by Brenna Liebold
The Birth of Your Thoughts and Beliefs
Indirectly, your thoughts shape your reality over time. First, thoughts evolve into beliefs when you experience a strong emotion or particularly impactful memory connected to that thought. Strong emotional reactions enhance memory storage and recall. Because of the emotional glue holding it in place, beliefs also require strong emotions to un-create them.
When you tell yourself, It doesn't matter that I got another speeding ticket, do you feel better? Of course not, because the experience of getting pulled over produced nervousness or anger, the thought of telling your spouse you got another ticket makes you feel ashamed and anxious, and the fear of your car insurance rates going up combine to form the belief that getting a speeding ticket is a bad thing. Thinking, It doesn't matter, doesn't produce the emotion needed to override the original belief.
Many beliefs get handed down to us by the people around us very early in our lives. How often do you catch yourself reciting, without hesitation, something that your parents told you as a child? Money often comes up as a topic of transferred thoughts or beliefs. Imagine a young child watching his parents struggle to pay bills, perhaps even getting angry at one another over spending priorities, and repeatedly being told, "That's too expensive. We don't have that kind of money!" when he asks for new toys. The child feels guilty about asking for the toys and jealous of or angry at others who can afford everything he wants.
As a result, feelings of shame, jealousy, and anger stemming from childhood experiences with money persist into adulthood. These strong feelings reaffirm beliefs that you shouldn't spend money unnecessarily. They also perpetuate taboos about talking about money or possessing a lot of it.
So many beliefs! So what? Whether you believe that the glass is half empty or half full…it is, leading to the next step in the thoughts-to-reality process.
Your beliefs dictate how you respond to situations in the future. Your brain hates to waste energy, so it automates behaviors or actions when presented with a situation that relates to your belief system. I'll use the money beliefs previously mentioned in another example. When looking at a brand name item and the generic version at the grocery store, the belief that you shouldn't spend money unnecessarily will cause you to grab the generic food item without any active decision-making. A belief that consistently directs your actions without conscious thought, like in the example, creates a habit.
Did you know that we navigate 40-95% of any given day from our habits? Our lives depend on them. Decisions require huge amounts of time and energy, that would leave us on-the-floor worn out by breakfast if forced to mentally attend to each and every one of them. Take that as proof that habits often work in our favor. I'll give you still more proof. Let's say that you think of yourself as a healthy person. If previous experiences (i.e. eating tasty food that's good for you) support that thought and make you feel confident and contented, then you will engage in healthy activities like eating nutritious food and exercising your body more frequently.
I could go on and on about the effects of your thoughts, but I'll go back to the initial question I asked instead: do you build yourself up with your thoughts, or tear yourself down? I hope you see the importance of the question now that you know how the quality of your thoughts ultimately leads to a quality of life that matches.
Taking Inventory of Your Thoughts
You think literally thousands of thoughts each day, and most of those repeat over and over again from one day to the next. When you sift through your thoughts and pick specific ones to consciously focus your attention on, you validate them and increase the likelihood that they recur, whether positive or negative. In other words, you affirm them, hence the use of the word affirmation to denote the process of confirming your self-talk.
While it may seems counterintuitive at first, practicing positive affirmations starts with identifying the destructive thoughts you keep set on autopilot. Over the course of one to two days, write a list of negative thoughts that cross your mind. You might already know a few that will make that list. Refrain from labeling any thoughts as "right" or "wrong."
Positive Affirmations for Beginners
Use music if you are new to using affirmations to shift your attitude. First of all, listening to music stimulates dopamine production, the chemical in the brain that makes an activity feel rewarding and fun. Secondly, song lyrics themselves function as amazing sources of positive affirmations. After all, songwriters generally write about what they know, so lyrics encompass the broad spectrum of life's experiences. In addition, the emotion that flows through music lends itself well to affirmations. Researchers discovered that listening to music creates an emotional experience that matches the lyrical message presented in a song. Since songs, like affirmations, just as easily focus your attention on negative thoughts as positive ones, I recommend picking an affirmation song that meets all of the following criteria:
I created a whole playlist on YouTube around these four guidelines, called "Daily Lyrical Affirmations." Explore the playlist below to get inspiration for your own musical, positive affirmations.
How to Create Personalized Affirmations
For a more personalized positive affirmation, consider writing your own. Plan your thought transformation from your current position all the way to your intended destination. Use descriptive verbs or personality traits that paint a vivid picture of the new you and convey strong emotion whenever possible. These guidelines should generate some constructive thinking:
Crafting an affirmation that flows nicely when spoken either out loud or to yourself invokes creativity. Think of it as a one-line poem. Feel free to create your own melody, too, if you feel inspired. Add that layer, and you just wrote a song! Short songs still count. Including that emotional dimension intensifies the effects of the affirmation, remember? Below, I share my personal, daily positive affirmation song.
Practice Makes Perfect
Yes, you need to practice saying nice things to yourself. Flooding your mind with positive thoughts takes some getting used to, because your brain instinctively prioritizes negative thoughts over positive ones. The way your brain sees it, awareness of potential negative circumstances maintains preparedness to avoid them and keeps you safe. In fact, research suggests that to you need to respond to a negative thought with three to five positive ones to counterbalance the effect of that one negative thought.
Repeating your affirmations out loud several times, or for several minutes if you can, creates a speech-to-rhythm illusion. This phenomenon affects how you perceive spoken words and makes them sound more rhythmic or song-like and pleasant. Even if you don't say your affirmations aloud, the repetition contributes to a generalized reduction in activity throughout the brain, equating to feelings of relaxation and fewer competing thoughts. Your brain ramps up serotonin production and stimulates its reward centers, giving you an all-natural high that lasts long after you stop reciting the positive affirmations.
As mentioned previously, practicing positive affirmations throughout the day negates destructive thoughts. Dedicating a specific time of day to create a ritual around reciting your affirmations strengthens the habit. Over time, the repetition provides a sense of familiarity and comfort that enhances the relaxation effect. Your brain needs about 20 minutes to fully wake up after sleep. During this time, it lowers its defenses against suggestibility, presenting the perfect opportunity to re-program it with positive affirmations.
Using another activity you already engage in frequently as a trigger to remind yourself to recite your affirmations will also create consistency. Americans, for example, spend more time on digital devices and computers than any other daily activity, on average more than 10 hours a day. To use this habit to your advantage, display your positive affirmations on your wallpaper, or background, on your computer, tablet, or smartphone screen.
What to Do if Your Affirmations Feel Awkward
With any new activity, the excitement of it keeps motivation high through the first bumps in the process. However, when attempting to change something as ingrained and long-standing as your pattern of thoughts, a sense of resistance or tension may surface on occasion. In that case, try the following before dismissing affirmations as fruitless:
Go for It, and Make Today a Great Day!
Practicing positive affirmations increases your awareness of the thoughts that influence your beliefs and habits. It also starts with small changes that produce big shifts in how you perceive life events and cope with stress.
Did you craft a lovely, positive affirmation that you'd like to share with fellow creative relaxation readers? Post it in the comments below. I'd love to hear what you think after reading this article!
I'm a music therapist, dog mom, nature enthusiast, business owner, sleep and stress management coach, and research lover. My mission is to help you remove stress as a barrier to better health, greater happiness, and more meaningful connections with the people and passions that make life exciting.
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