How to Start a Positive Affirmation Practice

The way we speak to ourselves sets the tone for how we show up in the world. Here’s how to make kindness the top priority.

Posted in , Jan 12, 2022

Positive affirmations

Saturday Night Live viewers of a certain age love to chuckle over Stuart Smalley, a character played by Al Franken whose schtick was to look at himself in the mirror and say earnestly, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh darn it—people like me.” The title of the ongoing sketch was “Daily Affirmations with Stuart Smalley,” and it was poking fun at the habit of speaking loving, inspiring words to oneself as a way to keep it together in a stressful world.

The joke’s on us, though, because psychologists say positive affirmations actually do help us stay calm, build confidence and cultivate a sustainably optimistic outlook on life—even in stressful times.

“If we want to start to make less room for the negative thoughts, we have to intentionally practice positive thoughts,” psychologist Lauren Alexander told the Cleveland Clinic. How can we do this—particularly as the stressors of the newly-dawned 2022 press us from all sides? Try these three ways to get started:

1)  Affirm Aloud
You might feel kind of silly gazing deeply into your own eyes in the mirror like Stuart Smalley (though I find this technique to be calming and grounding—I practice it while I’m brushing my teeth in the morning). But whether you say your affirmations out loud to an empty room, whisper them under your breath, text them to a friend or post them on the bathroom mirror, being consistent and explicit about what you want to affirm for your life is important to fully inhabit those positive reminders.

2)  Don’t Just Say Your Affirmations—Do Them
“I always tell people that changing their thinking is super important but that what’s really convincing to us, as humans, is when we see a change in behavior,” Alexander said. This means articulating your positive affirmations and then attaching actions to those ideas. Get in the habit of believing yourself when you say, for example, that you can take one step outside your comfort zone today.

3)  Be Real
The wisdom in Smalley’s funny persona was the word “enough.” Even in his silly presentation, he never fell victim to toxically positive language like, “I’m the best,” or even “Today is going to be a fantastic day.” He’s simply good enough—and so are you. Make space in your affirmation practice to acknowledge hardships, Alexander advises, crafting “affirmations that acknowledge the difficulty you’re going through but also remind you of times when you’ve been successful.” Compassionate, kind statements like, “I can do hard things,” “I don’t like this feeling—but I can handle it,” or “I can find the next right step” remind us that things don’t have to be awesome to be positive. 

Do you practice positive affirmations? What helps you stick to the habit?

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