In my pursuit for a healthier me, I run across many tips that say writing down affirmations is a good method to positively increase your self-esteem. I’ve half-heartedly memorized this tool upon dozens of times seeing it, and then never used it. At least, never properly used it. I always thought, How can I write down nice things about myself when I don’t even believe them?
One day, however, at Barnes and Noble, this book caught my eye: Self-Esteem: A Practical Guide. It looked like it had everything I had read about online, except easier to digest and easier to put into practice. All in one handy place, too. I bought myself a fancy leather journal for performing the activities and exercises. What also followed was a renewed excitement for bettering myself.
When it came time to learn about affirmations, I re-read it over and over. I was voracious in my desire to do this right. I reflected on and wrote thoughtfully in my journal to provide good self-affirmations and positive examples to support them. I read them every day, or every other day. I would remind myself of what I had written when my mind would idle. I’d force myself to think back to that list of affirmations whenever I identified myself thinking negatively or downplaying an accomplishment. I thought up new examples when I was at work or driving. I’ve done this for about a month so far.
And something started to happen.
I think it’s actually working.
My negative thoughts are decreasing and I’m finding it easier to remember good things that I’ve done. I can more easily recall things I’m proud of and can identify my good traits, without immediately trying to negate them or somehow wrestle with myself if it’s “good enough”. It’s given me permission to be okay with myself.
It feels good to see progress! I still deal with automatic, impulsive thoughts that bombard me, but refuting them with positive affirmations about myself has been a good practice. I also still tend to have a pretty negative body image, but I can see that I’m gaining confidence in myself, and it’s a really nice feeling!
So what does the book say that helped me so much?
Recognizing Your Positives
The author, David Bonham-Carter, emphasizes something that I think is important. “Acknowledging your own positives is about recognizing what you value in yourself and taking pride in yourself.” He says it’s a personal thing; not matching up to a standard someone else set. It’s pride in your own personal identity, which will naturally be different from your peers (the very people we often compare ourselves with).
So, for instance, I put on my list that I was proud I finished college at 29. I actually feel embarrassed when I tell people I graduated at that age. I feel I have to do this whole song and dance to explain why it took so long, maybe crack a joke and take some of the awkwardness out for myself. But why shouldn’t I be proud? I finished! My circumstances are not theirs. I had to overcome my own obstacles. I’m proud of myself for sticking with it and finishing it.
In this section, Bonham-Carter also points out how activities you enjoy doing can help you identify abilities, qualities, and achievements you’re proud of and that make you happy. It seems basic and simple, but it’s a nice self-exploratory activity.
Activity: Write a list of things you enjoy doing.
Characteristics of Helpful Affirmations
Using your list of things you enjoy, Bonham-Carter shows you how to write affirmations. Thinking of things you enjoy doing is a good springboard if you’re having trouble coming up with things you like about yourself or are proud of. You can see in these hobbies/passions a number of qualities about yourself that define you in a positive way. It may also get you thinking about some accomplishments or goals you achieved that you’re proud of. But not everything has to be some award you won or other tangible means of success. It’s about what’s important and special to you.
Some examples from the book of a fictional woman named Joanna:
- I brought up my two children as well as I could.
- I am a good listener.
- I usually try my best at things, even if I don’t always succeed.
- I am kind-hearted.
- Despite having a difficult background, I managed to gain professional qualifications as a lawyer.
The author warns the reader against making grandiose affirmations like “I can do anything” or “I’m a wonderful person”. Instead, he encourages you to be realistic and specific. He also encourages you to use examples, where possible, like “I ran a half-marathon and I’m proud of that”, or “I am kind because I have a heart for helping others”. The best affirmations, according to the book, are ones that can be supported by “evidence” (especially since we have such a hard time believing nice things about ourselves).
Activity: Write your own list of qualities, abilities, and achievements. Anything you’re proud of, whether it’s a personality trait or something you did. Reflect on your activities you enjoy, and the values inherent in them, if you need help. Don’t worry about what others might think or how they measure up–what do you think? What are you proud of? What do you think is noteworthy and special?
And that’s it for the summary!
That’s truly all it took for me to start seeing improvement in my self-esteem! If you’re struggling with your own self-esteem, I hope this gives you a jumping off point to start seeing some results. Read your affirmations every day (or try to)! Remind yourself of what you’ve written. Let it ruminate in your brain and stop those nasty, negative thoughts.
What kind of self-affirmations would you write?