We are stories we tell ourselves. Sometimes these stories are positive and build us up, other times they are negative and break us down. Every human being has thoughts, feelings and the ability to either connect those two things together or to keep them separate. When our thoughts are dark and moody our feelings may follow leading to sadness and depression. When our thoughts are positive our emotions may follow and we begin to feel upbeat and optimistic.
Let’s take a moment and think about a car. What does a car need in order to operate? Fuel. What sort of fuel does it need? A kind that powers you up, helps you perform better, go faster, get better distance or run cleaner.. How much fuel does a car need to operate? Enough to make the car get from where it is to where it needs to be. How do we know if a car has enough fuel or not? We read the fuel gauge – the amount of fuel in the car can be anywhere between empty and full.
Similar to cars and vehicles our brains are fuelled by our thoughts. Our thoughts can create a positive and well performing system or they can make us feel sluggish and we may perform far less than our best. Thoughts happen all the time inside our brains. Our thoughts make our blood pump, lungs move, ears hear or eyes see. Our thoughts fuel the vehicle that is our human body. Our thoughts also fuel our psychological and emotional being. Like a car we often don’t take much notice of the fuel apart from keeping an eye on the gauge telling us whether we have enough or not.
For the purpose of this article I’d like you to consider thoughts as being the fuel of the brain. As vehicles are powered by fuel, our brain powers our being through thought. Vehicles require the right amount and the right type of fuel in order to run. For our brains to perform well, we too need to ensure we have the correct quantity and quality of thoughts.
In psychology there is an understanding that people often engage in “automatic thinking”. Our brains operate so quickly that our thoughts move at speeds way beyond what we can comprehend. A lot of those thoughts are thoughts that ensure we continue to function – such as breathing and eating – which happen subconsciously. Other thoughts happen in the conscious parts of our brain so we are able to recognise those thoughts and control them.
Some thoughts have developed a strongly recurring pattern in our minds and happen at speed so quickly – we often don’t know they’re happening. Thoughts about how we feel about ourselves and how we feel about other people. I have experienced patterns of automatic thinking that have been very negative. Thinking of myself making mistakes, screwing up, not being good enough and so on. Sound familiar? What we need is a positive intervention to slow down the automatic thoughts enough to a speed where we consciously realise we are having them.
Initially I was sceptical about the use of positive affirmations. The thought of standing in front of a mirror and saying “I love you” to the reflection looking back at me felt weird. It still does. But taking that first step towards making positive statements to myself, affirming positivity, helped me to inject into my psychological fuel tank some good fuel. From this first experience of purposeful positive thinking I discovered the power of affirmations.
I’d like to share with you some different variations of affirmations and the ways that I have incorporated them into my life for positive effect. Doctor Tian Dayton is an internationally renowned speaker, expert, and consultant in psychodrama, trauma and addiction. I first discovered her writings about helping people work through grief and depression at my local library. Dr Dayton posits that feelings, which are associated with our thoughts, become embedded in cells throughout our entire body. This helps to explain certain reactions to stress and being upset that some people feel.
It was through Doctor Dayton’s work that I made a conscious decision to adopt using positive affirmations. I signed up to a free daily email service whereby I received a different daily affirmation in my emails. I found that for me just reading the affirmations wasn’t enough to make change. Every day for 18 months I wrote out, word for word, the affirmations into a notebook and read them out loud to myself. Some affirmations were timely and powerful and sometimes I felt they weren’t necessarily right for me. But I was disciplined and kept at it every day.
I found that the action of writing each and every affirmation into a notebook helped embed the lesson into my heart. During this time, I found that my thinking started to change. Every day I was injecting into my thoughts small packets of positivity and light. Each time I wrote out and spoke an affirmation I was adding a little more good fuel into the fuel tank of my brain.
Years later I began to engage in yoga as a philosophy and spiritual practice. One of the core aspects of yoga is the setting and use of mantra. Mantra is a predefined thought that we create to inspire and energise ourselves that we repeat over and over, particularly during hard experiences. An example of a mantra could be – “I am loved and I love others” when you are having to work with someone you don’t like. “I am enough” when you’re feeling that you don’t belong or others are better than you. I now use mantra regularly I’ve noticed a change in focus – now mantra are more about interactions with others rather than being about me.
Fast forward a few years and I was introduced to another daily email form of affirmation practice. Notes from the Universe are emails with kind messages that reinforce positive thinking and feeling. These affirmations are different to the previous kinds because they are objective, created outside of the self, rather than subjective, with the messages being generated from within and speaking to specific internal issues. Thinking about life with a much larger (objective) view helps me to frame and see things in a different way. Moving away from having myself as the central focus of me thoughts helps give perspective and understand how I connect with others.
More recently I purchased some cards called “Affirmators“. Each card has a light hearted but powerful message that I read, write into my daily journal and then share onto social media every working day. At first, I was hesitant about sharing photos of the cards on a daily basis during the working week as I was concerned that people may be bored by them but the opposite has proven to be the case. My friends often comment about how the card has given them some encouragement as well.
The Affirmators Card set consists of 50 cards with various sayings on them. To pick a card for the day I shuffle the deck and pick out one card at random. The cards are colourful and fun with silly illustrations. I look forward to shuffling the deck and seeing what will pop up next. The messages are also written in a vert light hearted way and inject humour into the day.
I need to state that I don’t use the cards as a predictor of the future. Neither do I purposely look for links between the affirmation and a specific situation. I take the message at face value and incorporate it into my overall thinking. If you are interested in predicting future situations there are other tools more suitable that are available.
How can you start using affirmations to create positive change? Here is how I have used them –
- Access affirmations. Sign up to a daily email service, buy some cards or write your own.
- Write down your affirmation. Write out, word for word, the affirmation for the day in a notebook or journal of some kind.
- Speak your affirmation. Say it out loud to yourself. The important part of doing this is in hearing the words and injecting them into your brains fuel tank.
- Share it with others. If you’re comfortable with it you could share your affirmation with others. Others may benefit from seeing the positive practice you are doing and they could be positively affected too.
Developing new thought patterns will most likely feel uncomfortable and strange at first but through practice you will become better at it. Your brain will also become more open to the messages you are telling yourself. If your fuel tank is used to operating with bad fuel it will take time for the new fuel to take clear a new path. It took me years to notice that I was seeing life more positively and I can attest to the impact of positive affirmations.