Use Affirmations to Build Self Esteem
David Yarian Ph.D.
Most of us carry on a running internal dialogue at all times. It is as if our lives are a sporting event on television and there is a panel of psychic sports commentators hunched over their microphones doing a play-by-play of the action.
Too often, the person at the "negative commentary" microphone hogs the show! The unseen producer has the volume on that mike turned up, and the other microphones are muted or turned off entirely.
What comes through in this ongoing psychic play-by-play is often quite negative, harsh, critical -- as if someone is screaming: "You idiot! You should have known not to get in this lane. Of course it's going to be the slowest!" Or: "You always do it wrong. Everybody else knows how to do this, but YOU..." .
Imagine how a real-life football game would unfold if the quarterback had these voices echoing in his head while he is on the field, calling and executing plays under intense pressure. It's safe to say his performance would be less than optimal.
The same is true for us, as we listen to negative or doubting or critical or pessimistic voices in our heads. "This speech probably won't go well." "I'm always unlucky -- good things never happen to me."
It can take tremendous focus and extraordinary expenditure of energy to function at our best when we are distracted by a chorus of silent negativity echoing within our minds.
These negative and critical voices are likely to be the loudest when one is tired, hungry, lonely, sad, sick -- or in some kind of emotional or physical pain. When one's strength or resistance is lowered, it seems the negative voices only gain in strength and intensity.
The conscious and intentional use of positive affirmations is a powerful way to counter these voices of negativity within. It is important to emphasize that what we are suggesting here is not self-hypnosis or an attempt to "psych" yourself into believing something which at the moment you don't believe.
No, the use of positive affirmations is simply to rebalance the internal dialogue, to add more positive voices to the mix. To return to our sports commentary analogy, using positive affirmations is akin to "producing your own show" -- unmuting the microphones before the commentators who are inclined to view the game in a more positive and compassionate light, thus giving these voices more air time in the internal dialogue.
In fact, as I tell my clients, it is not important that they believe the affirmations as they are speaking or reading them. The benefit occurs through simply adding positive and affirmative statements into the ongoing dialogue within. This slowly begins to shift the balance toward a more optimistic, compassionate and self-accepting way of relating to oneself.
Try an experiment. Make a list of five simple affirmative statements about yourself. Go through the list and edit out any negative, ambivalent or pessimistic language until the statements are unequivocally positive.
"I try hard to do my best."
"I am a good and loving person."
"When I am angry or upset, I am only responding out of my hurt and my confusion."
"I am learning more each day about how to make the most of my life."
"I am loved and accepted by those who truly know me."
Read through your list four or five times a day -- for a week. Let yourself hear the words without trying to analyze them or debate about whether they are true. Don't worry if you don't feel anything immediately -- there's no magic here.
But there is a kind of magic, over time, in practicing self- compassion -- acts of kindness and generosity directed towards oneself. The world can be a hard place -- do we really need to make things more difficult for ourselves? Imagine yourself as a friend -- to yourself! Positive affirmations are a way of rebalancing the too-often negative internal dialogue, by adding in some consciously chosen words of kindness, compassion and optimism.
I dare you to try it!
Books that offer useful tips on using affirmative self-talk:
Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, by Martin Seligman
Talking to Yourself: Learning the Language of Self-Affirmation, by Pamela Butler
What to Say When You Talk to Yourself, by Shad Helmstetter