In my last blog post I wrote about why adopting certain beliefs may be more difficult than others. It has to do with reasons relating to our survival. Our brains are built to be quite malleable. Meaning they are able to form new neural pathways responsible for communicating thought and invoking responses from one part of our brain to another. We are built to be able to learn and unlearn ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving within a matter of split seconds in order to help us survive.
Another reason we may have found difficulty with trying to change a belief is simply because we weren't utilizing the best approach. I'll give you a couple of things to consider and then share a couple of belief integration strategies you may not have heard of or used effectively before.
Determining Your Adoption Strategy
✦ Do you already have experience with using any of the strategies mentioned my last blog post about adopting new beliefs? Perhaps you’ve attempted one or a few, purposefully or unintentionally, with guidance or on your own. If so, you can reference your previous experiences to determine which strategies are more effective and which are less effective for you. You can also try the Declarative Affirmation and or the Interrogative Self Talk approaches I describe further below.
✦ You may find it helpful to consult with mental health professionals or role models on how to approach the transformation you’re wanting. You can begin after you have this thorough understanding or you can always begin with a method and see how it goes after a predetermined amount of time of dedicated effort of at least two weeks, or 30 - 60 days. Then you can check to
see if the results you are or aren’t getting are worth continuing the process. This is also a time where you may want feedback after consulting with those who have experience with using or teaching these methods to help assess your results.
✦ Determine whether you are willing to dedicate the necessary effort for whichever strategy you are considering. Ask yourself, “Am I willing to _________?” If the answer isn’t a 100% yes, get a greater understanding of your reasons for making the change(s).
In my personal and professional experience, the greater your “why” the more willing you are to make the change. The stronger the reasons to make the change, the more we can transcend the needs for comfort, routine, safety, or belief in possibility. While our need to avoid risk and the unknown or wasted efforts is high as humans (some more than others), never underestimate the power of sheer desperation or a higher meaning.
Now onto some useful approaches....
Declarative Affirmation Exercise
1. Think of an affirming or empowering statement you’d like your subconscious mind to think of as 100% true. This could be a statement of identity, ability, or commitment. Write this phrase down on a card or post-it; something you could keep in a place you can see everyday. The statement
should be written in the positive, similar to any or all of the following:
✦ "I am enough.”
✦ “I am capable.”
✦ “I am everything I need.”
✦ “I am whole.”
✦ “I love and accept myself.”
✦ “I can ________(hold boundaries, learn, etc.)”
✦ “I will ________(earn x amount of money by this date).”
2. If it is an uncomfortable stretch to say the affirmation simply stated in the positive, you can start out with a way of phrasing the statement that’s easier for you to say and believe. This starter statement should be temporary (2 - 4
weeks) while you’re incorporating the practice of daily affirmations. Here are a few examples to give you an idea:
✦ “I am not perfect, but I am not flawed. There isn’t anything wrong with me.”
✦ “I refuse to be shamed; not by myself or by anyone else. I will defend my worth.”
✦ “I am committed to ________!” (E.g., accepting myself, earning what I want/deserve/ meets my needs/will support me, treating myself with more respect, etc.)
3. Now pick at least three facts you are confident or certain about. They could also be statements that have the kind of emotion you want your affirmation to be associated with such as:
✦ “I am a ________(your gender identity, height, age, etc.).”
✦ “I love ________(my smile, eyes, generous heart, laugh, etc.).”
✦ “I can ________(breathe, walk, talk, etc.).”
✦ Pay attention to your posture, tone of voice, body language, facial expressions, and the way you breathe when you say these things that you know to be true, and that have the emotion you want.
4. Once you are in a natural state of certainty with the emotional associations you want, repeat your three chosen statements and then slip in your affirmation. Say it in just the way you said your chosen statements — in the way you would state anything you confidently know to be true or that has the emotion you want. Sandwich your affirmation in-between your chosen statements as you recite them all back to back at least three times in a row. You can do more sets of all of these statements, including your affirmation, as needed.
✦ If your affirmation doesn’t sound very true, or feels uncomfortable at first, close your eyes and listen inside your mind’s ear to your three chosen statements, as if listening to surround sound speakers in a dark room. Listen to yourself repeat these statements as thoughts in your head back to back for about 30 seconds. As you do so, notice whether you hear your chosen statements as coming from your right or left, higher or lower, in various
volumes and tones, or from different directions inside your head. This is the auditory ‘fingerprint’ of how you hear your thoughts as true and with the certain emotions.
✦ Then hear yourself think of your affirmation. Hear it in just the same way you hear the other thoughts for which you already have certainty and the desired emotions. Do it as rapidly as you can until your affirmation sounds basically the same as your other chosen statements in your minds ear.
✦ Repeat the exercise out loud, and notice how much easier it becomes to say your affirmation with the same certainty, confidence, or emotion as your other chosen statements. It’s a work out for your neural pathways - you’re training them to fire together.
5. You may find this exercise even more powerful if you are looking in the mirror, or at a picture of your younger self (perhaps 10 years old or younger). Think of how you would wish their world to be at that age, and any age of their life. If you would want your 10-year-old self to have these empowering beliefs, along with the benefits that come from having them, then envisioning yourself at any given age you could have empathy for while doing this exercise will make it more impactful to do and easier to be dedicated to doing.
Interrogative Self Talk
Interrogative Self Talk is a much less commonly utilized or talked about method of ingraining self affirmation. It’s important to be aware of this method, and why it can be so effective, particularly if you’ve found Declarative Affirmation Statements to elicit anxiety, or noticed little benefit from them.
What you’ve seen in the previous examples I’ve mentioned so far are forms of Declarative Affirmation statements (e.g., “I am not perfect, but I am not flawed.”). In contrast, this next method revolves around asking yourself questions. Studies have shown that, for some people, it is much more effective to use affirmations in the form of questions. Using the method that works best for each of us 3 individually is the key to success. We can achieve our desired results more quickly and successfully by
figuring out if we respond better to asking ourselves questions vs. repeating statements to ourselves.
Questions are powerful because they incite our minds to probe for answers. Questions can remind us of the resources we do have, and serve to activate our curiosity. You can simply tweak any declarative affirmation in order to make it an interrogative affirmation.
Let’s say you are about to give a presentation and you’re feeling nervous about it. You may find yourself making a declarative statement such as, “I’m the worst at giving presentations; I’m always too nervous to think or speak clearly.” Or you may try to give yourself a pep talk by saying something like, “I will deliver a great presentation that inspires my audience. I am a great speaker.”
Both are declarative statements which can apply a kind of external pressure to oneself when said with anxiety instead of confidence. If this happens, it can shut down the possibility of accessing the internal resources you’re counting on for success (like creativity or calmness). However, you could adjust the above statements so they become questions such as, “Am I really the worst presenter in all the world? Have every single one of my presentations been so awful as to earn the title of the worst there’s ever been or ever will be? Have any of my presentations ever gone well for me?” Or “Is it possible for me to deliver a great presentation that inspires my audience?”
By tweaking your statement into a questions, you’ll see that there’s a wider variety of potential answers such as, “When I get shy and nervous, it can make people less engaged when I talk. However, in my last presentation, I made a point that people found interesting and I really had their attention — how could I recreate that in my next presentation?” Or, “The last presentation that I did went well. What did I do that worked and how could I do more of that?”
This interrogative strategy acknowledges your negative thoughts and feelings, preventing the need to fight them. You and your unconscious mind become allies by eliciting more thoughts, feelings, and memories to counter the negative ones. This cooperation from the unconscious mind is a lifesaver
since our unconscious minds are fantastic at responding to specific questions, drawing from memory, being creative and aligning with our given needs or intentions.
To use this method:
✦ Think of the things that you are worrying about, any negative beliefs, etc. that you are wishing to address, and which you may have already tried to use Declarative Affirmations for.
✦ Now, instead of thinking these thoughts in the form of an immutable declaration, reword them into questions. For example: “I am the worst person in the world,” would become, “Am I the worst person in all the world, in the entirety of human history?” & “I will raise my income by 10% this year,” would become, “How will I raise my income by 10% this year?” Or, “What can I do to get started, and when will I begin to take action?”
✦ As you think about the answers to these questions, new questions will arise. Keep going with this line of questioning. For example: “I will give this presentation at work,” becomes, “Will I muster up my courage and give
this presentation at work?”
✦ You might answer, “No, I’m too scared.”
✦ And then you might follow up by asking “Why wouldn’t I?” And, “What happens if I don’t give that presentation?”
✦ “I’m afraid everyone will think I don’t have the expertise or qualifications to be giving the presentation. But if I don’t do the presentation, I will lose the respect of my colleagues and will be seen as unreliable.”
✦ “What if that happens? What then?”
✦ “I’ll be disappointed in myself because I’ll know that I haven’t lived up to my own standards, and I won’t have done justice to my own skill.”
✦ “So am I qualified to give this presentation then?”
✦ “Yes. I will feel better about myself overall if I do a thorough job, even if it’s not as charismatic as I might want, in order to do justice to myself and to my colleagues.”
The goal here is to soothe your mind by allowing yourself to really take a look at all the fears that may be standing in the way of really being able to benefit from a positive affirmation. You’re utilizing your ingenuity and inquisitiveness to acknowledge and address fears or obstacles rather than just trying to drown them out by saying a more forceful phrase.
This process allows your subconscious mind to feel heard, which can allow you to more freely and effectively change your behaviors or thought patterns.
In My Friend Olivia’s Experience...
"In myself, for example, even if I want to adopt a belief and behavior of loving myself, if I just declare, “I love myself,” and repeat it forcefully every day, the only thing that happens is that my subconscious and even my conscious mind rebel. If I declare something that I don’t believe, I don’t start to believe that thing, I resolutely challenge that declaration because I’ve based it simply on what I want rather than on the available information I have collected via experience and observation. I need to be able to question myself into a new belief, or rather, question myself out of an old belief in order to make the changes I’m wanting in my life."
How About You?
Determining how you approach adopting new beliefs/behaviors is important.
Do you favor declaratives as in boldly making a decision to believe something else?
Are you willing to dedicate yourself to creating new neural pathways and reinforcing them repeatedly until you feel like you truly believe it?
Or, do you favor interrogative approaches? That is, do you need to ask questions and consider evidence so that your new belief has a sense of being founded in reality? That may help it to feel wise, provable, or true, right from the start.
If so, you’ll have to be able to communicate to yourself that your previous belief is ‘wrong’ and the new belief would be ‘right.’