Our cognitive hypnotherapist Alexandra Taylor is all in favour of making positive affirmations. She explains how you are what you think, literally…
‘Do affirmations really work?’ my sister asked me a few weeks ago. This is a question I get asked a lot by my clients and friends. You perhaps, like them, may be thinking that affirmations are just unrealistic, or a bit of wishful thinking? But what you might not be aware of is that we are affirming our life every moment of every day.
What you might not be aware of is that our lives are a continuous stream of affirmations – every thought you think and every word you speak is an affirmation. Your self-talk and internal dialogue are just streams of affirmations. You’re using affirmations every moment whether you know it or not. You’re affirming and creating your life experiences with every word and every thought.
For most of us these thoughts tend to be pretty negative and judgemental. By telling yourself repeatedly that you are going to scuff the exam, or stutter in your presentation, you’re setting yourself up to fail. Such thoughts become self-fulfilling prophecies, and the more you adhere to them the more you will start believing in them. Thankfully for us this same principle works both ways. Imagine if you told yourself that you are good enough and that you will achieve more goals. The more you tell yourself these thoughts the more they will reflect into your everyday experiences and in time you will start to believe these thoughts. With patience and practice you can form loving, compassionate and resilient beliefs about yourself.
To understand how affirmations work we need to know a little bit about the mind and thought patterns. Every thought you have creates a neural pathway in your brain. These are what you believe to be true and why you do what you do. They are the basis of your habits of thinking, feeling, and acting. Each new thought creates a new neural pathway. To simplify the complex thought process you can imagine your brain pathways to be like an Alpine mountain in the summer with hundreds of different hike trails (except the brain has closer to billions of pathways). Our brain pathways are just the same as the grassy paths that become trodden and worn each time a hiker takes that route. Fast forward days, months, years, and this well-travelled path becomes flattened and the much easier option to opt for over a trail that has not been walked as often. In the same way the thoughts that we focus on become the easier neural pathways for the brain to take.
Our thoughts typically take the path of least resistance, following the law of least effort. The route that is most trodden is undoubtedly the easiest path to take. This isn’t to say our brain is inherently lazy – rather in doing this it conserves necessary mental energy to respond to everyday challenges.
The thoughts and feelings we focus on essentially strengthen the neural pathways in the brain. So to focus on stress with your thoughts and feelings, you strengthen the stress pathways. But to be consciously attentive on happy thoughts, you enhance the happiness pathways. Not only do you strengthen the pathway, but you weaken the other. So in time,you create a habit of positivity that runs on autopilot, without you having to think. Affirmations are an effective and practical way to develop the neural routes that you desire. You really can be the chooser of your reality.
So why do we so often fall into a negative spiral of thoughts and feelings? Ultimately we are creatures of habit and opt for the path of least effort. A comment made to us at school about our intelligence, a past experience of love, or a magazine telling you what is beautiful can turn into beliefs. Despite being based on little or no truth, we strongly believe in them, looking for ways to validate them in our day to day life or create self fulfilling prophecies. In reality they are just the same thoughts we have been having over and over again.
It has been said that by the time we are 35 years old up to 90% of what we think, feel and do is recycled from our past. Think how much you have changed physically, in your career, in life… but notice how you still have the same thoughts on loop as when you were 16. The mental chatter that goes on in our mind 24/7 has the potential to take root and impact the way we live, the choices we make and the interactions we have.
When explaining the power of how affirmations work to one of my recent clients, she excitedly said to me, ‘Oh, it’s just like a form of exercise for the mind.’ And she was right! Affirmations are like training the brain to take the positive, compassionate, inspiring neural pathways that you wish to enhance. Just like you can go to the gym and choose the muscle group you wish to work upon, you can choose the area of your life and the thoughts that you wish to develop. These positive mental exercises can reprogramme our thinking patterns so that over time we begin to think, act and feel differently.
We have to retrain our thinking and speaking into positive patterns if we want to change our lives. Or as Abraham Lincoln put it a little more poetically:
People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be
— Abraham Lincoln
When we create affirmations we consciously invite the qualities and values that we want in our life. The more we choose to repeat the affirmations, with intention, conviction and belief, the quicker the changes. By practising affirmations, deliberately and repeatedly, you reinforce and strengthen the connection of the new neural pathways.