Written by Karen Loethen, LCSW

So many of us work hard to improve our self-esteem and self-confidence and one common strategy for making improvements is to use affirmations. Affirmations are statements that we can use as a form of positive self-talk in order to get into the habit of substituting negative thoughts about ourselves for positive thoughts. 

If you pay attention to all of your thoughts in a given day and count all of the negative things you say to yourself in a single twenty-four hour period, how many negative thoughts about yourself would arise? Five? Five hundred? Some studies estimate that we have over fifteen thousand thoughts in a given day and that, conservatively, over 75% of those thoughts are self-judging thoughts. That can be over eleven thousand negative thoughts in a single day!

We know that it is our thoughts, conscious and unconscious, that strongly impact our mood for the day, that can limit our sense of personal power, that can impact how we feel about ourselves, including how hopeful we are in life, and can even affect our physical health. As a part of good self care, affirmations are often recommended or used to lift our moods, to improve our thoughts of ourselves, and to remind us to speak kindly to ourselves.

But there might be a huge problem for some of us when using affirmations. They can feel incredibly unrealistic, absurd, and unbelievable. I attract positivity to myself! I am successful in whatever I do! I feel an abundance of joy! If these affirmations are untrue I might become very resentful of someone encouraging them. I might even feel shame that such statements have no positive impact on me.

If you are one of those people who feel annoyed, bewildered, or shamed by affirmations, here’s an idea. Consider an entirely different type of affirmation, something I call the Neutral Affirmation. These statements are neutral but true. They are the kinds of thoughts that remind you to lay off the self-criticism or judging of yourself and to instead use rational and true statements to challenge the negativity.

Here are a few examples of Neutral Affirmations:

  • Some days are harder than others; I’m doing my best today. Today I’m OK.

  • I’m working on accepting myself just as I am.

  • Feelings are not facts.

  • I can ride this wave and get back to work.

  • Professionals ask for support every day.

  • With time and effort, I’m getting better.

  • I’m smart and capable.

  • I can handle this.

  • I’m not going to give up.

  • I know who is on my side. First, I am.

  • Just for today I will…

  • I’m going to say something positive to myself instead.

  • I’ll give it another try.

  • Tomorrow is another day.

  • I will not judge myself based on stereotypes.

  • I can feel the fear and do it anyway.

  • I am doing active work to improve my life.

  • I notice I handle things better when I correct my limiting thought distortions.

  • I’m not feeling confident, but I’ll still do my best work today.

Neutral Affirmations do not offer pie-in-the sky sentiments or artificial optimism to correct negative self-talk, but, rather, realistic, believable, logical, true statements to remind us to nip the black and white thinking in the bud. Neutral Affirmations can prompt us to challenge the many distorted thoughts that we use regularly without even knowing it. We are already thinking thousands of thoughts each day, why not work to deliberately improve what we feed our minds!

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