Anatomy of an Affirmation

I often encourage my clients to create affirmations. As stated in the previous post Meditation and Affirmations, by using an affirmation, you are speaking of what you want for yourself and what you choose to believe about yourself.  As a therapist who uses cognitive behavioral therapy, we work to create a lot of reframes that the client can replace with their maladaptive thoughts. Our brains get stuck in a negative feedback loop and we can’t seem to break out of that cycle of thinking that doesn’t serve us.

This can look like, “I should have done…, They think I’m…, What if they…, Why didn’t I….” These thoughts paint a picture in our brains that send signals that we need to fight or flight (anxiety) or that we are not adequate in some way (depression). I often get clients to start an affirmation by identifying a thought based on what is beneficial, believable, and true.

It’s so important to start out with truth because that truth, even if seemingly insignificant, can grow into bigger truth. For example, I may have the thought that, “I should have acted differently” on auto-replay in my mind. That thought keeps me in anxious distress mode.

A truthful thought that I can replace with it (reframe), is “I would not have known how to act differently because this way of being is a part of my personality.” But I don’t stop there at the reframe. The reframe is not my affirmation. It is a part of the process that goes into creating an affirmation. How do I create an affirmation? My clients sometimes ask me.

1) Start with the maladaptive thought.
“I should have acted differently.”

2) Identify a reframe that is beneficial, believable, and true.
“I would not have known how to act differently, because this way of being is a part of my personality.”

3) Remove the words that imply negatives: not, no, neither, never
“I act according to my personality.”

4) Make the thought affirming and life-giving
“I act according to my personality and I enjoy my ways of being.”

5) Create more affirmations from this truth. 
“My personality is uniquely me.”
“I enjoy the way I show up like this.”
“I am loved by many people who like these traits about me.”

As the brain gets the hang of reframing and creating affirmations, it will do it more automatically, but you will have to do a lot of practicing and that’s okay. How long has your brain been “practicing” and producing maladaptive thoughts? It’s a new way of thinking and any new thing that you want to get better at requires practice!

Published by Counseling With Leslie

Leslie Stevens, M.Ed., LCMHC is a North Carolina and Virginia board-certified licensed professional counselor. She co-owns a successful practice in Carrboro, North Carolina. Leslie specializes in helping adults navigate stress, depression, anxiety, and perfectionism. Additionally, she is a life strategist, spiritual coach, and writer.

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