The word "affirmation" gets thrown around a lot in spiritual circles (especially in the context of mantras). What does it actually mean, and how do you practice it? In the dictionary, it’s simple; it’s just something that you are declaring it to be true. It is usually a sentence or phrase that you repeat regularly to make a formal declaration to yourself and the universe of your intention for it to be the truth. Is it a simple placebo designed to "fool yourself"? That’s what some argue, but believers see it as a way to hold to a vision of what they know can be true, and a special way to practice self-care.
Never fear, you aren’t just chanting things to no one particular! Affirmations are thought to work scientifically because humans have a thing called a Reticular Activating System (RAS) in their brains. This is like a filter that lets in information that we need and filters out information that we don’t. If we didn’t have this system, we would be bombarded with so much information that our senses would overload, and we would go into massive overwhelm. Instead, our brain registers what matters to us based on our goals, needs, interests, and desires.
When you say an affirmation over and over again, it affects your brain on a very specific level. One thing that happens is that it sends a very clear message to your RAS that this is important to you. When you do that, it gets busy noticing ways to help you achieve your goals. If ideal weight is your emphasis, you will suddenly begin to see every gym and weight loss product. If money is your goal, investment and earning opportunities will move to the forefront of your awareness. In essence, the affirmation can kick your creativity into high gear.
The other way affirmations work is to create dynamic tension in our beings (the good, motivational kind instead of the cortisol-stressed kind). If the affirmation is at a higher vibration than what I perceive the truth to be, the dynamic tension is uncomfortable. For instance, if you try affirming, "I am joyfully and healthfully able to run 5 miles," when in actuality you can only get 2 miles in your, a painful and obvious incongruence is felt between your perception of the truth and what you’re saying. Since this is uncomfortable, we want to rid ourselves of the tension. There are only two ways to do that: one is to stop saying the affirmation; the other is to raise the bar on reality by making the affirmation and reality match. You can keep the affirmation up as a discipline, so the only thing left is option 2.
There is a definite way to make your affirmation more effective. First, determine what kind of transformation you want to bring about in yourself—a goal or intention. Another way is to determine what quality, attitude, value, or characteristic you want to remind yourself of or develop in yourself. Second, if it fits, add an emotion to the mix or a word that quantifies the statement. This brings it closer to your heart.
How long should you keep at it? Well, 21 days of repetition is the most-held standard for an affirmation to make its mark on your psyche, so aim to keep your affirmation going for at least a month. It won’t start off easily. In the beginning, you will have to consciously choose to repeat your affirmations. If you repeat them at every opportunity, they will begin to replace the negative mind banter that takes over when we are not monitoring our thoughts. See if you can make the dynamic tension go away by making your words and reality match.
Need a few affirmations as starting points? Try these, and keep track of the "before" and "after" to be amazed by the results:
I am the architect of my life; I build its foundation and choose its contents.
Today, I am brimming with energy and overflowing with joy.
My body is healthy; my mind is brilliant; my soul is tranquil.
I am superior to negative thoughts and low actions.
I have been given endless talents which I begin to utilize today.
I forgive those who have harmed me in my past and peacefully detach from them.
A river of compassion washes away my anger and replaces it with love.
I am guided in my every step by Spirit who leads me towards what I must know and do.
(If you're in a relationship) My relationship/marriage is becoming stronger, deeper, and more stable each day.
I possess the qualities needed to be extremely successful.