What challenges have you faced recently? Maybe you’ve been meaning to clean up the backyard garden but haven’t gotten around to it. Maybe you’re struggling to stay on track with a new diet. Maybe your garage is stuffed to the gills with knick knacks you’ve been meaning to send to Goodwill? Or maybe that’s just me? (If my friends are any indication, I doubt it.)
But no matter how insurmountable a particular task seems, there’s a solution. Sometimes, that solution is as simple as finding the right self-talk. Before you roll your eyes – I know because I rolled my eyes, too — hear me out. You’ve heard the phrase, “the carrot of the stick,” right? Generous self-talk and words of affirmation are the carrot, and studies show that humans respond better to carrots (aka positive reinforcement) than sticks (aka punitive criticism).
In fact, relationship expert Gary Chapman, PhD, says words of affirmation are an actual love language. His best-selling book The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts explored words of affirmation, alongside physical touch, acts of service, gift-giving, and quality time, and found that they work not only for our partners, but for ourselves.
Using Words of Affirmation
Affirmations are kind words of encouragement used to support, motivate, or express gratitude for someone in your life — including yourself. You can use these positive words to work towards a goal, practice self-love, or generally improve your positivity and gratitude.
The best way to use words of affirmation is by choosing a simple sentence that you can write down and repeat to yourself throughout the day. For example, if you want to work on your sense of self-worth, you might start each day by looking in the bathroom mirror and repeating: “I am worthy” or “I love you.”
Honestly, it does feel silly at first. When I first started saying my words of affirmation to my mirror’s reflection each morning, I could barely get through one without cracking up. But over time, it started to feel more normal, as if I was talking to a friend. (When you think about it, this is actually kind of sad. Why is it normal to say kind things to our friends but not to ourselves?) Eventually, I was able to get through several affirmations each morning – and with a sense of purpose (versus embarrassment). The changes in me were noticeable right away. I was happier. I was more patient with my family. I slept better.
Today, I use words of affirmation as a motivational reminder of my competence and strength. I didn’t start out thinking they would improve my productivity, too, but it turns out that feeling empowered really lights a fire under your bum.
Keep reading to learn how to use words of affirmation to tackle any challenge in your life.
To Tackle That Big Project: “I can do anything when I take it one step at a time.”
Whether you’re tidying the garden in your backyard or planning a surprise party for a loved one’s 60th birthday, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by details. Big projects can be intimidating, and that’s okay. Take a deep breath and remember: Everything worthwhile takes hard work. You can do this one step at a time.
The key to any big project is to break it apart into smaller parts and tackle it one task at a time. Use this affirmation to fill your “love tank” and remind yourself that slow and steady really does win the race.
For example, let’s say you want to update your living room. Stand in front of a mirror and tell yourself: I can do anything when I take it one step at a time. Then, sit down and create a step-by-step list of each thing you need to do to paint the living room.
Each time that you start to feel overwhelmed by the project, look at your list of smaller, incremental steps that bring you closer to your goal, and remind yourself of your affirmation: I can do anything when I take it one step at a time.
There are so many ways to practice using words of affirmation, the only limit is your creativity. Try different methods to find what works best for you, and you’ll be done with that project before you know it.
To Create a New Habit: “I deserve to live the life that I want.”
What practice do you wish you could turn into a habit? Maybe you’d like to start each day with a long walk or finish it reading a few pages of the latest whodunit. Or perhaps you begin each new year with a gratitude practice, only to find it forgotten by February.
New habits are hard to introduce, but they’re even harder to maintain (especially if you’ve had the same routine for years). Words of affirmation help you with showing love to yourself so that you can change your life.
To cement a habit, start by spending some time thinking about your motivation for creating it. How would a morning walk brighten your day? What would agratitude practice do to improve your life? The answers are probably related to the kind of life you want to live — a life full of wellness, joy, and positivity. Use these feelings and mental states as your motivation when building a new habit. Think about how the habit connects to the life that you want to live and express love to yourself by saying: “I deserve to live the life that I want.”
If you find that it’s been a few days since you took a morning walk or wrote in your gratitude journal, remind yourself of why it’s important to you with an affirmation. Connecting a new habit to the life that you desire changes it from just another task into something rewarding… and you deserve that.
To Stay Positive: “I can see the good in every situation.”
We all know how important positivity is to our well-being, but did you know that the benefits of positive thinking are backed by science? According to the Mayo Clinic, positive thinking can help reduce stress levels, improve immune function, and even increase our lifespans.
Staying positive throughout the day is a wonderful goal, but it can be challenging when you’re stressed out. Try reinforcing positivity with the affirmation: “I can see the good in every situation.”
For example, let’s say you ordered a special gift for your best friend’s birthday, but you’ve just learned that it won’t arrive on time. Rather than allowing this to ruin your day, repeat your words of affirmation: “I can see the good in every situation.” From there, try to reflect on how this could be a gift in disguise. Maybe you’ll take your best friend to a nice restaurant instead, which gives you some serious quality time and creates a memory that you two can share for years to come.
Maintaining a sense of optimism is all about seeing the good things that come from bad situations. When you feel yourself losing faith that things will work out, repeat your affirmation to yourself.
To Stick To Your Diet: “I deserve to be comfortable in my body.”
Just like our affirmation for building a new habit, this phrase focuses on the motivation behind your diet. Why do you want to stick to your diet? Are you hoping to boost your quality of life, get in shape for an upcoming event, or just feel better and more confident? If it’s the latter, try focusing on this desire, and visualize how you’ll feel after a few weeks of sticking to your diet.
That visualization is key — a 2016 study found that visualization is crucial to successfully using words of affirmation. Imagining how comfortable and happy you’ll feel with yourself once you achieve your goal will help you stick it out.
To Practice Self Love: “I am worthy of the same love that I give to others.”
Loving yourself, even on your bad days, can be hard. (It was months after I started doing my morning affirmations before I actually started letting the words sink in.) But researchers at Stanford have found that self-love helps make us more resilient, more eager to try new things, and kinder to both ourselves and others. Talk about an important practice!
If you struggle to be kind to yourself, picture a loved one in your shoes, and treat yourself the way you would treat them. For example, maybe you misplaced your car keys and wasted an hour looking for them only to discover they were in your pocket all along. Would you be cruel to your loved one in the same situation? Would you shout at and berate them for their mistake? Of course not.
Just like your loved one, you deserve compassion, too. You’re human, and all humans make mistakes. The next time you struggle to be kind and practice self-love, look in the mirror and repeat: “I am worthy of the same love that I give others.”
In fact, I think self-love is so important that I would recommend everyone practice this affirmation, even if it’s not something you’re specifically working on. Write those sticky notes, set a reminder on your phone, or write it in a journal every night — “I am worthy of the same love that I give to others.” Because you are.
You’ve Got This
Using words of affirmation can help you boost your gratitude, tackle a new project or habit, practice compassion, and so much more. Their benefits are actually backed by science. So, what are you waiting for? As the saying goes, “No better time to start than the present.”