Setting positive intentions and affirming oneself in an uplifting manner is increasingly popular these days. While some may dismiss these practices as woo-woo, others swear by them for improving their mental and emotional health. What is an intention and what is an affirmation? What is the difference between the two and do they work?

The difference between an intention and an affirmation

Affirmations are focused on a truth within the present moment. For example, you might say, “I can find joy within myself” which is about the here and now. An intention is about creating a mindset shift linked to future actions. For example, you might say that your intention for today is to seek out as much joy as possible. Creating this intention will help open your mind to opportunities throughout the day and impact how you approach future tasks.

People use affirmations for a variety of purposes. Generally speaking, affirmations are used to reprogram the subconscious mind, to encourage us to believe certain things about ourselves or about the world and our place within it. They are also used to help us create the reality we want.

According to Walter E. Jacobson, M.D., there is value in affirmations of this nature, because our subconscious mind plays a major role in the actualisation of our lives and the manifestation of our desires. What we believe about ourselves at a subconscious level, he says, can have a significant impact on the outcome of events. At the simplest level, when we feel good about ourselves and have a positive attitude, our lives tend to run smoothly.

Conversely, when we feel bad about ourselves and have a negative attitude, we tend to engage in self-defeating behaviors which may cause other negative outcomes.

When used regularly, positive affirmations can help build confidence, inspire creativity, breakthrough limiting beliefs, improve self-esteem, instill hope for the future, encourage a sense of calm, and foster inner strength. Affirmations aren’t about blocking out the bad things in life, instead, they can help change your mindset, reframe negative thinking and boost your positivity.

 Effective Affirmations should be written from the first person

Begin your affirmations with the “I” or “I am….” These types of statements turn affirmations into statements that resonate with who you are. Identity statements are powerful motivators for self-change. Examples of I statements would be, “I am secure and confident speaking in public,” “I enjoy eating healthy food,” “I love to exercise,” and “I am a loving and compassionate person.” “I am very loved.”

2. Affirmations Are Written in the Positive (as Opposed to the Negative).

Always state your affirmations in the positive. For example, instead of saying, “I no longer enjoy the taste of cigarettes,” you might say, “I am completely free from cigarettes,” or “I am a healthy person and I love the way my body feels when I make healthy choices.”

The reason why affirmations have to be written in the positive is to do with neuroplasticity. Your brain has a wonderful ability to change and adapt to different circumstances throughout your life. Basically, how you use your brain will alter your brain. Thinking patterns – both positive and negative – will run certain “train tracks” into your brain. The more you use the same track, the deeper, automatic, and easier it gets. So what you practice, you become. And that’s why and how affirmations work. They will create “positive train tracks” and alter the negative ones.

3. Affirmations Have an Emotional Charge.

Imbue your affirmations with the strength of feeling. Using emotional words in affirmations is important, because of the deep association we have between emotional words and somatic experiences. So instead of saying, “I spend time with my aging parents,” try saying, “I feel such love and appreciation spending time with my mother and father.” Or instead of “I only eat healthy food,” which sounds suspiciously chore-like, try, “I feel vibrant and alive when I make healthy choices for me.”

The important thing is to understand where the power of your affirmation is actually coming from because it is not just from the words alone. Emotion stands for Energy in Motion – E-Motion. Energy is vibration, it’s a frequency that can be felt and even scientifically measured. Your emotions ARE energy. So to raise your emotions is to quite literally lift your energy!

4. Affirmations Are Written in the Present State.

Write your affirmations as if they are already happening. This means affirming, “I am happy and confident,” instead of “Two months from now, I will be happy and confident.” Or, “I am sexy and attractive,” as opposed to, “When I lose these last ten pounds, I will be sexy and attractive.”

This is the step that causes most people to falter because in some cases they feel silly writing or saying something that they actually don’t yet believe—at least at a conscious level—is true. But remember, the purpose behind affirmations is to rewrite your subconscious mind.

Your affirmation needs to portray your realisation of what you are affirming. For this reason, it needs to be in the present. Structuring your affirmation in the present makes it easy to believe that you are realising it already.

What Affirmations do not do

As a health warning, positive affirmations are not designed to be cures for anxiety or depression, nor are they a substitute for clinical treatment of those conditions. So always seek the help of a medical professional or licensed therapist!

Positive affirmations don’t work without practice. You have to use them daily to rewire your brain effectively. As the saying goes “Practice makes perfect!”

And third, positive affirmations don’t seem to work equally well for all people. The thing is, positive affirmations seem to ironically work the best for people who already have great self-esteem. If that’s the case with you, then of course it doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from them. Quite the contrary – as I mentioned above, affirmations can help you turn something good into excellence and push the extra mile. But if you are anxious or even depressed and suffering from low self-esteem, then affirmations might not just work. Many holistic traditions suggest that if you act as if something is true if you experience the feelings associated with the outcome that you want, the more likely it is for the outcome to materialize. That is, if you believe that you are attractive and sexy, you will automatically engage in the behaviors associated with that (heightened self-care), which will help you to attain your goals.

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