My mother worries constantly about not being able to find parking, working herself into such a great frenzy that she often chooses not to go out at all. While it’s true that my hometown is notorious for its messy traffic and terrible drivers, no one else I know has nearly as much difficulty finding a parking spot as she does.
She is also proof that affirmations work – parking causes her an inordinate amount of stress because she actively reminds and reinforces to herself how stressful it is.
A lot has been written about the power and potential of positive affirmations for directing us towards goals and aspirations. I’ll admit I’ve found it difficult to do the whole thing of standing in front of a mirror reciting uplifting mantras to myself – it has often felt inauthentic. Telling myself ‘I’m a beautiful, strong, confident woman’ doesn’t only feel untrue; it feels a bit silly.
But seeing my mother manifest her own stress around parking got me reconsidering how affirmations work, whether or not we really believe in them, and whether they’re corny bumper sticker sayings, or beliefs we hold in the quieter spaces of our minds.
My mother’s daily traffic stress might seem a little trivial – not finding parking isn’t cause for a great deal of anxiety – but the affirmations add up. All the little things become big things if you think about them enough and before you know it, you’re a testy, edgy ball of misery.
Because of all the political upheaval around the world this year, a lot of us can’t help but be sucked into thinking and talking frequently about what are often incredibly agitating issues. I’ve started noticing how people around me are winding themselves up far more than they actually need to.
Whether it’s looking for things that are ‘wrong’, or reading negativity into situations, or just talking incessantly about the things that upset us, I’ve recently noticed how we repeatedly invite negativity into our lives.
Once we’re weighed down by this negativity, our actions and reactions to things around us inevitably become colored by what we’re feeling and the energy, mood and beliefs we surround ourselves with. What we’re doing is affirming how miserable things are, which does nothing but reinforce the misery, create more of it and shroud us in a shadow of gloom. We probably all know a Debbie Downer like this who’s always moaning about how awful she feels, how bad everything and everyone is to her, who always has some big drama happening in her life that seems to physically grow every time she talks about it (which is often).
It goes back to that old saying that we get what we put out into the world. Clichéd maybe, but also very true. It’s like the universe saying to us, ‘Hey, so you want misery? Here’s more!’
We can’t expect to put out one vibration and get something else in return. It’s like a radio – we can’t tune into a channel full of white noise on 55.5FM and expect to receive the top ten hits playing on 100.1FM. This seems obvious, but this is also what we do every time we repeat those negative affirmations, whether in action or in word. We can’t keep tuning to a frequency of self-pity, for example, and expecting to get confidence in return. If we’re focused on failure, then even when success does come our way, we won’t be able to identify and appreciate it or see it as anything other than something bad.
So how do we stop this vicious cycle? The important thing isn’t to deny our feelings completely, to shut off a bad day and sweep our anxieties under the carpet. I’ve found that it starts with simply acknowledging these worries or feelings, but not to allow them to take centre stage and define our day, our decisions and actions we take. It is not to allow these fears to form a whole new reality for ourselves that we believe, become invested in and act from.
I have found that in every dark situation, there is still something positive we can focus on instead that serves as a focal point for directing our energy and attention outwards. There is the option to tune into a different channel. If negative affirmations are wearing us down, the surely the opposite of more positive thinking can work to uplift us. We might not win the lottery the very next day, immediately get the job we desire or land a perfect relationship, our hearts and minds can expand and react in gentler, kinder, more joyful ways to ourselves.
To use the example of my mother again, she could reframe her parking anxiety to a gentler, simpler, open thought: The parking will be fine. She may not get a spot straight away, but she’ll get a space eventually, it just might take a few rounds. A positive affirmation and focus will allow her to remain calm and unruffled in that time that she’s circling the parking lot, rather than spiraling into panic, impatience, irritation and stress.
Changing our affirmations may not completely solve our problems nor fulfill our wishes like a magic genie. But it will allow us to move into a space that is peaceful rather than agitated, open to receive rather than closed to opportunities, relaxed enough to respond thoughtfully rather than tense and reactive.
When we’re in this space, then whatever does come about, we are more able to handle it in ways that are more mindful, effective, beneficial, peaceful and even joyful. We see a different perspective, feel a different vibe, find a different way of thinking.
And then we act.
Jamie Khoo is currently doing a PhD in Women’s Studies at the University of York, UK, where she is researching contemporary constructions of feminine beauty and body image. She has also written for Elle Malaysia, Huffington Post UK Blogs, Time Out Kuala Lumpur, elephant journal and the be you media group. Sick of being told by mass media and society what “beautiful” is or isn't, Jamie founded the website a beauty full mind to challenge conventional beauty ideals and create new conversations around what beauty can mean today. Say hello to her on Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org.