When we are children, our parents tell us we can be whatever we want to be. Or at least, most of them do. But really what they should be saying is that we will be whoever we want to be and whoever we think we are. The idea you have of yourself in your mind is stronger and carries more weight than you ever could imagine, and when you project an idea about yourself it becomes truth. You make it so, if you will.
We all say terrible things about ourselves, especially when we are upset. “I’m stupid.” “No one really cares about me.” “I’m going to be alone forever.” “I’ll never find someone.” “I’m fat.” “I’m ugly.” “I’m useless.” I did this for a long time. Those horrible phrases I would repeat to myself become something of a comfort when I was depressed. I was soothed by the fact that I was just as pathetic as I had always imagined myself to be. All was right with the world.
But when you are constantly down on yourself, and constantly telling yourself you can’t do something or you aren’t worth something, you begin to believe it. Those words stay in your heart and you begin to act based on them. They are in the back of your mind, always taunting you. You lose your job and you tell yourself, “Of course you did. You were never good enough for that job, anyway. You’re just too stupid,” and it’s like a comfort. Ah, yes, I am my old self after all, incapable of doing anything right. You feel better because you recognize and know that person well - it’s reassuring in its familiarity.
So, if these things work one way, they undoubtedly work the other, as well, right? This is the realization I came to last night, sitting alone in my tiny bunkhouse. It was hot – the milder weather has made it tricky for me to gage how much heat I should use, and I had misjudged. My curtains were drawn. In my window I have a postcard that a dear friend sent to me, to which she glued a beautiful phrase that I repeat to myself every day: “She accepts the fates and furies beyond her control with unflappable composure (and a serious sense of humour)!” Since I have been saying this, I have indeed begun to face things with unflappable composure, composure I never knew I had. I sat on my bed and stared at that postcard. I repeated the words in my head a few times and began to feel strong, capable, in control of my emotions. That’s when I started to think – if this works so well, wouldn’t saying other things aloud to myself and repeating them over and over in my mind start making them come true, as well?
So I wrote down everything I wanted to be. I wrote down twenty phrases, among them:
I AM STRONG
I AM BEAUTIFUL
I AM LEVEL-HEADED
I AM OPEN-MINDED
I AM KIND
I BRING JOY TO OTHERS
I AM AT PEACE WITH ALL LIVING THINGS
MY BODY IS A TEMPLE
I AM IN CONTROL OF MY EMOTIONS
I DO NOT HAVE CONTROL OVER OTHERS
EVERYTHING HAPPENS BECAUSE IT WAS SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN
I AM LOVE
I cut out each phrase and taped them to different areas of my bunkhouse where I would see them frequently and repeat them, either in my mind or out loud. I also taped a poem to my door that I wrote to remind myself to feel love for all living things, even when it's the most difficult.
A lot of people, when they are trying to project positive affirmations, make the mistake of saying things like, “I wish I could be better at communicating with people.” When you say wishy-washy things like this, your mind gets caught up in all the “I wish” and “I’d like to”s. It must be a positive statement. I AM EXCELLENT AT COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS. You might feel like a fraud at first, because you’re not excellent at communicating with anyone yet. That’s okay! You’re not a fraud, because by saying this you’re going to make it so, and then it will be true.
If you don’t believe this can work, think about it this way. Everyone knows that person, the one who is always in a terrible state and horribly depressed and in some bad way at work and broke and everyone is out to get them. The tiniest cold becomes something to whine and complain about, and every slightly negative thing that happens to them is blown to the hugest proportions. Do you ever notice that those people are always miserable? It’s because they’re projecting misery. “Everything bad always happens to me.” Well, of course it does, you’re sitting there festering in your own skin just WAITING for it to happen. Constantly repeating negative statements like that puts them in the forefront of your brain, and as soon as something bad happens, it’s just reaffirming everything you were already thinking.
We all do this – I am definitely no exception, that’s for sure – but the key is to stop yourself when you sense it starting, take a deep breath, and remind yourself that everything seems the way it does because you are perceiving it that way. Doing these positive affirmations isn’t going to stop bad things from happening to you. It’s just going to help you think of them differently, and they won’t seem so bad. Remember that wherever you are and whatever’s happening to you is exactly as it should be. So it follows that whatever situation you’re in… you’re in it for a reason. So, what’s the reason? I’ll bet you could find it, if you really wanted to. “I just got dumped. I’m so sad! But… I could see myself becoming really negative being with that person” (or bored or inactive or unhealthy or whatever) “so that must be why it didn’t work out. There must be something in store for me that I haven’t gotten to yet, and then this will all make sense.”
Sound trite? That’s okay. You don’t have to do it then. But the rest of us will, and we’ll reap the rewards.
I was talking to a friend the other day who is going through some hard times. She expressed to me that she felt like a bad person and that she didn’t like who she had become. (Just for the record, I don't believe there are "bad people", just bad decisions and hurtful actions) I told her she could be whoever she wanted to be, so if she wanted to change she should find all the things she didn’t like about herself and strive to change them, one by one. It’s a frightening task, sure, and one that’s probably going to take you the rest of your life, but what have you got to lose? In your mind, who is that person you want to be? Who is that best version of yourself? Maybe you want to be kinder to strangers. Maybe you want to be calmer, able to deal with your emotions better. Maybe you want to be more courageous. Well, what’s stopping you? Grab a sheet of paper now and plan it all out. Write down all the things you want to be. Remind yourself of all the beautiful things you already are. Don’t judge yourself, don’t be harsh. Everyone has things about themselves they don’t like and everyone has flaws – you are no different. But you can take control of these flaws and change them, and the person who will benefit the most from it is you. So, go to it. Read them out loud every day, run them through your mind continuously, make them into a mantra: I am strong, I am capable, I am beautiful, I am intelligent, I am calm, I am collected, I am kind. Be conscious of your thoughts and when you feel you are slipping, repeat them to yourself yet again. I am angry right now, but I don’t have to be. I AM CALM, I AM CALM.
So, what will your positive affirmations be? Would you share them with me, as I have shared mine with you? I would love to hear them, and all about your journey to self-discovery and mental health. My own journey has been frightfully interesting so far. I completely slipped up for a few weeks, started eating shit again, smoking cigarettes, you name it! Now I have a new sense of motivation and strength and am ready to get back to it again. The one thing I always have to remind myself of is that in no way am I perfect and in no way will I ever be, so not to treat myself like I’m supposed to be. But by constantly reminding myself that I can be whoever I set my mind to being, I feel a renewed sense of hope for this journey I’m on.