She uses the phrase, “I am a 10.” She has her clients say that three times a day, in the morning, around lunchtime, and before bed. Her experience is that for the first week, people do it, but do not get anything particularly insightful out of it.
But sometime during the second week of saying “I am a 10,” three times a day, they begin to believe it.
Her stories are a powerful reminder of how our brain works. The brain believes what we tell it and works, often behind the scenes, to do what we are thinking about.
We cannot remember where we left the car keys. We look and look and look and finally start doing something else. But our brain is still working in the background to find the keys. Often, within a few minutes, the location pops into our head. Our brain has saved us.
The idea of training our brain isn’t something new.
100 years ago, Napoleon Hill worked to learn success secrets and then shared them with the common man/woman. He reported that many of his clients had to be made “success conscious” before they could be successful. Their brains had been conditioned to see and think about all the reasons why something will NOT work.
Their brain worked behind the scenes to keep them seeing things that will not work.
Instead of focusing on success, they were focusing on avoiding failure. And guess where the brain went. It thinks you are thinking about failure, even though you are thinking of avoiding it. So, your brain finds more failure.
Computer nerds say, “garbage in, garbage out.”
Our brains will work just as hard to keep failure in front of us as it will to keep success in our path. It cannot tell the difference. Whatever we focus on, that is where our brain will go, even when we are off thinking about other things. Our brain keeps a tab open for all our projects, concerns, ideas, and worries. What a busy brain. My thought is our brain is really a supercomputer.
Affirmations are a way to program our brain to think about and work towards specific goals.
Having them couched in positive terms will yield positive results. After decades of not saying anything out loud about affirmations, I am now saying to the world, “this works for me.”
I am already feeling a bit of embarrassment and shame in announcing that.
Shouldn’t I be able to get through life without reminders? When did I ever need a reminder that I want to succeed? I am a competitive person who wants to win, to do the right thing, to be the kind of person people respect. So why would I need to say affirmations?
My thinking is they are my brain’s map to guide me.
This is new, but I believe it is how I will continue to train my mind to get me to my balanced life with depression.
Here is my list, which I copied from my friend Peter Shankman, who copied it from “The Art of Affirmations – A coloring Book for Adults and Kids
- I’m confident
- I’m growing
- I’m honest
- I’m loved
- I’m unique
- I’m reliable
- I’m funny
- I’m brave
- I’m inspirational
- My life is a wonderful adventure
- I stand up for what’s important to me
- I am a 10
So, I am back to not being afraid to say I use Affirmations, or that I believe they are helpful.
I am glad I have rediscovered the concept and have started putting it into daily practice. I am training my brain to move me towards a balanced life.
What do you tell yourself every day?