Why + How to Use Affirmations

3 Steps to Writing Affirmations that Work

Last week, I mentioned that I often close my morning pages with affirmations. I’ve mentioned before that I work with affirmations as a personal development tool, but I didn’t explain the whys or hows. Today I’ll do just that.

I began using affirmations after reading about them in Louise Hay’s book, You Can Heal Your Life. Louise asserts that affirmations—statements intended to provide encouragement, emotional support, or motivation—can help you heal almost anything in your life, from self-esteem to cancer. Whether you agree or not, you can benefit from working with them, too.

Why I Use Affirmations

But first, why would you want to? To answer that, I’ll tell you why I use affirmations: As a child, I internalized several messages that no longer serve me, a fairly common occurrence based on my unscientific research. These messages generally involve explanations about the state of the world such as “you have to work hard to get ahead” or vague self-criticisms like “I’m not good enough.”

I work with affirmations to consciously change my inner monologue, and I’ve found them to be instrumental in changing my overall life outlook from negative to positive. My internal messages haven’t changed completely, of course. I still have moments of insecurity or negativity, particularly when I’m tired or have been around the people from whom I learned the original messages.

How to Work with Affirmations

You can use affirmations in many ways, including:

  • Journal with them. You can write them as a straightforward reminder to yourself, or you can delve deeper by exploring the whys behind your chosen affirmations.

  • Read or recite them aloud. Louise Hay recommends that you look into your eyes in a mirror while reading or reciting your chosen affirmation, to really internalize the message.

  • Record and listen to them each night before bed and again upon awakening. Your brain is most open to new messages when you’re transitioning between consciousness and sleep.

3 Keys to Making Affirmations Work

Whichever way you choose to work with affirmations, there are a few things that I’ve learned are critical to success in writing your affirmations.

  1. Your affirmation must be phrased positively. Of course, you’d phrase your affirmations positively, right? Isn’t that the point? You bet it is, but watch out for sneaky ‘noes,’ ‘nots,’ and their contraction relatives, ‘don’t,’ ‘won’t,’ etc. If you want to say, “I won’t worry anymore,” try “Today, I am letting go of my worries” or for a fun rhyme, “Worry free is best for me.”

  2. Affirmations work best when stated in the present. Which do you think has more power? “I will love and approve of myself more,” or “I love and approve of myself right now, just as I am.” In the first, the point of power is in the future, which may never come. In the second, you’re claiming your self-love now, in the moment. That is where your best work is done.

  3. Some part of you has to believe the affirmation. Your brain has to have some kernel of truth to latch onto and process; if you try to assert something you don’t believe at all, the message will pass right through your mind. For example, if I told myself, “You look like a supermodel today,” I doubt I’d get through the word supermodel without rolling my eyes. Instead, to validate my physical appearance, I would choose something like, “I love my body. It helps me accomplish amazing things every day.”

I’ve worked with many different affirmations over the years. Some of my long-term favorites, many of which were inspired by Louise Hay’s book, are:

  • I love and approve of myself just as I am.

  • I take full responsibility for my happiness and productivity.

  • I am doing the best I can.

  • All is well in my world.

Do you use affirmations? What are your favorites?

Cheers,

Kate Watson

Why I Write Morning Pages

morning pages

Do you have a routine you follow first thing in the morning? My morning practice is ever evolving but usually involves writing and some form of exercise (either simple yoga poses and stretching or a walk).

I’ve kept a journal for most of my life. Some years I wrote regularly; others I’d go months with nary a note. After reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way in 2010, I adopted her practice of morning pages, three stream-of-conscious handwritten pages.

Five to seven days per week, as soon as I awaken, I sit up, grab my composition book, and put pen to paper. Some days I write all three pages, sometimes I don’t. It depends on my available time and what I have to say. Morning pages fill the purpose of keeping a journal for me, providing daily insight into what I’m thinking.

I’ve experimented with writing morning pages later but I believe there’s something special about downloading your thoughts immediately upon awakening, before you’ve engaged in other activities. My pages never flow as well after I check email or start a conversation with my husband. Later it can be like pulling teeth to hear my inner voice.

My morning pages capture the monologue of my mind, the complaints, concerns, and considerations of the moment. They tell me how I’m feeling and what, if anything, is stressing me out—they’re my personal barometer.

I write because often we can’t verbalize what we’re feeling or we know that we shouldn’t give voice to what we’re thinking if we want to maintain healthy relationships. And, frankly, many of our thoughts aren’t fit for public consumption anyway.

Morning pages give me a safe place to record my thoughts as well as a place to return to for reflection, when I’m ready to re-read what I’ve written and determine if it is true and fair and helpful.

I’ve used my morning pages to reflect on why I am or am not doing something, on how to approach a thorny situation, and I have even written a difficult letter within them.

Often new ideas come to me while I’m writing, either in the form of projects to undertake, blog posts to write, or realizations about my life.

As I close my morning pages each day, I take a few moments for gratitude or affirmations, writing what I’m most thankful for in that moment or some inspiration to start my day.

I’ve learned a lot about myself over the years from journaling and morning pages. Having a morning writing practice makes me a more mindful person.

If you think it will help you, too, it’s very easy to start. All you need is a pen, notebook, and 10-20 minutes of time for yourself.

Do you keep morning pages? If not, what helps you practice mindfulness?

Cheers,

Kate Watson

Photo Credit: real00 via Compfight cc

Kate Watson - Thanks for your comment, Alex!

Alex - I have read quite a bit about morning rituals. Thank you for sharing yours. I love the idea of writing, exercise and yoga right away. Thank you for sharing.

More About Fixed vs Growth Mindsets

Fixed vs Growth Mindsets

“It’s startling to see the degree to which people with the fixed mindset do not believe in effort.” – Carol Dweck, PhD, in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

After writing about ease and the limits of having a fixed mindset, I realized I had a little bit more to say about fixed vs growth mindsets, particularly that you don’t necessarily have the same mindset across all of your belief systems. More on that in a minute.

First, to recap, “In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb.

“In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it,” Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck, PhD, explains.

To extrapolate a fixed mindset beyond intelligence:

  • Athletes with fixed mindsets tend to practice less and rely on their innate talent more,
  • People who believe personality traits are fixed may believe that a relationship must be perfect or it’s irreparably broken, and
  • Business leaders with fixed mindsets tend to trust their own experience and knowledge instead of asking questions and seeking solutions from colleagues and subordinates.

Damning, isn’t it? Yet the worst finding is that, when people with a fixed mindset fail, they tend to give up completely, become embittered, and blame everyone else instead of picking themselves up, getting back in the saddle, and exploring a new path.

Therefore I was gratified to discover, during my read through Dweck’s book, that I had already cultivated a growth mindset in some areas.

Dweck says this is true for a lot of people. Even though we may have a fixed mindset about our intellect or sports ability doesn’t mean we couldn’t also think people change in their interpersonal relationships, for example.

I think this is important because it helps those of us who may tend toward a fixed mindset in one or more areas adopt a growth-minded orientation overall by recognizing and developing areas we’re already trending that way. Some of my growth-minded beliefs relate to:

  • Personal Development: One of my strongest beliefs is that we all continue learning, changing, and growing over our lives. In fact, it was by taking responsibility for my own role in the demise of a six-year relationship that I was able to prepare myself to meet and accept the love of my life, to whom I’ve been happily married for almost 10 years now.
  • Relationships: Because they’re created from individuals, relationships also must grow and change and, as a result, relationships require work. If I had a fixed mindset in this area, I might have thrown away my marriage when we met some hurdles instead of working to improve our communication and get back on the same page.
  • Health: While I am not a natural athlete, I have felt drawn to jogging for more than 20 years, so I undertook a run/walk training program last year to complete my first 10k. I loved it!
  • Business: When I was asked to take over a friend’s business in 2012, I first talked with every constituent to formulate a plan instead of assuming I knew how to fix everything right off the bat. I focused on the team and building consensus versus acting as a lone wolf, which is how leaders with fixed mindsets tend to do it.
  • Intelligence: Now that I know about fixed vs growth mindsets and that my intelligence isn’t fixed, I’ve also started training my brain on Lumosity. It’s fun and, according to my upwardly trending LPI, I’m getting smarter every day.

Are there areas where you can admit to having a fixed mindset? After reading this post, do you have any new ideas to begin developing a growth mindset in that area? Tell me about it in the comments.

Cheers,

Kate Watson

Internet Inspiration: Self Love + the Human Experience

Lessons in Self Love + the Human Experience

Last week I shared my story of learning to love my body. This week, I’m sharing inspiration for practicing self love and changing the expectations for the next generation.

My earliest messages about body image started at home. Dove’s Legacy campaign  (video below) posts similar findings. When moms and daughters were asked what they liked and disliked about themselves, their responses were eerily similar.

As one mom realized, “Self-worth and beauty are an echo. [The messages] can echo from us to [our daughters], and from them to others.”

Our body image issues are not all originating at home, however. Throughout American society, girls are taught that their physical appearance equates to or reflects their worth. Many of these messages are propagated by the media, as discussed in the documentary Miss Representation (extended trailer below, full documentary on Netflix):

Parents still are the first line of defense in changing the dialogue about women and our bodies. Moms, here are five ways to teach your daughters to love their bodies.

If you’re not yet sure you love your own body, browse body love advocate Jes Baker’s Body Image(s) and photographer Jade Beall’s A Beautiful Body Project. And don’t forget Modcloth’s ads that prove all women can wear swimwear. All three projects offer beautiful images of sexy, confident women of all shapes and sizes.

Also watch Jes Baker‘s Tedx talk about the social impact of body image and how to take back your power:

Whether you’re a size 2 or 24, hating your body will never serve you. Negative thoughts never create a positive experience. So, embrace your body, own it, even when you want to make some changes to feel healthier. You are who you are now. Accept it.

Lest you’re beginning to think otherwise, women and girls aren’t the only ones receiving negative messages about themselves and their value. Boys and men are treated to these kinds of mind trips, too. From a young age, boys are taught that they must “man up” and never cry or show weakness. Men are taught that, to have value, they must be a provider.

That’s why I’m excited to see the next documentary from the Miss Representation team, The Mask You Live In (previewed below). Coming soon to a home or school near you.

The human experience is interesting, isn’t it. If you look around, you might think none of us are really doing it right. But we can—beginning with loving ourselves and following our dreams to a life that feels personally fulfilling.

Think about all the kids who need role models to be their best selves as well: boys or girls, Caucasian or African American or Asian or Latino, of humble or wealthy origins, of Christian, Muslim, or non-religious upbringing. You can be that. Starting now.

Cheers,

Kate Watson

5 Ways to Practice Body Love

How to love your body

It’s the month of Valentines. The winter holidays have come and gone, New Year’s resolutions may already be history, but love is in the air. Isn’t it time to love yourself as much as you do others?

I hated my body for much of my life. From a young age, I understood that I’d inherited the “thunder thighs” my Mom complained of having. As for my peers, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to see that my body shape would never match their thin, coltish frames.

Over the years, regular ballet classes increased my musculature and my hips and bust expanded to create a solid, hourglass frame. Unfortunately, these changes drew only negative attention. Men too old for me wanted to chat and boys my own age thought I was fat.

Truth be told, I agreed with the latter and was unsurprised when the school heartthrob started “moo”ing at me and making earth-shaking noises as I walked by in middle school. Yes, like a Godzilla-sized heifer. Nice, right?

Back in those days it was clear that I didn’t meet the standard of female beauty. As I looked around, I saw sleek physiques, graceful curves, and perky, petite breasts. Magazines with their images of airbrushed perfection certainly didn’t help matters.

Well, as we all know now and I learned firsthand working briefly as an assistant in Hollywood, stars are often retouched beyond recognition. It was quite the eye opener to see before-and-after photos with red mark-ups like “fix under eye circles,” “slim thighs,” and “cellulite!!!” That was in the early 2000s before everyone started talking about Photoshop fails.

Still, being sturdy in L.A., land of pocket-sized waifs, didn’t do anything for my self-esteem. I remained self-conscious about my body throughout my 20s. My happiest point during that period came after ending a six-year relationship when I visited the gym almost daily for the endorphin rush and slimmed down to a size 8.

Then, one day, I decided I wasn’t competing anymore. What others thought about my appearance no longer mattered. I had to accept the facts: I would never be a 5’2″, 100-pound starlet and, frankly, I didn’t aspire to be. Secretly, I’d always wished to be 5’10”, but that wasn’t in the cards either. I was stuck with what my mama gave me and I could either learn to live with it or continue castigating myself.

Since then, I’ve done a lot of work to repair my self-esteem. I started reading books by Louise Hay to learn to love myself as I am, body and all. I began consciously listening to praise to counteract the criticism so ingrained in my mind. And I stopped obsessively looking in the mirror for flaws. This is the appearance I have in this lifetime. I can tweak it through diet and exercise, or make-up, but there are some things I must accept:

My weight may never go below 160 pounds again. I’m a solid size 10, edging into a 12 at times. And my husband’s idea of praising my form is (of course!) to call it sturdy, which is apparently a desirable trait to someone who is 6’4″, 200 pounds, and accustomed to squashing womankind’s delicate flowers.

All of that is fine by me.

If you still have work to do on body love:

  • Remember: You are one of a kind, made from the same magnificent materials as stardust, oceans, and skyscrapers—and equal to all other beings on this planet.
  • Try some mirror work. Louise Hay suggests that you look at yourself in the mirror each day, call yourself by name, and say, “I love you.” Sure it feels ridiculous but if it helps, it helps.
  • Train your eye to look for your beauty instead of your flaws, and revise your inner monologue. When you hear yourself thinking something like, “I’m so fat, look at those arms,” find something to praise about yourself instead. How about: “Yeah, but my hair is awesome.” — or — “I look hot in this dress.” — or — “I love my feet. They’re a perfect size [whatever].”
  • Close your eyes and touch yourself. Ok, get your mind out of the gutter, people. Close your eyes and touch your arms, your thighs, your belly. Feel how warm and smooth you are. Let your hands appreciate your beauty until your eyes can get with the program.
  • Steal some positivity from Meghan Trainor and sing, “Every inch of you is perfect, from the bottom to the top,” preferably while dancing in front of the mirror. Naked.

What are your body love secrets? Do you have any to add to mine?

Cheers,

Kate Watson

Photo Credit: Drab Makyo via Compfight cc