Tag Archives: self-improvement

Affirmations: Programming Language for the Brain

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I’m old enough that when I think of affirmations, I think of Al Franken’s character of Stuart Smalley in Saturday Night Live, and I laugh. With a big dopey grin, he affirms, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh darnit, people like me!”

And yet, I know from personal experience just how powerful and transformative affirmations can be. Our brains are a bit like computers, and our thoughts, shaped by language, does the programming. With a steady application of affirmations, you can reprogram negative thought patterns that are holding you back, and even manifest into your life things that will bring you greater joy. Affirmations are a powerful tool that are often underestimated.

Affirmations can be used in the context of a wide variety of issues. Got love problems? Try affirmations. Battling depression? Try affirmations. Trying to find a job? Try affirmations. Want to lose weight? Be more peaceful? Want to lucid dream? Meet your spirit guides? Be less shy around people? All these kinds of things, and more, are suitable subjects for work through affirmations.

About 20 years ago I was in a professional development workshop through my job, and the workshop presenter offered a method of applying affirmations by using index cards. I used his method daily for about a year, tweaking the instructions until I found a method that really worked for me. That was a year of tremendous growth for me, with deep-seated issues that came unstuck for the first time in my life. I saw first hand the power that affirmations can have, and have been a devoted follower of this method ever since. The affirmation cards were an important tool for helping me reset my thinking into more healthy channels. It’s a great tool for manifestation as well. I have used affirmations ever since. I offer this method below:

The deck of affirmation cards I used are easy and fun to make, and very simple to use. I used a package of regular 3×5 index cards for my deck. (I later used unlined cards and a printer to make them even more colorful, but you can make these by hand as well.) Each card will contain an affirmation of a new reality you want to manifest in your life. Nothing is too big or too small to be worked on through affirmations. Emotions like anxiety, fear, depression, anger, loneliness, etc. are all excellent fodder for this tool. So are more tangible goals like career, family, finances, home, car, etc. And before you pooh-pooh the idea of affirmations like I did, give it a shot for a few weeks. This is a powerful tool that did really deep transformative work on areas that I had been stuck on for years.

So, put one affirmation per card. Use colors and/or images if you like, but the words you choose are important. Each affirmation needs to be phrased in the positive. Our subconscious brains are very literal and latch onto action words, not the smaller parts of speech. For example, if you want to work on anxiety, don’t say “Don’t Panic” because the subconscious will focus on the word “panic” – that’s counter-productive. Instead, use a phrase like “Stay Calm” which gives the subconscious an action that it can work on. Focus on the present tense – the subconscious mind operates in the eternal now; instead of saying “the perfect job for me is coming” (which keeps this perfect job somewhere in the unreachable future) say “I am ready for my perfect job”.   I’ve found that inspirational quotes can also make effective affirmation cards.

Create as many or as few cards as you like. Once you have a “deck” of cards, you can also add more or take away cards that are no longer as relevant. Once you have your deck, simply flip through them and read them once a day. (Or more often if you like, but once daily worked for me.) You can do this at any time, any place. I often flip through my affirmation cards while waiting in line at the bank or the grocery store. That’s it. Just read your affirmations to yourself daily. It usually only takes 2-3 minutes. You don’t need to meditate on them (although focusing on your affirmations in a meditative state is another very powerful technique.) You don’t need to particularly “work on” these things. The daily read-through is the work. The brain is like a computer and will program itself with whatever instructions it receives. Your affirmation cards are the programming instructions. Input daily for best results.

Here’s a partial list of affirmations that I use or have used in the past:

¯ Expect joy
¯ I am guided from within.
¯ My spirit shines brightly
¯ I am open to receive
¯ I have the strength I need.
¯ I radiate peace.
¯ Laugh daily.
¯ Listen within.
¯ With one deep breath – let it go.
¯ Pay attention.
¯ Play with abandon.
¯ Practice wellness.
¯ Seek peace.
¯ I love going to work.
¯ Stay calm.
¯ My heart is filled with love.
¯ There is always a reason. Each result serves me in a useful way.
¯ There is perfect abundance.
¯ Trust the process.
¯ I see the next step.
¯ My memory improves with each passing day.
¯ I am stronger than my temporary cravings.
¯ I can easily resist temptations.
¯ “Expect your every need to be met, Expect the answer to every problem, Expect abundance on every level, Expect to grow spiritually” -Eileen Caddy
¯ I am motivated to accomplish all that I have to do.
¯ At all times, I have unlimited access to my Inner Wisdom.
¯ I look forward to the challenges each day brings
¯ I say YES to opportunities
¯ I deserve to be successful
¯ My joy in life is clearly apparent for all to see
¯ I express myself freely and easily
¯ I am confident of my abilities
¯ I am good at saving money
¯ I love vegetables.*

*My favorite example of an affirmation that worked for me is the one that says “I love vegetables”. This was never true for me. As a kid, I avoided anything that resembled a vegetable with very few exceptions. Lettuce and corn were about it. As an adult, I learned to eat at least a limited few vegetables, but I still didn’t like them. I wanted to love vegetables, but… ick. So I put this issue into an affirmation card and worked on it. Every time this card came up, I chuckled with dubious amusement. After all, affirmations are good for some things, but this? Ha ha. But I kept the card in the deck. Month after month I laughed at my “vegetable affirmation.” It took about a year or so before I noticed that I had gradually begun adding more and more vegetables to my diet in ways that I hadn’t been conscious of. I’d go to a restaurant with a salad bar, and instead of lettuce and a few pieces of shredded carrots, I’d come back with my plate loaded with all sorts of things that just sort of “looked good” to me at the time. I gradually became aware that I was looking forward to such voyages into veggie-land. That was a long time ago, and now I can say without a hint of my former reservations that I really do love vegetables. A lifetime of revulsion was transformed into a much healthier attitude.  Go figure.  My silly “veggie affirmation” worked.

Affirmations can be created around any issue you want transformed. Just read through your cards daily, and, as one of my affirmations reminds me, “trust the process.”

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Heart’s Ease

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From distress to destress

Where do we find our heart’s ease?  How do we cope with emotional distress?  What do we do to help ourselves when life gets challenging?  I find that when I can keep my heart open to joy, I have the emotional resiliency to carry me through life’s difficult transitions.

I interviewed for a job earlier this week, and it went well.  Nerves don’t bother me in such situations.  I’m friendly and open by default. I have spent much of my adult life trying to cultivate an attitude of emotional equilibrium which helps me keep my cool in stressful situations.  However, I’ve had to work hard to maintain that equilibrium in the post-interview waiting stage.  With so much riding on the outcome of an interview, the waiting can be excruciating.  These are the day to day opportunities for growth that I try to be grateful for.

I’ve always found waiting for important news difficult.  As a teenager in high school, I used to audition for solos in choir and for parts in the plays and musicals.  I was still developing emotional self-control at that age, so I was a bit more nervous during auditions, but it was nothing compared to the all-consuming distraction of waiting for the call back list to go up.  I had a hard time putting my mind on other things, and would be anxious and distracted for days until the outcome was known.  Once I got the news, good or bad, I was fine again.  It was the waiting that killed me.

So it is still for me today, even after decades of meditation and self-development under my belt.  I have gotten much better at being naturally confident in auditions or interviews, but I still am driven to distraction while waiting for the outcome.  But while my idle mind still returns again and again to the thought “Will I get it?”, I have at least learned of a few effective strategies to engage my mind in worthier directions.

Here’s what doesn’t work: sitting by a phone waiting for it to ring.  Now, I don’t have a cell phone that I use for business purposes, so if I get a professional call, it’s at home.  This makes it far easier for me to walk away  from the phone, both as an object and what that object symbolizes.  As long as I’m at home, every innocent ring makes my heart leap into my throat, and my mind buzz like a kicked hornet’s nest.  I can’t find peace in a state of hypervigilance.  But by getting away from the reminder of my discomfort, I’m better able to place my attention and my emotional energy on other things.

A very effective strategy is to find ways to be helpful or useful to the world.  I actively look for opportunities to do good deeds.  If you’ve ever volunteered your time, you likely have experienced the special kind of joy that comes from helping a worthy cause.  Selfless giving opens the heart and aligns it with a greater good. There are a million little pieces of unhappiness and suffering in the world.  Relieve a piece of that for another, big or small, and your own heart is rewarded with the very act of doing it.  It’s impossible to stay stuck in emotional distress while simultaneously experiencing the joy of selfless giving.  An open heart finds sympathetic ease when easing the distress of another.

So yesterday, to ease my distraction by a phone that didn’t ring, I looked for ways to be of use to the world.  I saw a friend in emotional distress over the grave illness of a loved one, so I offered to visit with her and help her create a custom essential oil blend that could support her emotionally in this difficult time.  I blend oils for myself to give me support in similar situations, so I was hoping to offer this friend a gesture of solace that might also provide her with a real tool to help her through this time of sadness and transition.

We chose six oils whose properties are associated with decreasing anxiety, fear, and stress: Patchouli, Cedarwood, Lavender, Melissa, Bergamot, and Cypress.  Patchouli is good for steadying the mind when overthinking and worry develop.  Cedarwood can give us strength in times of crisis, and support emotional resiliency. Lavender is rightly renowned for its ability to calm and sooth frayed nerves. Melissa can provide relief from anxious depression, while Bergamot clarifies and uplifts the mind.  Cypress helps convey a feeling of emotional cohesion, and supports our ability to cope with change, particularly with the transition of death.  When I was done with the blend, my friend was left with a custom perfume that can give her something to focus on when stress becomes overwhelming, and I was left with the heart’s ease that comes from supporting a friend in need.  And of course, I was also exposed to a therapeutic qualities of these oils as I was blending them, so it helped us both  find a bit of strength together.  That’s what friends are for.

It doesn’t do us any good to stay trapped in difficult emotional states.  Whether unhappy with some piece of our lives, or distressed about events outside of our control, staying stuck in those emotions isn’t healthy.  I think it’s important to find ways out of negative emotional states into more peaceful, joyful states of being.  This is an important part of my search for samadhi.  I seek liberation from the chains of emotional distress.   In those times when I am able to achieve emotional equilibrium, I find an infinite pool of joy waiting to offer its endless abundance.  I haven’t been able to achieve a perpetual state of bliss, and maybe I never will, but that is where I become a buddha.  No matter where I am, that is my destination, my heart’s ease.

“Better do a good deed near at home than go far away to burn incense.” – Chinese Proverb