We used to call it “Playing the old tapes.” because music used to live on physical recording media. “Playing the old tapes” meant listening to the songs from when you were stupid, either stupid in love, stupid in breaking up, or, well, maybe just not who you were eventually going to become. In effect, the old tapes are likely to take away some of your more recent, rational learning and replace it with some strangely familiar, irrational yearning.
Usually, old tapes are just fine for normal nostalgic purposes, like remembering where you were when you first heard some of the classics–Desperado, This Old Heart of Mine, Stairway to Heaven, or Sweet Caroline. Or anything from the Grateful Dead or Led Zeppelin.
But. We all have a bit of a figurative playlist hanging around inside, and when certain songs come on–something happens and it strikes a familiar chord or when you make a mistake and experience regret, it can trigger feelings that lead to old reflexes and bad habits. Instead of conjuring up your current vision of competence, new behaviors, and new opportunities to get what you want from within yourself, you find yourself in fear, frustration, or anxiety.
You have to keep your playlist current. We do that through affirmations.
Everybody who just thought of SNL’s Jack Handy raise your hand. That isn’t what I mean, but some of those were funny.
An affirmation is a specific, positively written and crafted, present tense description of a desired state. For example, “I am at my best when I prepare and organize my day. I eat a healthy breakfast, make a list of priorities, and take the time to think about and visualize how I want to present myself in meetings.” Or, “I’m happiest when I am able to make others happy. I look for opportunities to thank, acknowledge, provide feedback to, or otherwise recognize everyone for their importance in my life.”
Or this simple: “I pay my bills on time, and set funds aside for emergencies before I divert money to luxuries. I manage my finances by the 15th of each month, and compete the task before the end of that day.”
Or this wild: “I am innovative and I nourish my creative side. Each day, I break one habit by doing something completely out of my routine.”
Or this profound: “I am on the road to changing my life. Today, I will meet two new people and learn how I can help them accomplish something that means a lot to them.”
Affirmations don’t have to be grand. I once affirmed my way into becoming a nonsmoker. I affirmed my way into competence in Algebra. I affirmed my way into discontinuing my negative self-talk and accompanying reflexive dismissal of compliments on hard-earned skills (Example of my toxic self-talk: Friend: You are so good at that. Me: Oh no I’m really not; just lots of experience.). I am a habitual and chronic corrector of negative self-talk when I encounter it.
I hate to hear anyone say they aren’t good at something, and I usually stop that dialogue or soliloquy and say: You probably would be if you didn’t tell yourself you aren’t. And that is true, to a large extent. I was never the math whiz I started out to be after my parents told me I was better at words and meaning. Oddly, I later found out I was pretty good at both and liked them both pretty much equally.
You can’t control everything with affirmations, but you can make a dent in your mood, your performance, and your ultimate health and happiness. Calm shines through everything, and learning to affirm what you want influences that more than anything else. Calm and serenity is not random; it’s the product of acceptance, determination, and positivity.
Start affirmations this way:
- Write your affirmations in positive language, in the present tense, and be very specific. Each affirmation can be several sentences, or just one. It helps if you can visualize the active form of the affirmation. For me, for example, if I wanted to smoke I would visualize myself clapping my hands and smiling–no cigarettes in that mental picture. I imagined myself joyful after a year of being cigarette-free.
- Say your affirmations to yourself each day, not necessarily aloud, and visualize something that represents that affirmation as you do that. You can do this any time of day or more than once each day, but make sure you advance them each day.
- Retire affirmations that are no longer representative of your priorities, that have been accomplished, or that are not under your control. I think it’s hard to tell someone they shouldn’t try to affirm something they can’t control, but inevitably, we all learn that through experience. When you learn that through experience, change the affirmation, not the objective. For example, an affirmation to lose weight does not work as well as an affirmation to eat healthy food in sensible portions. “Lose weight” is not a behavior, but a result of many small changes, all of which can be affected by specific affirmations.
- I like to put affirmations on index cards or on separate pages of a journal. Focus on only one at a time. If writing another note or adding a drawing comes to mind, do it.
- You can share or not share your affirmations. When I learned to do this, via Lou Tice’s Investment in Excellence education program, we discussed them with other program participants and it was a powerful experience.
But the most powerful experience is when you begin to see changes in yourself and in your life and in the way you think and react to others. Think of yourself as a force for good in the world and your affirmations as your supply of spiritual raw material.