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By Vincent Paul Cooper

Put quite simply, an affirmation is a statement of truth. We affirm the truth. Affirmations are also used by members of different religious faiths in a slightly different manner. When affirming something, perhaps while in prayer, the believer may acknowledge that while in the present reality what he or she is affirming may not be true, it is hoped - through divine intervention - that at some point in the future it will be true. Christians, for example, utter 'Amen' at the end of a prayer, meaning 'Let it be' or 'So be it'. It is this latter form of affirmation that is most widely used by practitioners of personal development. That is, an affirmation is a statement made now of what we would like in the future.

An affirmation is a statement made now of what we would like in the future.

The mechanics of precisely how affirmations work are, as far as I know, unknown to scientists and psychologists. Anecdotal and empirical evidence however suggests that affirmations can and do work, though in different ways for different people. Based on my personal experience and that of clients, affirmations seem to have an effect on your self-image and on your ideas of who you are and what you are capable of achieving. This seems to have an impact on your psychological and bio-chemical functioning. Imagine you feel the faint tremors of an earthquake. Mentally you tell yourself you are in danger and this causes your body and mind to immediately change and prepare you to face what could become a dangerous situation. Affirmations, I suggest, work in the same way. Affirmations are an internal dialogue between your conscious mind and your subconscious mind.

Affirmations are an internal dialogue between your conscious mind and your subconscious mind.

Then, in turn, how you see yourself will begin to alter how others view you too and this sets up a cycle of positive reinforcement. As others respond positively to you, it becomes easier for you to maintain and enhance your self-image.

To give a simple example, we would expect that someone who affirms regularly that they are a positive and healthy person will develop a stronger self-image than a person who spends the same amount of time affirming that they are an unhealthy, negative person, all other things being equal.

Where affirmations can stall is when the projected self-image is so far from the current self-image that the conscious mind simply does not believe what it is saying to itself. Going back to the example of the earthquake, if you try to tell yourself right now that you are experiencing an earthquake you will fail to impress your subconscious mind and will find that this statement has no effect on you whatsoever. You can restate it as many times as you want with as much intensity as you want; with no evidence to support the statement you will fail to impress yourself and create the same changes as you would in a real earthquake.

Exactly how far you can project a self-image away from your current self-image and still have your subconscious mind respond varies from person to person. It is however possible to fool yourself and this is the key to using affirmations effectively. Here in Japan buildings are designed to be sensitive to tremors and to bend (slightly!) as the earth moves violently. This can cause problems if you are in a building near a main road as the heavy traffic can cause the office to sway ever so slightly. This feels exactly like the initial stages of an earthquake and most people find themselves momentarily panicked and pausing for a second or two at such times just to assess whether it is traffic or an earthquake that is causing the movement. My point is that your conscious mind can fool your subconscious mind.

Your conscious mind can fool your subconscious mind.

To use affirmations effectively then it is up to you to experiment to find the precise method and wording that works best for you. If you are getting it right you should feel physically energized and mentally stimulated. If your affirmation is too demanding then your subconscious mind will know you are lying and neither your body or mind will react accordingly. In this case I suggest that you will find it hard to make affirmations work effectively for you, though such statements can perhaps provide excellent material to meditate on.

If you are getting it right you should feel physically energized and mentally stimulated.

Saying Affirmations
There are no hard and fast rules on how to actually say your affirmations so choose a method that is most suitable for you. Some people get the best results by repeating affirmations in a similar way to a religious mantra. The same statement is uttered over and over at a rapid pace so that it becomes hypnotic and takes the speaker into a meditative trance. Others get great results by sitting calmly and quietly reiterating the affirmation to themselves giving them time to think about and consider exactly what the words mean. This approach works best with affirmations that are designed to calm and restore you. Another technique is to shout out the statement as loudly as you can (while respecting the people around you) and fully focusing yourself on the words in a dynamic way. This approach is encouraged by Tony Robbins.

Based again on my own personal experience and that of clients I have coached I advise you to find a method of saying your affirmation that excites you and mentally turns you on. For the affirmation to work you should experience psychological and physiological changes so it is easy to detect when you are hitting the nail on the head. Personally I follow the example of Tony Robbins and put as much emotion into affirmations as possible. I particularly like to break up a martial arts or weight training session periodically to go through some affirmations when I am already physically and mentally aroused. Take the time to experiment and find out what works best for you.

Find a method of saying your affirmation that excites you and mentally turns you on.

Affirmation Styles
Presented below are a few different affirmation styles that you can use and play around with.

  • Power Words
    I first experienced the use of single word affirmations over 20 years ago when I began training in martial arts, and in karate and tae kwon do in particular. In karate there is something called the dojo kun, which is an oath you recite within a group at the commencement of training. This is regarded as playing a key role in the developing the moral character of practitioners. Taking a closer look at it gives us an interesting insight into how power words are chosen and developed. In full the dojo kun reads:
    • Each person must strive for the perfection of one's character
    • Each person must be faithful and protect the way of truth
    • Each person must foster the spirit of effort
    • Each person must respect others and the rules of etiquette
    • Each person must refrain from violent behavior
    As karate became more and more popular and begin to appeal to children the oath was reduced to a series of key (power) words:
    • Seek perfection of character
    • Be sincere
    • Put maximum effort into everything you do
    • Respect others
    • Develop self-control
    And these statements can be further reduced to:
    • Character
    • Loyalty
    • Effort
    • Etiquette
    • Control
    Although I did not know it at the time, this was my first real experience of using affirmations (and is perhaps why I prefer the 'shout and scream' method of delivery!). Tae kwon do uses a similar set of key words.

    The advantage of power words is that they are easy to remember and you can string along several words very easily without becoming confused as to which one comes next in your order. They are also very easy to quickly recall mentally in situations where you need to remind yourself of your own personal code of living and personal development. On the other hand, power words are vague and do not focus on immediacy.

    The advantage of power words is that they are easy to remember.

    To highlight the various styles of affirmations I would like to introduce Steve. Steve has a goal to become more energetic and wants to use affirmations to remind himself of his goal and to keep him motivated to achieve his target. If Steve were to use power words he could perhaps select the words 'energy' or 'energetic' and repeat one of these words over and over to himself in whatever manner he found most appealing (see Saying Affirmations above).

  • 'I Want' Affirmations
    'I Want' affirmations are statements of desire linked at the end of an 'I want...' utterance. Some examples could be 'I want more money' or 'I want better relationships' or 'I want to move closer to God'. 'I want' affirmations keep your mind focused clearly on what it is you want out of life. Avoid stating your affirmation in the negative ('I don't want...').

    'I want' affirmations keep your mind focused clearly on what it is you want out of life.

    We may experience these types of affirmations even as young children and teenagers when people ask us questions like 'What do you want to be when you are older?' or 'What do you want to do when you leave school?' These are very powerful questions and you should be very aware (parents as well) that the answers given can affect our minds to a tremendous extent. Which child would you rather be or have as your own? The one who says she would like to work in a fast food restaurant or the one who says she wants to become a gourmet chef later in life? Do you want to be the teenager who at a career seminar says he doesn't really know what he wants to do when he leaves high school or the one who says he wants to attend a top university, get a business degree and work for an international company?

    In these examples we can see all too clearly just how powerful both the question ('What do you want?') and the answer ('I want...') can be. Yet as adults we can sometimes forget the impact of such thoughts and considerations. With this affirmation then I am suggesting that you first ask yourself what you want and then give your true answer. This becomes your affirmation. Repeat this affirmation daily and with whatever level of intensity feels natural and comfortable for you. Start focusing your mind on what you want.

    Going back to Steve, his affirmations could be 'I want more energy' or 'I want to be more energetic'.

  • New Identity Affirmations
    What I have called the 'New Identity' affirmations are very popular within the field of personal development and have been promoted by such people as Tony Robbins. 'New Identity' affirmations are statements made in the present tense that may not be true at the time of utterance but which it is hoped will be true at some point in the future. In other words, the speaker is talking as if what she wants is already reality. Some examples could be 'I am healthy' or 'I wake up early and exercise for an hour' or 'My life is filled with abundance'.

    Using these affirmations you are focusing your mind on your current situation and portraying it in the manner that you wish it to be. You are attempting to fool your mind into believing something is real in order to change your psychology and physiology to allow you to act in a manner that will make your affirmation real. Put another way, you are creating a new identity for yourself.

    Using these affirmations you are focusing your mind on your current situation and portraying it in the manner that you wish it to be.

    We use these affirmations on a daily basis and it is worth noting how great the effects can be of changing how we use the simple present tense when talking about ourselves. Take a simple exchange like a greeting. When someone asks you how you are, generally do you say something like 'I'm okay' or 'I can't complain' or 'I'm alright'? These statements may be true and may reflect how you feel in the inside, but as a simple experiment, try changing your response. True or not, next time someone asks you how you are reply with 'I'm great' or 'I'm on top of the world' or 'I have never been better'. See how the different response impacts you and pay attention too to the effect it has on the person you are talking to. Watch their eyes as their perception of you changes in a second. See them see you as someone great, someone filled with energy and joy with life.

    Steve would write his affirmation as 'I am more energetic' or 'I have more energy'.

  • I'm in the Process of...
    In his book Law of Attraction Michael J. Losier suggests a few different ways of stating affirmations (see also 'I've Decided' and 'Ask for Information' below). The first is to state affirmations after the prefix 'I'm in the process of...' to avoid focusing your attention on what you don't have. Losier argues that "Saying you don't have something is another way of focusing on your lack and generates a negative vibration".

    So whenever you find yourself saying something with a negative connotation such as 'I still haven't attracted my ideal mate' you should mentally check yourself and restate your observation as 'I'm in the process of attracting my ideal mate'.

    This reminds us of the importance of focusing on positive vocabulary that produces positive imagery and feelings. We are always 'in the process of...' and therefore we want to be in the process of moving to precisely where we wish to be.

    I can also recommend this approach to people who struggle with the 'New Identity' affirmations outlined above. Some people find that statements that are so far from what is real are too difficult to take seriously and this is counter-productive as the affirmer finds it difficult, if not impossible, to grant the affirmation any credibility at all with the result that they are already mentally defeated and unable to motivate themselves. So I also suggest using 'I'm in the process of...' if you are struggling with 'New Identity' affirmations. If it is simply too much for you to accept that 'I am a versatile woman who excels in balancing my life between family, career and my private time' right now then rewrite your affirmation to 'I'm in the process of becoming a versatile woman who excels in balancing my life between family, career and my private time'.

    Steve's affirmations here would be 'I'm in the process of becoming more energetic' or 'I'm in the process of creating more energy'.

  • I have decided...
    Michael J. Losier also recommends rephrasing your affirmations into 'I have decided...' statements, arguing that this creates "a strong positive emotion". Using the word decide helps us feel that we have cut off other options and are committed to our current pursuit. It creates separation between where we are now and where we were before. We feel more at ease about creating a new identity for ourselves and that identity can be molded in the manner most pleasing to us. Some examples could be 'I've decided to travel around the world' or 'I've decided I'm going to go back to school to get better qualifications' or 'I've decided to work out 3 times a week'. You can tailor and change the precise wording to match your own desires.

    Based on my own experience with this approach to affirmations and that of clients, I think this can be a very powerful approach when combined with other techniques. I recommend first that you write down precisely what you have decided to do and read those decisions at least twice a day when you wake up and before sleeping. Then move onto other affirmations that reinforce your decision.

    For Steve, his affirmations could be 'I have decided to become more energetic' or 'I have decided to create more energy'.

  • Ask for Information
    The final approach from Michael J. Losier that I would like to detail involves asking for information related to the execution and achievement of your affirmation. Losier points out that while you may desire something and affirm that desire, some people remain essentially unconvinced that such a thing is possible. Instead, and as a more gentle approach, make requests for information that will enhance your ability to achieve your goals. For example, you may phrase your affirmation as 'I'd like to request more information about starting an online business' or 'I'd like to attract information about developing a retirement plan'.

    This technique appears to be effective for two reasons. First, you are focusing on finding solutions and as such are more inclined in your daily life to spot relevant information that can help you. A piece of this information could easily prove vital to you in moving you closer to your stated desires. The second point is that as the affirmation begins to work and you begin to appreciate the results that are possible you will feel more comfortable about trying some of the more powerful techniques.

    Again, I will also add on a personal note that you can substitute different words for 'information' in the affirmation. You may like to use the word help as a more general term, or inspiration or you may request a mentor. Play around with your precise phrase until it fits right with you and you are confident about using it and feel energized when doing so.

    Here Steve would be saying 'I'd like to request information on how I can become more energetic' or 'I'd like to bring into my life useful information that will allow me to create more energy'.

  • TAGR Affirmations
    The most famous book on personal development is Think and Grow Rich, written by Napoleon Hill more than 50 years ago. It is a personal favorite of mine and I recommend anyone who hasn't read it to put it at the top of their reading list. It is packed full of gems of advice and has influenced generations of the top personal development speakers and writers working in the field today.

    The final affirmation I will present is my own variation on one provided by Napoleon Hill in TAGR. I will detail both the original and my version of it so that you can make your choice as to which works best for you.

    In the chapter on Autosuggestion, Hill asks the reader to identify three things: his goal, what he is prepared to do to reach that goal and the target date by which he intends to have realized that goal. For example, maybe you wish to receive $20,000 in the next 12 months. To make that money you intend to work as a salesman. After establishing these points you need to write your affirmation. It may read something like 'In 12 months time I will have received a total of $20,000 at different times and in different quantities through the next year. In return for this money I will work hard to ensure that the quality of service I offer is of the utmost highest standard.' As you can see this statement contains the goal, the action you are prepared to take and the deadline. Some readers may like to experiment with this and I encourage you to do so. Read Think and Grow Rich for more detailed information.

    My own personal version however is a little different. Rather than state what I will do to reach my goal in the future tense I use the present progressive tense instead. The present progressive is most commonly used to describe what we are doing now and is formed by adding '' to the verb. For example, right now I am typing this article and you are reading it. This is the present progressive tense.

    Using my approach I would therefore rewrite the example above to read like this: 'I am working hard and ensuring that the quality of service I offer is of the utmost highest standard in order to receive $20,000 from different sources within the next 12 months'.

    I have found this particular approach to be the most powerful form of affirmation of the ones I have detailed in this article. The use of the present progressive tense forces me to consider what I am doing now in order to reach my goals. There is no room for procrastination. I am either 'working hard' and 'ensuring that the quality of service I offer is of the utmost highest standard' or I am not. The way the affirmation is written requires me to examine my life and my habits on a second by second basis. It is all too clear if I am failing to perform the actions I deem necessary to reach my goal.

    Using my approach Steve's new affirmations might be 'I am resting, eating more healthy food, drinking water and meditating to make me more energetic by the end of next month' or 'I am sleeping longer, listening to calming music, getting more protein and exercising to build more energy over the next 6 months'.

Final Thoughts
Which approach you take to affirmations - and how you deliver your affirmation - is up to you and part of the excitement is experimenting until you finally have that 'Aha!' moment and something clicks within you. What is important is that you start taking action today, right now even, and begin using one or more techniques and monitoring the response you have. Affirmations require little time but they can make a tremendous difference to the way you think, the way you see the world and the way you spend your time. Start focusing your mind on where you want it to go rather than relying on chance to blow you in the right direction.

Vincent Cooper works as a coach, drawing on his vast experience and understanding of Asian spiritualism and martial arts to create a unique approach to self-growth and spiritual insight.
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