“I work hard and offer good information that helps people.”
“Wow, I’m so lazy and everyone knows I’m ridiculous.”
These are both things I say to myself.
Sometimes I’m my biggest champion.
Sometimes, my worst enemy.
And I’m betting I’m not alone in this.
But at the end of the day, does what I believe about myself matter?
Does it have the power to change the trajectory of my day/year/life?
They’re just thoughts…so I thought.
But then I read research by associate Harvard professor of medicine, Ted Kaptchuk, and it abruptly shifted how I view my beliefs about myself.
He studies the changes in symptoms that can result when patients take placebos.
In one of his studies, participants were warned that the “treatments” they were taking (placebos) could cause terrible side effects.
One-third of the participants reported feeling them.
Another of his studies involving IBS patients divided participants into 3 groups.
One group received fake acupuncture treatments (no needles used).
They were also given warm and affirming attention during the experience.
Another group got the “acupuncture treatments” but without the attention.
The third group was on the “waiting list” and received nothing.
Of the IBS patients given the “full package” of fake acupuncture with loving attention, 62% reported their symptoms had improved.
This is compared to 44% reporting improvement from the fake acupuncture-only group (with less attention given) and 28% reporting improvement from those on the “waiting list”.
The purpose of his studies was not to prove that you can simply “think yourself better.”
And it wasn’t to show that treatments like acupuncture don’t work (he is a professional acupuncturist with a degree in Chinese medicine as well).
But, the gold in the research lies in showing the link between changes in our bodies that stem directly from beliefs.
Ted Kaptchuk’s research helped me realize a few things:
- Our beliefs can influence our reality.
- Thoughts can be a catalyst for physiological changes.
- There can be consequences for our thoughts.
The negative beliefs I have about myself do shape my experience, my day, and my life.
When trying to find a remedy for this unhelpful inner dialogue I struggle with, one thing kept popping up – affirmations.
Replace bad thoughts with good thoughts.
So is that the answer?
Just use positive affirmations?
Tape up good phrases about myself and repeat them often?
Is that all it takes?
Turns out, no.
Upon further research, I realized that affirmations CAN be beneficial – but it’s not as simple as sticking a “You got this!” sticky note to the fridge.
In this newsletter, I’ll explain:
- how affirmations can be helpful
- how to use them the right way
- and how to write personalized affirmations (and I’ll use astrology to help)
Benefits of affirmations
First, I wanted to learn if affirmations even “did anything.”
Will they help me or will they be a waste of time?
What I found was a large body of research pointing to emotional, physiological, and even social benefits that can come from using positive affirmations.
Some of these include:
- Lowering cortisol levels: One study measured cortisol levels of two groups during a stressful task. The group that thought about their positive attributes beforehand had significantly lower cortisol levels during the task than the other group that had thought about their negative qualities.
- Greater body satisfaction: Female participants in a study who self-affirmed before rating their own body shape and weight rated their bodies much higher than those who didn’t use affirmations beforehand.
- Improved problem solving: When given a set of problems to solve, participants in this study who had thought positive thoughts about themselves ahead of time performed better than those who focused on their negative qualities.
- Increased helpfulness and compassion: In another study, participants who wrote about their good qualities scored higher on a compassion survey afterward than those who didn’t. They were also more willing to jump in and help with a staged shelf collapse, which was also part of the study.
This is a sampling of only a few published papers I found linking positive affirmations with great outcomes.
But considering how easy affirmations are to use, why isn’t everyone affirming themselves constantly and reaping the rewards?
When affirmations fail
The information I found is from controlled studies.
The rest of us are out here in the wild trying to fit this practice into our lives on our own.
Using affirmations can be harder than it seems.
A few things that have held me back when using affirmations:
- Affirmations can feel silly.
- They can seem too generic to work.
- I thought affirmations should work the same for everyone.
I realized that much of the mainstream information about affirmations can be too general to be effective.
When diving back into the science, I found something very interesting.
Positive affirmations are easier to use for people who already have high self-esteem.
This study found that those with a positive self-image had either a neutral or positive outcome from using affirmations.
Those with low self-esteem struggled to believe the good things they were saying about themselves.
And, repeating phrases they didn’t believe made them feel worse after.
But luckily that’s not the whole story.
The research team concluded that affirmations could be helpful for everyone if the phrases felt realistic.
Example they gave: Using specific statements like ‘‘I select good gifts for people’’ instead of broad statements like ‘‘I am a generous person.”
Using Affirmations The Right Way
Positive affirmations can be useful, but now I know that they need to be used correctly.
Here are my goals for using affirmations:
- Use this “placebo thinking” to my advantage by believing the best about myself.
- Rescript my negative self-talk into positive self-talk.
- Only repeat affirmations that feel authentic for me.
If you want to try using positive affirmations, here are some tips:
1. Test your self-esteem
You can take the same Rosenberg self-esteem test that many of these studies use for free here.
If you find you have low self-esteem, you need to be sure to “keep it real” with your affirmations.
Anything you repeat that feels inauthentic could do more harm than good.
2. Focus on reality
Focus on things you already do well, even if they aren’t overly hyped up things.
For instance, instead of thinking or saying “I succeed at everything” you could say “I try hard at ___” or “I am getting better at ___’
Another example is “I show compassion often” rather than “I am always compassionate”
“[Insert name of loved one] values me” instead of “everyone loves me”
Stick to reality and it will feel more meaningful.
3. Start small and build
Start with specific phrases you actually believe (i.e. “My friends value my judgement”), but evolve them as you evolve.
Re-evaluate your affirmations and level them up once you have leveled-up.
Down the road, if you see yourself in a better light and believe “I generally have good judgement,” then use it!
Astrology and affirmations
If you are stuck looking for affirmations that resonate with you, your natal chart is one place to find inspiration:
- Your Sun, Moon, and Ascendant: These are your foundational placements and 3 of the most influential spots in your chart.
Think about their signs. Which of their best qualities do you recognize within yourself?
What houses are your Sun and Moon in? Can you create affirmations focused on these areas of life? (Example: 3rd House – “When I write I feel alive.”)
Again, only use them if they feel true for you.
- Your Descendant (7th House boundary line): This point is “your other” and describes qualities you may not recognize in yourself.
But, building these traits can help you feel more well-balanced.
Do you currently recognize any of your Descendant sign’s good qualities within yourself?
If not, this could be a great place to use an “I am trying to…” affirmation. (Example: Descendant in Capricorn- “I am trying to improve my focus.”
But again, don’t use this if you aren’t really trying to improve your focus! Keep it real.)
If you need help understanding the basics of astrology, our Astro Toolkit: Astrology 101 course can get you off to a good start, and it’s now free for everyone.
- Look to Pluto: Pluto points to one area in our chart where we could find a sense of personal power.
Which activities of Pluto’s house are you already confident with?
If you struggle with that, it could be another place to use “I am trying to…” affirmations.
- Your 2nd House: This is the house that describes what you value about yourself.
Look at the sign of your 2nd House (and any planets that sit within it).
Are there qualities of that sign (or planet) that you also appreciate within yourself?
Affirmations don’t work the same for everyone – you have to personalize them for you and your situation.
But, these positive thoughts can help shape your reality.
So why not create a reality where you shine your brightest?
Want to learn astrology symbols faster? Check out our extensive & printable flashcard deck!
Dig deep into some of the most important placements in your chart with our Big 3 Reflection Journal. Click here to learn more!