As human beings, we’ve all indulged in some form of negative self-talk in the past. In most cases, these types of unhealthy thinking patterns usually stem from mistaken beliefs — core beliefs we learned while growing up and were taught to us by authority figures such as parents and teachers. They refer to our “life outlook” or “attitudes,” and are unfortunately at the root of much of our anxiety.
One way to challenge our basic false assumptions about the world and ourselves is to work with daily positive affirmations. Since many of our core beliefs affect our level of self-worth and self-esteem, I would strongly encourage you to give daily affirmations a try — as tacky as they sound. When practiced daily, positive statements can make you feel empowered and in control of your life. On top of that, these kinds of compact statements have been proven to reinforce chemical pathways in our brains.
So how do we construct our own daily affirmations?
The first step is to notice when we say something negative about ourselves. We all have mistaken beliefs, inaccurate views and current ways of thinking that don’t always serve us well. Some examples of this include “I feel powerless,” “I’m not good enough” and “People won’t like me if they see who I really am.”
The second step is to question the validity of our statements. To do so, we can use four different questions.
- What is the evidence for this?
- Is this always true for me?
- Does this belief look at the whole picture?
- Does this belief promote my well-being/peace of mind?
For instance, if we think, “My accomplishments at school are supremely important,” we can challenge this assumption and come up with several conclusions such as “Other areas of my life are equally important,” and “If my accomplishments at school were supremely important, my health and family would not be a priority — thus, such an attitude would lead to an unbalanced lifestyle.”
The third step is to counter our mistaken beliefs by coming up with a short statement. Remember — a daily affirmation should be a short, simple, direct statement written in present tense that avoids negatives since your unconscious mind is actually incapable of telling the difference between a positive or negative sentence. For the example above, a good counter-statement would be something like “My accomplishments are important and so are other things in my life” or “I am learning how to balance work and play in my life.”
Finally, the last thing to do is to practice and repeat the statement until we’ve fully absorbed and processed it. Ways to do so include writing your affirmation in giant letters on a piece of paper and hang it somewhere in your room, or record a series of affirmation to listen to before going to bed.
Countering mistaken beliefs may take a lot of time, energy and hard work, but remember that they will increase your level of self-esteem as you learn to respect and believe in yourself. But mostly, they’ll reduce unnecessary pain and suffering.
This article was written using the examples stated in The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook by Edmund J. Bourner, PhD.