Do Self-Affirmations Help?
  Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

 "John" was known in his neighborhood as the person who talked to himself all the time.  John didn't just talk to himself; he carried on long conversations with himself.  One day, a kid in the neighborhood asked John the question that was on every neighbor's mind, "Why do you talk to yourself all the time?  John replied, "There are two reasons for that.  One, I like to talk to an intelligent person only and two, I like to listen only to an intelligent person."   

The reason that everybody in John's neighborhood talked about John talking to himself was really not because he talked to himself, but that he talked to himself out loud.  There is not a person in this world who doesn't talk to himself or herself silently, although fewer people make it a habit to talk to themselves out loud.  When we are faced with a problem or a puzzle, we talk to ourselves silently.  We evaluate ourselves silently.  Self-affirmations are nothing but "self-talk" that we silently carry out in our head.   

For some people, it's nothing short of a revelation to discover that they are not the only ones who talk to themselves inside their head.  When clients in therapy learn that others beside themselves talk inside their head, they sigh with relief and say something like, "Oh! I thought there was something wrong with me."  If you want proof that you talk to yourself, let me ask you a question, "Do you talk to yourself?"  If you are not an alien recently transported to this planet, you may be silently (hopefully) saying something like, "Do I talk to myself.  I don't think so.  Maybe I do.  Does that mean everybody does it?"  See I caught you!  Do you need any more proof than this that you self-talk?  

As babies come to the world, they are constantly talked to by people around them.  Babies, learn to first repeat out loud, and later silently, what their parents say to them.  Some things words parents say to their kids are pretty mundane and neutral, for example, "too much jelly on toast is not good for you."  Other things that parents say to their children can be pretty significant which can often make or break a child's self-esteem.  Here are two examples which can influence a child's image of himself or herself:

Example 1.  An angry parent says to his or her child, "you are clumsy."  Later, the child repeats to himself or herself, "I am clumsy. I am clumsy"  
Example 2.  A smiling and proud parent says to his or her child, "Good boy (or girl)!"  The child repeats to himself or herself, "I'm a good boy (girl).  I'm a good boy (girl)."  

 Children are highly impressionable.  Just one statement from the caregiver delivered with strong emotions, positive or negative, at the right time, can be etched in a child's mind forever.  Children's minds are often referred to as, "tabula rasa," the empty slate.  You can very easily write on an empty slate.  But how do you write new words on a slate if some undesirable stuff is already written on it?  You can go about it in two ways, either erase what is already written on it or, write the new message on it over and over again until the old one is completely superscripted by the new one.  This, in essence, is what self-affirmations can help you accomplish.  Self-affirmations are like writing the new stuff that you want over the old stuff that you don't want.

 When people ask me, "Should I use self-affirmations or not?"  I tell them that the question is redundant.  You use self-affirmations all the time.  If you self-talk, which I already proved that you do, then you do use self-affirmations.  It is likely that you may be using more negative affirmations than the positive ones.  Therefore, question is not whether you should or shouldn't, but what self-affirmations should you use?  
 On average, we make about nine negatives to one positive statement about ourselves in our heads.  This is consistent with how parents talk to their children.   Parents, on average, make nine non-supportive statements to every supportive statement to their children.  
Are you aware what you often say to yourself about you?  The majority of the people are unaware of the content of their thoughts because such self-talk has been going on since they learned to speak and think.  So, the first thing is to start monitoring what you're telling yourself inside your head about you.

 We think about forty-five to fifty-five thousand thoughts a day.  Ninety-five percent of thoughts that you will have today are the same that you thought yesterday.  This is how repetitious we are.  A very large number of our thoughts are related to people and things, e.g. "I wonder what my wife will cook today," "what will I do about the report on my desk?" or, "will it frost tonight?" etc.    But, in addition to these thoughts, a sizeable number of our thoughts are negatively self-affirming or positively self-affirming.  Make a habit of telling yourself positively self-affirming thoughts.  

  Self-affirmations will only work for you, when you try to believe in them.  For example, when you say to yourself, "I'm a problem solver, I'll find a solution to this problem too," don't argue with yourself.  Try to believe in what you're saying.     

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