Finding Your Words
Updated: May 3
I am in love with words. Long before I had any understanding of affirmations, I understood the power of words. They have the capacity to move us, sooth us, incite us, and inspire us. Though I don’t know that any of my words have ever been mightier than a sword, I do know that carefully and artfully chosen words have the power to change lives.
That’s a bold statement I know, but it’s true. Just look at some of the most motivating and inspiring orators and speeches throughout our past. History is full of men and women who were able to turn the tides of war and public opinion not by force but through simple words, nothing more.
Language has an astounding impact on our emotional state and can be used deliberately to manipulate how we feel. I have read several books and research articles on self-talk and affirmations.
Beloved self-help author Louise Hay was the first to inspire me on this subject. From her I learned that “a belief is just a thought, and a thought can be changed”. Before reading her work I never knew I could question my thoughts and beliefs. “Things never work out for me” felt just as true and permanent as is the fact that I was born a female. There’s nothing to question, nothing to dispute, it IS. And yet that one simple concept literally transformed my life as I began to question belief after belief, challenging that which defined me and soaring beyond the walls that, until then, had marked the furthest edges of my universe.
Like many of us, I ascribe to the notion that if some is good, more is better, so I devoured anything I could find on beliefs, thoughts, and affirmations as a way to affect change in my life. As a result, my world opened to amazing authors like Wayne Dyer, Abraham-Hicks, Byron Katie, Brené Brown, and Bruce Lipton. I was captivated by all the evidence that supported a process for change based solely on altering my thoughts. Later this was augmented in graduate school by research and theory, empirical evidence that linked perceptions to the automatic thoughts and self-talk that ultimately form our belief systems, thus dictating our choices and behaviors.
But what became obvious to me so very quickly is how ridiculously hard it is to change to a thought. Especially to one I don’t currently believe is true. Many self-help processes instruct us to focus on a positive thought, “I am rich” for example, if we want more money. But standing in a place of poverty “I am rich” does nothing for me. In fact sometimes it makes me feel worse because of the glaring obviousness of how untrue it really is.
Much like Louise Hay, Albert Ellis, founder of psychology’s Rational Emotive Therapy teaches clients to dispute damaging, irrational, and dysfunctional thoughts in order to feel better. Mr. Ellis suggests that instead of beating ourselves up for doing something wrong and believing we are bad because of it, to instead accept these qualities as part of who we are without allowing them to define us.
“When I fail at important projects, that’s bad and disadvantageous. But I am never a bad, rotten person. I make errors and mistakes but I am not what I think, fail, and do. Just a hell of a fallible human!” - Albert Ellis
Even as an undergrad student, I really liked this approach! It frustrated me though, because I couldn’t seem to cross over from the negative into the positive. Yes, I was disputing the negative belief. Yes, I let myself off the hook for making a mistake, and no I didn’t fall into the belief that negative actions or outcome make me a bad person, but then what? Where is the build up? Where is the ability to feel better or good about myself? It’s not enough to simply accept my mistakes and not feel bad about them, I want to believe that I am still a good person, even when I make mistakes.
But remember what I said about how focusing on positive thoughts sometimes makes us feels worse? Psychologists have noticed this too. Not wanting to set someone up for failure by promoting an unrealistic point of view, most of psychology leaves out the step I feel is so vital to moving forward in life; when you take something away (the negative thought, for example) it leaves a little hole in your thought pattern. If you don’t put something back, it will fill in all by itself. I contend that if you take a negative thought away, you must purposefully put another thought – a positive one - in its place or else you run the risk of another random negative thought jumping right back in.
But again, what if the positive thought we replace it with actually makes us feel worse than we did before? That’s certainly not how affirmations are supposed to work. Albert Bandura, the noted psychologist whose work in the late 1960’s had tremendous influence on what is now cognitive behavioral therapy, perhaps explains why simply spouting a positive affirmation can have little positive effect for an individual. Bandura points out that an individual’s self-efficacy and ability to change is deeply rooted in the believability of such change. If we don’t believe a thing is even possible, we do not accept it as a new truth. If we cannot accept it as a new truth, it has about as much effect in changing our lives as saying over and over “I am 10 feet tall.” Nothing in my being believes I can or ever will be 10 feet tall, therefore the affirmation does nothing for me but point out the obvious – I am not 10 feet tall.
In my readings, both self-help and academic, I never really found much that specifically addressed this chasm between a current negative belief (I am bad) and what I want instead (I am a good person). But I kept digging, working with clients, and mostly doing the work myself. The result of that work is my book Find Your Words! Words To Transform Your Life. It is my personal take on how to create and use effective affirmations.
For example, in chapter 2 I outline what I call Walking it Backwards, a very personal process in which I work through issues by talking out loud to myself. It was through this process that I stumbled upon what I believe bridges this gap in believability and takes the final, necessary step in moving an affirmation beyond mere words toward something with true meaning and life changing power.
And for me, that was why I wrote the book. I love that I found something that has been nothing short of amazing in my life, and I wanted to share it with everyone else feeling the same frustrations I had felt. 90% of my own research is all based on me; what worked for me, what felt good to me, and what didn’t. I also brought this element to my hypnotherapy practice at the time, and was thrilled at the positive results clients reported, but have very little empirical evidence to support my claims. I do know however, this has been a wondrous catalyst in my life, as well as those with whom I’ve shared.
I also know that nothing works for everyone, so take the book and the information provided for what it is; a tool. One trick in a bag that hopefully is full of many things to help you along the way. I did my best to describe the process in a way that makes sense, relating how it worked in my life. If it resonates with you, stirring the sense that you too can make great changes, wonderful. If it doesn’t, that’s ok too and I send you my love as you continue on your journey. If you want to check it out you can find it on Amazon. You can also leave a much appreciated review on Goodreads.com. And no matter what, I wish you all the best.