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PHOTO Valerie JayValerie Jay, 89, has had an ongoing fascination in neuroscience. Her research on our ability to connect with our brains via our thinking in order to enrich our lives is recorded in her book, Psychology For You and Me.

From our thoughts we create our world. We have to use words to compose those thoughts. They become actions and then events. The words we choose therefore are critical. This is where affirmations come in.

What are affirmations? They are ideas sent to the brain for some desired outcome. To gain that outcome we must carefully analyse the words most suitable for the messages. Affirmations can be adapted to strengthen any idea about anything to make our lives (or those of others) healthier, happier and more fulfilling.

Positive affirmations also raise the level of endorphins, the body’s natural morphine. When we get that tingle of electric certainty that the affirmation is working, we’ll also know endorphins are having a healing effect on the body and brain.

But affirming also has a dark side. So you didn’t get the job you were certain of and you’re wallowing in disappointed bitterness? Your “poor me” message will flood your body with the potentially damaging stress hormone: cortisol. Even a mildly upsetting message will still have enough destructive overtones to lay down a negative pathway. That means potential negative connections.

You say you should be allowed to express disappointment? Of course! But you didn’t leave it there. You added bitterness. That is a hard emotion. You will learn there are soft and hard emotions. Your brain welcomes soft emotions. They are positive and lay down positive pathways. Hard emotions are negatives. That means laying down pathways for damaging connections to accumulate and potentially rewire your brain into a permanent habit of negativity. If you think that’s tough, it is. It’s part of Mother Nature’s “you have to look after yourself” rule. It makes us permanently responsible for our thinking. Managing our worries, our choices, our self-talk, in the best way to survive is entirely up to us. We can do it – if we want to. We just have to tell the brain constantly, “I can handle it.

Our use of affirmations is selective. Pursuing fame for fame’s sake, or acquiring massive wealth are empty goals. “Greed with no effort” is not something to aspire to. Of course we can wish to be financially comfortable in life, although “comfortable” is relative. But if the intent is there to work hard towards an individual idea of comfortable, then that’s a non-greedy affirmation.

Our connection with the brain leans towards a spiritual plane. That means aiming for involvement in the “wholesome” emotions like gratitude and compassion and empathy. Positive psychology tells us this soft approach to life rewards body and mind with benefits of wellbeing.

Worry will always be with us. Threats – small and large – make us worry. Depending on our personality, we’ll react to a lesser or greater degree to any perceived threat to our stability. Nevertheless, even chronic worriers can learn to keep the stress response under control. A helpful strategy is to have a strong personal affirmation ready to leap into action as soon as you become conscious of that first niggle of a concern.

Something like this?

“My brain and I control my worry simply with my thinking.”

Devising affirmations

Affirmations seem to work better if they’re brief, have a rhythm and are made up of memorable words. There are many personal “tricks” to make your messages more acceptable to you and your brain. You will devise them as you construct your own affirmations to suit various situations in your own life. Here are some general affirmations to get you started, but your own will carry more personal power.

1. For anxiety

I’m calm and confident, controlled and contented, completely in charge of my thoughts and my life.

The alliteration of “c” is for ease of remembering, plus it has a bouncy rhythm for strong positivity.

2. For strength

I’m strong and steady and sure of myself, serene and safe and secure in myself, and successful in every way.

The alliterative “s” affirms self-reliance and strength of purpose within oneself for overall success.

3. For health

I’m healthy and happy, harmonious and whole, fully healed in my body, my mind and my soul.

This is popular again due to the alliteration and because of the health and spiritual overtones covering the entire person.

4. For simplicity

Whenever I think happy—I feel happy. Whenever I think calm—I feel calm.

The list is endless. Try to feel each emotion as powerfully as you can. The linking of thinking and feeling works extremely well for its simplicity and directness. That’s what we need to be doing all the time: thinking feelings. Repetition will help conjure up those feelings instantly and keep the feeling present.

5. For being in control

  • I can handle anything; I’m not afraid of anything, because I’m in control.
  • I can handle anything; I calmly deal with everything, because I’m in control.
  • I can handle anything; I don’t get stressed with anything, because I’m in control.

This can be successful for everyone because of the power, strength and determination embedded and repeated in each line. It’s particularly suited to timid or crisis-ridden personalities.

6. For random use singly at any time

  • Everything will go well today.
  • My life is balanced and peaceful.
  • All is as it should be.
  • I’m invincible because I’m strong.
  • I’m stable through any crisis.
  • Nothing will disturb me.
  • I am safely in my peaceful place.

Choose those that resonate at special times for you personally.

7. For peace of mind

There are some special words with special sounds that seem to have a special effect when we’re searching for peace of mind. Their soft-sounding, harmonious tones are linked to peaceful images that, used regularly, can bring about a rapid stress-relief state of body and mind. Learn to feel the quietening stillness of each of the words as you say them.

Here they are:

I’m tranquil, serene; I’m placid and calm, relaxed, contented, at peace.

8. For personal healing

I believe my strong, active healing mind has healed me of…

You take it from there. We know about the power of belief. Link that to the placebo effect and the mind’s role in spontaneous remissions. While there are no absolute guarantees, mind/body medicine has many examples to offer us of its power to heal. Use that knowledge.

Research has proven the brain can change itself. Affirmations can help you change your brain for the better. From a mild headache to something more serious, think mind/body connection. Don’t hesitate to message your brain using any medium you choose, including prayer, meditation and the biology of belief. Make sure you keep the flow so constant you’re almost communicating your message in your sleep. (And you could very well be doing so!)

Affirmations stand the test of time

Affirmations (otherwise known as autosuggestion) for many decades have proven their worth. Emile Coué is credited with the famous: “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.” Some Coué knockers say his affirmation is too broad and indecisive. But clinicians of all types throughout the years, right up to those using the very successful CBT today, have found a place in their treatment regime for affirmations.

Ignore the dissenters. Plan constructively how best to benefit from your affirmations. Then you and your brain go quietly about your personal business together, revelling in the happy results affirmations bring to your life.

COVER Psychology For You And Me

This is an extract from Psychology for You and Me by Valerie Jay (on sale now, $29.99/$9.99 eBook).