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How do affirmations work?

Hi, I’m Rich, and as a mindset coach and trainer - licensed in the Mindspan Framework - affirmations play a significant role with the people I coach and the training I deliver to companies. Let's start with a quick definition but don't worry; I'll repeat this later too. Within the Mindspan Framework, we define an affirmation as: A consciously constructed, positive statement about yourself, in the present tense...


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Richard Donovan

a year ago | 6 min read

Hi, I’m Rich, and as a mindset coach and trainer - licensed in the Mindspan Framework - affirmations play a significant role with the people I coach and the training I deliver to companies.

Let's start with a quick definition but don't worry; I'll repeat this later too. Within the Mindspan Framework, we define an affirmation as:

A consciously constructed, positive statement about yourself, in the present tense.

A big aspect of affirmations is the fact that they are positive. Positive and negative in this context can be seen as helpful or unhelpful too. I'll use these terms interchangeably, but they basically mean the same thing.

So is it important to have a positive attitude or outlook on life?

The Thinking Cycle

To address why a positive attitude or outlook is so important, you need to consider a couple of concepts. The first is what we call the Thinking Cycle. The Thinking Cycle is a core foundation of the Mindspan Framework – in a nutshell, the cut-down version goes like this…

You find yourself in a situation, and you process that situation with THOUGHTS. These THOUGHTS drive how you feel (EMOTIONS) about that situation. The EMOTIONS you feel will drive how you BEHAVE, and ultimately this will influence your OUTCOME.

Thinking Spirals

The nature of those initial thoughts will likely flow through the cycle, so if your initial thoughts are negative (unhelpful to you), they will likely result in you feeling unhelpful emotions and indulging in unhelpful behaviour. This is likely to lead to an unhelpful outcome for you in the grand scheme of things.

Over time, your unhelpful thinking can become habitual and lead you into what we call a very negative, downward Thinking Spiral. (Suddenly, everything seems so much worse than it is… and it gets even worse the longer you think this way) The longer you're in, what we would call a Low State of Mind, the harder it is for you to get back on track again.

Thankfully, by exhibiting some control over your initial thoughts in a given situation, viewing it positively or seeing it from a different perspective, you have a greater chance of controlling the emotions you feel, the behaviour you then indulge in and ultimately, you can have a greater influence on the outcome that follows.

Again, due to the habitual nature of the brain, over time, this positive attitude can lead to a very High State of Mind or a positive, upward Thinking Spiral. This is a far more positive and constructive way of thinking.

The Subconscious Mind

Sometimes when you react to situations, you may feel like it just happened and that you didn’t give it much conscious thought at all. This is largely driven by the mental habits and beliefs you’ve formed over time. When you think a particular way for so long, it begins to move from your conscious mind to your subconscious mind and effectively becomes your default response or autopilot. 

There are several quirks of the subconscious mind that, without us realising, often work against us. But affirmations tap into these quirks and have them work for us instead.

  • The subconscious mind is teleological by nature – this means it is very directional and locks on to your focus/purpose. It then gears its efforts into moving you towards that focus. A key reason why focussing positively is so important.
  • The subconscious mind is unquestioning and unfiltered - this means that you get out what you put in. If you constantly think negative, unhelpful thoughts, your subconscious mind will take this as the way you want to think all the time, without validating how helpful or unhelpful it is to you. If you're focussing negatively, your brain is still going to take you in that direction. Affirmations allow us to move this in a positive direction.
  • The subconscious mind can’t differentiate between what is real and what is imagined. This makes visualisation a powerful tool.

Beliefs

Ultimately, you are limited by your own beliefs. If you don’t believe you can achieve something, you are unlikely to do so. If you want to achieve more than you currently believe you are capable of, you need to push those limits. Affirmations are a tool that can help you do this.

One of the primary ways that you form mental habits and beliefs is through repetition. That repetition can come in the form of hearing things or seeing things from others, but it turns out that YOU are the biggest repeater, as far as your brain is concerned.

The way you speak to others, the questions you ask yourself, or the accusations you cast towards yourself are all being absorbed by your brain. When repeated often enough, this language begins to form your mental habits and seeps into your subconscious mind, whether said aloud or simply in your head.

Affirmations

Affirmations can contribute massively to your confidence, your self-image and to the beliefs you form about your capabilities. They can help to push the boundaries of your current limits so that you can achieve greater things.

When used effectively, affirmations can help you set an appropriate focus, which can hugely impact whether you achieve your goals.

So what was that definition again? We define an affirmation as:

A consciously constructed, positive statement about yourself, in the present tense. 

With all that we've just covered about the Thinking Cycle, Thought Spirals, the Subconscious Mind and how we form beliefs, we can use affirmations to consciously program our subconscious mind to work for us.

When would you use affirmations?

You can use affirmations when you want to reaffirm how you want to be, how you want to continue to be or how you want to improve yourself.

Affirmation example

A couple of examples of my affirmations are:

  • “I am an attentive person who actively listens when people speak.”
  • “I am an energetic and confident keynote speaker.”

I want to improve upon actively listening, and being an energetic and confident keynote speaker is largely aspirational.

How do you use them?

I recommend repeating your affirmations daily:

  • 2-6 minutes first thing in the morning.
  • 2-6 minutes last thing at night before you go to bed.

Again, one of the most powerful ways we form beliefs is through repetition.

This helps to keep your affirmations on your radar and sets a focus for your brain to lock on to (remember the teleological/directional nature of the brain). Repeated often enough and with conviction, these will start to move into your subconscious mind; you start to believe them and subsequently move towards them.

How can you get the most out of your affirmations?

Getting into the habit of repeating your affirmations morning and night is a great start. However, there are several ways to get the most out of your affirmations, over and above just repeating them to yourself. 

Language

The language you use is important; therefore, you phrase them in the present tense. You’re trying to convince yourself that you are already the thing you want to be.

Emotion

When repeating your affirmations, you should be looking to emulate what it feels like to be the result of your affirmation. If your affirmation is about confidence, try to feel confident when you’re repeating it. Adding emotion to your repetition makes it more believable and more likely to stick.

Visualise

When repeating your affirmations, you should try to visualise yourself being the result of your affirmation. If your affirmation is about listening closely to others, visualise that scene in which you’re doing exactly that. Remember that the subconscious mind cannot distinguish between what is real and what is imagined, so this will be processed like a real experience and will add considerable weight and believability to your affirmations.

What to look out for?

Affirmations must be repeated often to be effective, which can take a fair amount of time. We don’t tend to miraculously change our beliefs overnight. 

It is common for people to report hearing that little voice in their head when repeating their affirmations to themselves.

  • “You can’t do that.”
  • “That’s not you.”
  • “This will never work.”

This is completely normal and will become quieter and eventually disappear with time and repetition.

Many people report the positive impact that affirmations have had on their lives and careers, athletes, coaches, and yes, even software developers!

Could affirmations help you?

If you think you could benefit from introducing affirmations into your routine, then book a free discovery call with me, as they form an important role in my mindset coaching and training.

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Created by

Richard Donovan

Founder of RD Coached Ltd

I’m Richard Donovan and I formed RD Coached following a software development career spanning over 2 decades. I started at the bottom, I’m self-taught and I had no degree. I’ve worked through the ranks, I’ve led teams and my most recent position was as a Software Architect for a global FTSE 100 company. I regularly workout and I love playing squash and golf. I’m a licensed Mindspan Peak Performance Coach and Trainer and I’m a Personal Trainer and online fitness coach. As a Software Developer, I recognised early on that my mental and physical wellbeing played a huge role in my performance. The more I looked around, the more I could see developers struggling with their role, not from a technical perspective, but because of their mental and physical health. It was hard to admit, but for a large part of my career, I struggled with self-doubt, I lacked self-belief and my confidence was low. After speaking to countless developers, it seems I wasn’t the only one...


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