More and more of us are using affirmations – positive phrases or mantras – to help boost our confidence and self-worth. While there are lots of generic affirmations online, creating phrases specific to you and your goals can make them more effective. Here’s an expert guide on how to write affirmations that will actually work for you.
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Always looking on the bright side of life is easier said than done. We all have an inner critic that can grind away at our self-belief and it’s easy to slip into cycles of negative thinking, ruminating on things that haven’t gone well.
All this can have a hugely negative impact on our mental health. However, recent research has found that our brains are incredibly adaptable and actively thinking positively can help us counteract negative beliefs.
Affirmations, or positive self-talk, is a form of positive thinking gaining traction at the moment. The idea of repeating positive phrases to boost our mindset is not a new thing; reciting positive mantras in Buddhism and Sanskrit has an ancient history. But recently, more people are using affirmations to combat negative mindsets and sharing their results online – 5.8 billion people have watched affirmation videos on TikTok and 4.5 million have posted affirmations on Instagram.
“Our subconscious mind is developed in the early stages of our lives and it runs 95% of our decision making. If we have doubts that we’re not good enough, these show up in our behaviours,” says Grace McGrath, who along with Abby Farrer, founded the self-development platform and podcast Finding Your Feet, which creates digital affirmation playlists and runs self-esteem workshops. “Repeating positive affirmations regularly can help revise these limiting subconscious beliefs.”
Grace and Abby point to new research exploring the idea of neuroplasticity and the possibility of rewiring certain pathways in our brains through self-affirmations. “Negative thoughts and beliefs in our subconscious have often been formed from things that happened to us in childhood,” says Grace. “In our adult lives they aren’t relevant or rational, but they still drive our behaviour. However, you can rewire your thought patterns through consistent affirmations to change your decision making.”
Another person who has reaped the benefits of affirmations is Sally Cheung, a senior designer at jewellery brand Astrid and Miyu who wrote the brand’s own affirmation cards. “I got into affirmations during lockdown and have become really passionate about it,” she says. “Having these quick little statements that can help boost your self-confidence and self-esteem has been really beneficial.”
Sally writes her own personal affirmations that relate directly to the goals she wants to achieve: “I’ve seen a noticeable change in my behaviour and the way I approach life since doing it. It helps me reframe any negative mindsets and be more open to positive opportunities and experiences.”
Grace and Abby agree that writing and saying affirmations that are personal to you can really hone and improve your affirmation practice. “We really recommend writing your own affirmations and getting to the core of what you want to work on,” says Abby. “Everyone’s different, so working on specific goals is really powerful.”
Here, Grace, Abby and Sally explain how to start writing powerful affirmations that are personal to you and how to use them in the most effective way to boost your confidence and help you achieve your goals.
What are affirmations
“Affirmations are positive mantras repeated daily that help rewire your subconscious beliefs,” says Grace. “They can be generic, or you can target them at a specific goal that is unique to you. This is when they can become particularly impactful and powerful.”
“Affirmations are great for people who are prone to a lot of negative self-talk and have a lot of negative beliefs about themselves,” says Sally. “The idea is that when you practise these affirmations daily, you’re conditioning your mind to prioritise positivity over that negativity.”
How to write effective affirmations
Start by journaling
Grace, Abby and Sally all agree that journaling is a good place to start when you begin to write affirmations, particularly if you’re struggling to come up with phrases that are relevant to you.
“A good place to start is by thinking about areas of your life where there is negativity and writing them down,” says Sally. “Then you can think of the positive opposite to these statements and use them to create affirmations that will counteract them.”
If you’ve had a bad day, Sally recommends writing about it in a journal and using these thoughts and feelings to fuel affirmations.
Grace and Abby acknowledge that repeating affirmations that relate to an issue you’ve been struggling with for years can be emotional and even scary. “If it’s something you’ve been struggling with for years it might be easier to journal the affirmation out first,” says Gaby. “Then move on to saying it aloud consistently.”
Be as positive as possible
When you’re writing affirmations it’s important to keep them as positive as possible, this also means formulating the statements in a positive way. “If you want to remove negativity from your life and you say, ‘I am discarding all the miserable things in my life’, this sounds as if there’s still a lot of misery there and brings negativity into your statement,” says Sally.
“The whole point of affirmations is to trigger positive emotions, so a phrase such as, ‘I am accepting positive experiences’, might work better.
Use the present tense
The main rule when writing affirmations is to make sure they are in the present tense. “You should write your affirmations as if you’ve already achieved them,” says Grace. “Instead of saying, ‘I want to be powerful’, you should write, ‘I am powerful’, for it to have the most impact.”
A good rule of thumb for writing powerful, effective affirmations in the present tense is starting each affirmation with the words ‘I am…’.
Affirmations can be any length, however shorter, snappier phrases can be more compelling and easier to remember day-to-day.
“Shorter is better because it makes the phrases more powerful, impactful and easier to remember,” says Abby. However, she adds: “Go with your intuition and discover what works for you. Some people may prefer longer affirmations and may find mixing short and long phrases more powerful.”
Always be realistic
It’s important to remember that affirmations must be realistic in order for you to internalise them and believe they can happen. “Affirmations only work if they’re actually achievable,” says Sally. “If you truly don’t believe them, the more hesitant you will be to keep repeating them.”
This means bold, unrealistic affirmations such as “I am a millionaire” have little chance of cutting through. “We’d all love to be a millionaire, but just repeating it won’t make it happen,” says Sally. “Something more effective might be to say, ‘I am attracting an abundance of wealth’, which means you’re open to wealth coming in.”
How to say and use affirmations effectively
Practising affirmations consistently is crucial to making them improve your mindset. “It takes 66 days for your brain to create a new neural pathway,” says Grace. “So, if you commit to a 66 day period and say your affirmations regularly over this time, your affirmations will start to become unconscious to the point where you don’t have to repeat it for it to seem true.”
“Once your affirmation becomes part of your subconscious, that’s when people get big results from them because they’re more optimistic and more likely to look for opportunities in life and have the confidence to go after them,” Abby adds.
Sally emphasises the idea of turning affirmations into a habit. “Just like anything, the more consistently you say your affirmations the more they will become a habit and rewire your ways of thinking. To make an affirmation sink in I repeat it to myself slowly 10 times.”
Pick the right time
Reciting affirmations at certain times of the day can also help them sink in more easily. “Our subconscious mind is most active at certain points during the day,” says Grace. “First thing in the morning when you’re coming out of a sleep state and last thing at night when you’re winding down and dropping out of your busy, conscious state are good times to perform affirmations.”
Abby and Grace also recommend being in a meditative state when you perform affirmations. “When we’re in meditative states our subconscious is at its most active so affirmations are particularly effective,” says Abby. “While you’re doing a meditation practice or a yoga class is a great time to start doing your affirmations.”
Speak aloud and use a mirror
To get the most out of affirmations, experts recommend saying them aloud. “Verbally saying them out loud and in front of a mirror so you really feel you are speaking to yourself is really powerful,” says Grace. “You should also adopt a powerful pose, with your head up and your shoulders back, so you really feel like you are embodying what you’re saying.”
Make affirmations part of your daily routine
Even if you don’t have time or the space to say your affirmations out loud every day you can still easily make them part of your daily routine.
“I stick affirmation flashcards around my house,” says Sally. “I might have one tucked into my mirror or on the fridge just as gentle reminders to be a bit kinder to myself every day.
“You can also record your affirmations and re-listen to them, which is good if you’re not in a place where you can say them out loud.”
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Images: Getty, Grace McGrath & Abby Farrer, Astrid and Miyu