using positive affirmations to change and heal

Thought Shifting: Using the Power of Positive Affirmations to Change Our Minds

The Power of Positive Affirmations in My Life

Positive affirmations completely changed my life. I love my story about Houston Smith, the venerable religion scholar, teacher and author, who spoke in an interview about how he woke up every morning of his life, greeting the new day with excitement and anticipation. When I heard him speak I was at a very busy and stressful time of my life trying to balance work, education, raising small children and all the rest, and so I was confused, jealous and rather pissed at him for that. How could he possibly say those things? Life is so damned hard! How could he conceivable feel that way? What did he know?

I considered Houston’s words carefully, and my strong response to them, and I decided he might have something important to teach me. I began to work with affirmations every morning: “I am grateful for this new day”, “it’s a beautiful new day”, “good things are happening today.” No matter how tired, overwhelmed, crabby or disbelieving I felt on any given day, I got to work on feeling better and said those affirmations.

It was awkward at first because, to be honest, that’s not how I actually felt during those first flickers of consciousness, especially on work mornings, on the heels of my alarm rousing me from deep sleep. But I wanted to create new neural networks, right? So I kept at it. First I dumped my frustration, stress and worry into my journal, then worked with my new affirmations. Eventually, with this practice, I didn’t have to think about it so hard. I could utter, “It’s a beautiful day” as soon as I was awake. Quite miraculously, I felt better in general, and I did feel grateful for the new day. I was more optimistic and light-hearted. Even those mornings of busy days juggling work, kids and chores became lighter.

We Can Use Positive Affirmations to Grow Better Minds

Positive affirmations allow us to create bold statements about what we want and need, and they kick-start the creation of new, more life-affirming neural networks (pathways of thought and behavior and the stories we tell ourselves). Every story we tell ourselves affirms something, and the messages aren’t all positive or productive. Practicing positive affirmations is a tool that we can use to take control of what messages we deliver to our minds and our neural pathways to transform function and create openings for healing.

The idea of affirmations and their power is an age-old tradition that crosses cultures. Prayers make beautiful, time-honored affirmations, such as this prayer of Celtic origin that was written on St. Patrick’s breastplate:

I bind unto myself today

The virtues of the starlit heaven

The glorious sun’s life giving rays

The whiteness of the moon at even

The flashing of the lightening free

The whirling winds tempestuous shocks

The stable earth, the deep salt sea

Around the eternal rocks

With practice, using positive affirmations changes our brains and establishes strong new neural networks. With time the process becomes effortless. There is an art to the construction of a useful affirmation.

Here are the guidelines for creating positive affirmations that I use and share with my clients:

Use affirmations that are in the present tense.

Statements that are in the present tense send a powerful message to our brains that our aspiration has already occurred. Our brains will respond as if we are already there and greatly accelerate the change in our thoughts and minds. With the desired outcome already present, all of our resources will come to bear on what is needed now.

Remember, you don’t need to believe your affirmation. You need to desire it. The belief will come with the transformation of your mind.

I am brave, rather than I will become brave.

I am calm, rather than I will become calm.

I am Present, rather than I will be Present.

Attach affirmations to an expression of gratitude.

Grateful thoughts and words supercharge our affirmations as they bring the wisdom of our open hearts and enhanced minds to bear on our aspirations for change. This practice reinforces the neural network of gratitude—of optimism and positivity that opens the way for possibilities.

I am grateful for my full presence in this moment.

Keep affirmations simple:

So they can be remembered easily and used often. When in the throes of frustration or stress, it can be hard to remember anything, much less a lengthy affirmation. By keeping them short and simple we can access them quickly. It can be helpful to write the most important ones down on a card that we can carry with us and can pull out at a moment’s notice.

This too shall pass.

Our affirmations must align with what is truly in our hearts.

You will know by how it feels when you think or say them out loud. Play with words until it feels just right. Feel free to borrow affirmations from others, just make sure they pass the test of your own heart and that they truly represent who you are. Change them as necessary so that they align with who you are and feel just right to you.

If your heart hurts and you can’t think of what to say or what feels right, borrow positive affirmations from me or from others and allow the benefits to be realized in your healing process.

Thank you, Divine Universe, for your constant love and support feels just right to me. For someone else, however, it might be better to say, Thank you, God, for your endless love and support.

Keep affirmations positive.

Rather than stating what you don’t want or what you want to change, affirm the positive goal, which moves you out of the past and roots you firmly in the present with your new intention.

I am free of disease focuses on the undesired state. It addresses the past and does not invite the new state of being in.

I am fully healed, affirms the desired state of being.

We must practice our positive affirmations.

By practicing our affirmations we expand their impact and increase their power. We can repeat them many times throughout the day both out loud and in writing. We can change them up and add new ones as we feel intuitively guided to do so. By placing them in written form in places where we can see them frequently, such as the bathroom mirror or on computer screen, we enhance our exposure to these life-affirming messages.

Practice affirmations early in the morning or at bedtime.

This is when we are the most suggestible and in a state of increased relaxation. These are the times when our affirmations are the stickiest and will have the most impact on our neural networks for change.

Write the important affirmations down, carry them around with you and refer to them often. I read that Dr. Wayne Dyer had sticky notes and messages tacked all over the wall around his bed. One read, “good things are happening.” He surrounded himself with the power and comfort of these words where he would see them and be near them when he needed to be. Here are some examples of positive affirmations that my clients and I like to use:

Thank you, Universe, for your constant love and support.

I am blessed.

This too shall pass.

I am grateful for my complete and perfect healing.

I am divinely guided and protected always.

I am deeply grateful for my blessed life.

I am grateful for my strong, healthy body.

I am a blessing to this world.

Karyn Shanks MD


Karyn Shanks, MD, is a physician who lives and practices in Iowa City. Her work is inspired by the revolutionary science of Functional Medicine, body-mind wisdom, and the transformational journeys of thousands of clients over her twenty-eight year career. She believes that the bones of healing are in what we do for ourselves.


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