My thoughts on affirmations

I think affirmations have the potential to be helpful.   A positive outlook can go a long way.  Encouragement can be helpful and motivating.

I also think that positive thinking has its limits.  I have had times where I saw an affirmation card and felt discouraged because I wasn’t in a place to think that way.  I have seen quotes along the lines of that attitude is everything, that it’s a choice to be happy, if you believe it you can achieve it…and the list goes on.  I have had plenty of moments where I have rolled my eyes at those kinds of sayings and chosen to do something else to help myself.

When I was severely depressed, someone told me, “You can be having a hard time, but you can still believe in possibility.” Since my depression included feeling sucked dry of possibility, I found this hard to swallow.  I was experiencing brain fog and bouts of barely controlled crying.  It was so challenging to even put on a semblance of well-being.  I tried so hard to care.  And I did…and I didn’t.  Even words of encouragement seemed hollow and missed the point.  I wanted to feel better, and I didn’t.  I wasn’t in a place – mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically –  where I could.  Trying to “believe in possibility” at that time would’ve felt forced and wouldn’t have come from an honest place.

barrel racer cartoon

I saw a post on my Facebook feed recently about the power of thought that featured the above cartoon.  Now, how I interpret the cartoon is that the rider is hypnotizing the horse to believe that.  However, in the context if the post, it was more, “thoughts are things,” so get up every morning and say that you’re a great barrel racer (or fill in the blank) and see how it affects your confidence over time.  In the past, I have found practices like this helpful; it can be mood and confidence-boosting, but only when applied with consistently practicing the activity at hand.  I do not believe that someone can become a great barrel racer, or craftsperson, or anything, etc. by pure thought alone.

However, I could wake up every morning and say something like, “I will feel comfortable in crowds.  I am comfortable in crowds,” and I honestly don’t think I’d see much results.  I might start to believe it and go to a large event but be in denial of how much it’s affecting me and then feel absolutely exhausted afterward.   The reality is:  I have sensory processing disorder and am greatly affected by stimuli.  I am also highly introverted and tend to lose energy when I’m around groups of people.  I may be able to use coping skills and exercises that will help me be more at ease in crowds, but it is highly unlikely I ever will truly be comfortable.  In this case, I need to acknowledge my own limits and take care of myself.

There are times when I get discouraged and I check what and how I’m thinking.  Thinking I will not sell anything at a craft fair isn’t productive.  Neither is thinking that my sensory issues will prevent me from doing anything I want to do.  I will likely sell something, and I will at least learn from the experience.  My sensory issues may prevent me from doing some things, but certainly not all.  If anything, I’m living by the mantra, “just keep going.”

When I practice the Nia routine I am learning, I tell myself to keep going, even when I feel discouraged and think I will never get it.  Maybe it will take me longer than most beginners.  Maybe not.  I keep going because I love dancing and I want to teach.  It’s not necessarily about being a good dancer, although I certainly hope my technique will continue to improve.  It’s about doing something for the love of it and allowing that to create momentum.

These days, I am cautiously optimistic mixed with moments of cynicism. I try to steer myself away from believing anything blindly, and I recognize that discouragement is part of the journey.  It’s been good for me to create a positive framework while still being realistic.  I am re-forming my dreams in a way that suits me, as I am, rather than based on who (and what) I think I should aspire to be.  I do my best to validate myself for the work I am doing, and for how far I have come.  With my DBT work, I have gradually been challenging and changing the way I think, and I have found that incredibly effective for my own well-being and sense of self-worth.  Creating messages for myself also can cheer me up when my thoughts and mood spiral down.  If I do read inspirational quotes or write my own affirmations, they need to resonate with me deeply, to touch a genuine place in me.

I wrote and painted this to encourage myself.

I wrote and painted this to encourage myself.

I do not think affirmations and positive thinking are “one size fits all.”  They may not be helpful for everyone.  They may not apply in all situations.  I don’t believe they are a magical elixir, although having a dose of “I am powerful” with breakfast might help motivate someone to get out of the door in the morning or strive towards a specific goal. I would say:  if affirmations help you, go for it.  If they don’t, that’s fine, too.

One response to this post.

  1. Affirmations are certainly not a fix all magic solution. I’ve tried to use affirmation cards, I have even given them to my children, but if they’re not in the right mind-place the messages are useless. But I do believe in reinforcing positive messages and self-talk and trying to see the silver lining in the clouds. Staying positive is hard work but it’s worth the effort.


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