(originally posted April 2018 on Of Love and Light website)
If you’re anything like me, your mind is constantly running with background chatter. There is the chatter you’re aware of—the thoughts and daydreams and self-criticisms and if-onlys and what-ifs and to-dos that float around.
And then there is the silent chatter, the inner voice hiding behind the scenes in your subconscious.
The silent chatter is not something that we can consciously control at any given moment, but it is something that we can slowly alter to move toward our highest self. Societal expectations lurk in silent chatter, and thoughts about money and relationship and self-worth and limitations—all sorts of ideas that shape the risks we take and the choices we make… without even knowing it.
I remember back when I was a teenager, I was aware of several layers of conscious thought processes going on at any one time. I often wished that I could have a mind recorder to capture even a second of those thoughts for further contemplation down the line.
As I’ve aged, the sheer number of layers that appear at any one time have diminished. But, as it turns out, the thoughts I’m conscious of are not even close to the whole story… and they’re barely impacting my behavior at all.
Instead, it’s my subconscious mind making most of the decisions for me. Without even knowing what I’m thinking, I’m acting upon those thoughts.
That’s where today’s topic of affirmations, or as I’ve titled it, “fake it ’til you mean it,” comes into play.
Before we get into affirmations, hear me out for a second here.
There are many articles online claiming up to 95% of our thoughts are subconscious, and that they are driving our behavior. Now, I wasn’t able to locate that exact claim in an academic paper, so I don’t know how accurate it may be. (Seems like a tough thing to calculate.) But, what I was able to find in many academic papers was that subconscious thoughts do indeed make up the majority of our brain processes. There just wasn’t a cut-and-dry number most researchers would commit to.
There was, however, plenty of evidence that our subconscious is powerful, and that repeated statements in our conscious mind can form belief systems, which in turn impact how we interact with the world.
Here’s one passage from “The Biochemistry of Belief,” by T.S. Sathyanarayana Rao, M. R. Asha, K. S. Jagannatha Rao, and P. Vasudevaraju, an academic article published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry:
“Beliefs originate from what we hear—and keep on hearing from others, ever since we were children (and even before that!). The sources of beliefs include environment, events, knowledge, past experiences, visualization, etc. One of the biggest misconceptions people often harbor is that belief is a static, intellectual concept. Nothing can be farther from truth! Beliefs are a choice. We have the power to choose our beliefs. Our beliefs become our reality.”
So, back to the conscious vs. subconscious mind, and then we’ll move onto how this all relates to the power of affirmations.
I believe that as we learn about the world and ourselves, there are fewer outstanding questions that grab our attention. The things we’ve wondered about, and thought over and over, seep from conscious to subconscious, leaving fewer things to actively think about. That’s why I’m aware of fewer thoughts rolling around now than back when I was, say, fifteen years old.
I’ve still probably got at least three of the following inner conversations going on at any one time:
- what to make for my next meal,
- how to phrase or plot the story I’m working on,
- best edits for a client,
- replaying a conversation that I a/felt inspired by or b/felt could’ve gone better,
- actively observing whatever is going on around me,
- making connections between new knowledge and previously learned knowledge,
- assessing my mental or physical status,
- thinking about whatever political or social justice issue is drawing my attention at any given moment,
- daydreaming about where I want to travel next,
- daydreaming about whatever I want to create next,
- thinking about the latest book I’m reading,
- ruminating on the meaning of everything,
- figuring out what I want to do next in life,
- remembering an event from last week/last year/childhood…
And the list goes on. Phew! That sounds like a lot still, right? But whereas it used to all of that (and more) all of the time, now it’s some of that most of the time.
With that transition and progression of adulthood comes a narrowed focus, which is slightly less exhausting. (At times, though, I admit I miss the energy of teenage thoughts with all those layers and synapses firing constantly.)
Are we actually thinking less? Does our capacity to think in multiple layers shrink with age?
Maybe… but I have a feeling it has more to do with a shifting percentage in the balance of conscious vs. subconscious thoughts as we don’t have to build as many neural pathways, than it has to do with a diminished capacity to think.
So many of those thoughts that used to seemed new and novel in childhood— who am I? what’s my place in the world?—by adulthood have morphed into an integral part of our identity. We don’t have to spend as much time figuring out what we believe because we’ve already gone over the answer enough times for it to sink in.
The stream of consciousness moves into a stream of subconsciousness, but it’s still there.
The problem that can happen is that if we don’t consciously challenge some of those old beliefs, especially limiting beliefs about who we are or what we’re capable of, growth can stagnate.
You know that you’ve grown and changed since childhood. You know your relationships with family members have evolved. But does your subconscious realize how much… or is it still holding onto old beliefs, still harboring old resentments?
It’s time to let that stuff go.
That is where affirmations come in.
What Is An Affirmation?
Essentially, it’s something you repeat to support or build a belief. Dictionary.com offers five definitions, including two that stand out to me: “the assertion that something exists or is true, a statement or proposition that is declared tobe true.”
It bears repeating: the assertion that something exists or is true, or a statement or proposition that is declared to be true.
Notice it the definition was not “truth.” It was “the assertion that… a statement or proposition that…”
When you start to look into positive affirmations and growth mindset, you’ll find recommendations that a portion of the affirmations you create hold true today or seem within reach, and a portion of the affirmations you dream will hold true tomorrow.
It’s a balance between affirming that which is already true, and that which you want to make true.
According to Psychology Today, “An affirmation can work, because it has the ability to program your mind into believing the stated concept. This is because the mind doesn’t know the difference between what is real or fantasy.”
When I first heard about affirmations, I will admit, I chuckled inwardly. I immediately thought of Stuart Smalley, the Saturday Night Live character who would stare into a mirror with a cheesy smile and pump himself up, saying, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”
I could not picture myself doing that.
And while some people might look into a mirror, I tend to write mine down (I am a big believer in the power of the written word to speed a message to the subconscious self), or just say them silently as I go throughout my day.
Initially, I will admit, affirmations sounded odd, uncomfortable, “woo-woo.” Reprogramming the mind and effecting change in the real world by telling yourself something nice? Until you get comfortable with the idea, it can sound farfetched. But, maybe it’s through enough exposure to the concept from different sources, or maybe it’s through a logical evaluation of how or why affirmations might work… whatever the reason, I’ve definitely come to believe in them.
Think about it. There’s a reason companies have taglines, nations have anthems, and religions have shared creeds and prayers. There’s a reason certain songs rise up in the consciousness, seemingly spurring larger societal shifts. Nefariously, there’s a reason cults and hate groups break messages down into simple chants.
It’s because repeated messages become internalized, embodied, believed.
Positive affirmations feel good, but they also do good. They’re effective at battling the negative thoughts that have become subconscious beliefs. Those nasty self-criticisms or societal errs like, “I never finish anything,” or “I am as valuable as (how much money I earn) or (my job title),” or “I just have to X first, and then I’ll be able to Y.” Surely you know what I’m talking about—those things you tell yourself, but you’d never tell another human being.
You’re probably aware of them when they creep to the surface, but your subconscious has heard them enough to start believing them.
The thing is, those negative beliefs don’t serve you. To say goodbye, start replacing them with positive affirmations.
Start Using Affirmations Today
You can get a book of affirmations, or visit a website, or look on Instagram under inspirational hashtags, but you can also just create your own.
It’s as simple as this: What do you want to assert or declare as true?
Here are a few that I like to get you started:
I use my voice to lift people up.
The right people are in my life, and coming into my life.
Creative ideas are always flowing through me, and I act on them.
I am open to new opportunities.
I love my life.
I am right where I am supposed to be, in this moment.
My mind, body and spirit are healthy and fulfilled.
I accept, embrace, and appreciate the support of my community.
I seek, acknowledge and celebrate the love and light in this world.
I trust my intuition and allow it to guide me.
I like to write one down in my agenda or art journal each week that defines what I’m open to at any given moment. You can do that, or you can say meditate on it, or take a walk and say it to yourself over and over, or incorporate it into a poem or drawing or painting, or email yourself… whatever you want to do!
What affirmation would you like to incorporate in your daily life?
Just make sure that at the end of the day, you’re convinced, just like Stuart Smalley, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!” And then go out and share your awesome self with the world.
Want to write it down, and send me your affirmation? Sometimes “speaking” it aloud allows us to believe it more. Feel free to type it up and send it my way. I’d love to bear witness.