As we described briefly in Self Repetition Therapy in a Nutshell, writing an affirmation is about taking a negative belief and rephrasing it in a positive way. Often, the whole sentence needs to change in order to arrive at an effective affirmation. To help you come up with your own, we have established some very important principles. These principles hold not only for writing affirmations, but also for the general mental attitude.

Avoid negative words

When you write your affirmations, be 100% sure that there are no negative words, concepts or statements in any of them. Sometimes, you might have an instinct to make it positive by negating the negative statement, thinking that a double negative will add up to a positive. However, when you use ‘no’, ‘not’ or any other negative word, you end up reinforcing the negativity, even though the statement may be semantically positive.

You cannot extinguish negative thought by resisting it. You can extinguish negative thought only by replacing it altogether, with new and entirely positive thought. Below are some examples where the initial negative affirmation is corrected to a positive one:

Incorrect ❌ Correct ✅
I am not lazy. I am energetic.
I don’t have any shortcomings. I am perfect as I am.
I am no longer bothered by my past failures. I am free of my past.

Emphasize ‘doing’ over ‘being’

If your inner voice is not used to positivity and is very critical of you, you can retrain it by countering any negative labels it produces with positive ones. For example, if your inner voice tells you that “you are stupid”, you can acknowledge it and instead tell yourself that “you are smart”. If you are not used to it, then the inner voice becoming more positive will feel like a breath of fresh air.

Being able to praise yourself as ‘smart’, ‘beautiful’, etc. is an incredible skill and something to cherish. However, it is important to remember that these are all labels at the end of the day, and labels are not an ideal ingredient for core beliefs and self-confidence.

Beliefs involving labels are not flexible, due the their nature. Such labels exist as dichotomies in the human mind:

  • I am either smart, or stupid.
  • I am either beautiful, or ugly.
  • I am either superior, or inferior.
  • I am either popular, or unpopular.

Such labels reinforce binary thinking and are surprisingly self-defeating. If the belief ever gets refuted, e.g.

  • if someone with the belief “I am smart” fails an intellectual challenge,
  • if someone with the belief “I am beautiful” ever loses their aesthetic quality,
  • if someone with the belief “I am superior” ever gets dominated,
  • if someone with the belief “I am popular” ever gets ostracized,

then that person is prone to experiencing great cognitive dissonance, and feelings of worthlessness.

That is because beliefs about one’s self generally come with certain fallback beliefs:

Fallback belief: The proposition that would be implied, if a certain belief were to get refuted.

Thus, when a belief involving a dichotomous label gets refuted, it automatically falls back to the opposite side, bringing up negative emotions.

  • “I am smart.” 😊 → Gets refuted → “I am stupid.” ☹️
  • “I am beautiful.” 😊 → Gets refuted → “I am ugly.” ☹️
  • “I am superior.” 😊 → Gets refuted → “I am inferior.” ☹️
  • “I am popular.” 😊 → Gets refuted → “I am unpopular.” ☹️

In fact, all beliefs about one’s self exist on a confidence scale. The more levels exist on this scale, the more flexible and less fragile the belief. For labels, there generally exist two levels:

Figure 1: With dichotomous labels, the confidence scale has only two levels.

Did you notice that labels are generally used with the verb “to be”? These beliefs are generally expressed in the form “I am X”, and they generally imply a sense of completion, and no need for further improvement.

Let us try to rephrase the belief “I am smart” using an action (to do) or capability (to be able to do), instead of an attribution (to be). A smart person can do many things, but let us focus on one for this case: being able to solve difficult problems.

A “smart” person is also probably aware of the following facts:

  • To be “smart”, one should start with easy problems, before one moves onto more difficult ones.
  • Someone is “smart” only as long as they use their intelligence.
  • Intelligence is not only something to be born with—it is something that is developed through effort, alongside genetic factors.

Taking these into account, it seems counter-productive to say “I am smart”, because it would decrease the odds of staying smart, due to inactivity. So what can we do to encourage someone to be smart? And more importantly, what can we do to avoid dichotomies in our affirmations?

The answer is easy: remove “being” from your affirmations, when you feel like it could be creating dichotomies. Emphasize “doing” and “capability”, whenever you can. Beliefs that focus on “doing” implicitly contain the fact that humans are born as blank slates, and everything that comes on top of that is a skill that was learned through practice. Therefore, their refutation would not result in the destruction of identity, but something much lighter. When refutation does not imply a permanent loss, a belief can fall back to positive ones more easily:

Figure 2: Beliefs that focus on doing and capability have more levels, are more flexible, and easier to de-escalate. Notice how there is no “I am”, except for “I am human”, which is purely objective.

Being aware of your own confidence scale is crucial in adapting to the shocks and trauma that life throws in your way. You should proactively design your fallbacks, so that when anything gets refuted, you can easily adjust your beliefs, and do not suffer cognitive dissonance or loss of identity. When you realize that your confidence is getting weaker, you can de-escalate your beliefs to a lower level that is positive, until you regain your strength and escalate it back to its previous position. With beliefs that are stacked this way, you can maintain your courage in the face of difficulties, and keep learning instead of waiting for something to happen.

Below are the same examples, except that we switched “being” to “doing”:

Already good ✅ Even better ✅✅✅
I am smart. I can solve difficult problems.
I am beautiful. I can attract people.
I am superior. I can win.
I am popular. I can earn the love of many.

If it feels too hard to say, make it more modest

The main requirement for SRT to be effective is to keep repeating positive things every day, regardless of how ambitious or modest they might sound. If you feel friction, simply make your affirmations more modest.

For example, if might feel difficult to say “I am enough”, because you are aware of certain shortcomings that you have. In that case, you simply make it more modest (de-escalate in our terminology):

I can be enough.

If that still feels too ambitious, you can make it even more modest:

I can make myself feel enough, despite my certain shortcomings.

After all, SRT is not about ignoring reality, but about reframing reality, in a way that feels good. If you are convinced that you should feel bad for a certain reason, ask yourself this: “Does feeling bad really help with my situation?”

Hard to say 😕 Made more modest ✅
I am worthy. I can make myself feel worthy.
I love myself. I can eventually love myself, with dedication and hard work.
I am awesome. I am pretty OK.

This principle is related to the famous foot-in-the-door sales technique. You do not have to start with the most positive affirmation right off the bat. You can start with a more modest one and keep negotiating with your inner voice, on your way to the top of the confidence scale.

Be encouraging instead of obligatory

Remember that SRT is about feeling good and positive about yourself, as well as empowering yourself. To this end, you should avoid obligatory language in your affirmations, that is, sentences that go like “I must …“, “I have to …” and “I need to…“. SRT is about becoming more positive and existing in harmony with one’s self, whereas sentences like that has a high risk of increasing the divide within a person.

Here is a litmus test to detect if you are prone to obligatory thought:

How much do you agree with the following statements?

  • It is sometimes difficult to keep my monkey mind under control.
  • I need to master my self.
  • I must be successful, no matter what.

If you feel around the same frequency with these statements, then you might be prone to obligatory thought.

The self is not something to be mastered, but to be in harmony with. Even if you are obliged to do something in real life, you do not have to feel that way on the inside. Instead of ordering yourself to do things, try negotiating and reaching an agreement. This way, the various levels of your consciousness would feel as if they are on equal ground, rather than that of a master and their subordinate.

If you are at such a point where you feel that you need strict regulation and imperatives in your life, nurturing care and respect for yourself on the side will pay off even more in the long term.

Incorrect ❌ Correct ✅
I have to quit smoking. I can quit smoking.
I must pass this test. I can pass this test.
I must win. I will win.
I have to improve. I am already good, and I can improve even more.
I need to be more decisive. I can be more decisive.

Next: Possible holdbacks