Playing with Affirmations

I’ve been working — no, make that playing — with affirmations lately.* During a recent class called ANEW, created and taught by the brilliant Staci Jordan Shelton, I created four statements in particular that I’m turning and returning to each day. I thought I’d share both what they are and a little bit about what each one means to me.

But first, remember Jessica, the little girl whose YouTube video went viral a decade ago? Her litany of things she loved about her life was downright contagious in its unbridled innocence. If you haven’t watched in a while or never saw it in the first place, be sure to check it out.

Ready? Here we go.


1. My work is solid, established, and abundant.

This statement is a direct way of interrupting thoughts that insist I am in over my head, don’t know what I’m doing, am on the verge of financial ruin, and all that kind of fun stuff. Every time I say it out loud — and I do say these statements out loud — I feel my body relax a bit. I return to a place of confidence and competence. These days, I’m growing more convinced that the latter — competence — is perhaps more important than confidence itself, or maybe they are somewhat interchangeable. Competence to me signals that even if things don’t go the way I expected or planned, I will be capable of figuring out what to do. I don’t always feel confident, and remembering that I’m competent feels like an on-ramp to get back in my lane.

Stating that my work is solid, established, and abundant also reminds me that hey! I’ve been at this a while! It’s amazing the tricks the mind can (and will, and does) play. I wrote a newsletter a while back about waiting to get fired, that feeling of being perpetually under review rather than settling into the fact that you already got the job. In this case, the “job” is one of my own making, so no boss is going to march into my office one day with a pink slip. But the sense of insecurity can still plague me on my worst days, and remembering that it has been four years since I left my “real” job is really helpful, especially towards the end of the month when the rent is nearly due.

A friend and fellow entrepreneur shared this week that she is going to back to a “conventional” job, with the goal of being able to buy a house. She wrote about how ongoing and repeated financial strain can be a form of trauma, and as we know, trauma does not do wonders for one’s creativity.

Stating that my work is “abundant” is not just wishful thinking; if I step back and take an unbiased view of how things are going (as much as a person can do that in regards to her own work, that is), it IS abundant. I lead multiple writing groups, care deeply about the people I work with, and get to work with thoughtful, creative, soulful people. The myth of scarcity is a big one to let go of. I’m working on it. Thus this particular affirmation.

2. I am in control of my thoughts and actions.

I chose these words because of some of the funkiness I’ve been experiencing lately. Anxiety, depression, some muddy mixture thereof, and the ways in which they had begun to concern me. I do not believe that we create our reality with our thoughts; I want to make that very clear. In my case, however, I do notice a marked difference when I’m taking responsibility for how I relate to my feelings.

Let me be more specific.

When I’m feeling anxious and/or overwhelmed and/or the pull of depression, my first impulse is to worry about it and fixate on it. It becomes a focal point. Rather than looking at what I can do to help myself, I feel stuck and sad and stressed. It is not easy to lift out of this sometimes. But I also know that neural pathways can be rewired, and that that is something I can take some control over. I might not be able to change the feeling I’m having, i.e. sadness, and that’s ok. I can let the feeling be the feeling. What I can do, though, is think, “it’s ok to feel sad, it doesn’t mean I’m stuck” or “being worried about money doesn’t make more money come in.”

On the action front, I’m finding a lot of power in doing these days. Doing just about anything, to be honest. Vacuuming the dog fur from my car, futile though it may be! Chopping veggies to make pasta sauce. Walking to my office instead of driving. Hand-writing a list of things I need to do instead of carrying them all around in my head, then picking up the phone to knock off one of those pesky calls I keep putting off about something or another.

3. I have enough. I am enough.

You can probably relate. Who doesn’t need to hear this more often? While it’s important and wonderful to have a partner, friends, family, and colleagues who remind you of your enough-ness, it’s also vital to practice internalizing this belief and offering myself the acknowledge and affirmation I give freely to others but sometimes find myself craving.

“I have enough” directs my attention to all the blessings in my life. Almost immediately, I’m filled with gratitude; when I’m focused on having enough, it is much harder to be thinking about what’s missing. It makes comparing seem like spitting in God’s face.

“I am enough” guides my heart back to a resting place, one where just being counts. A place where I don’t have to go go go. A reminder that my worth is not dependent on what I write, how much money I make, or how productive I am. It is the ultimate freedom, this. I don’t practice it enough — haha, just realized the irony of that! What I mean to say is that I would benefit from spending more time in this place.

4. Joy is my birthright.

I was such a joyful baby. My eyes crinkled, just like they do now. When I see pictures of little me, I see that I came into this life with joy. I didn’t have to work for it. I didn’t have to earn it. I didn’t have to defend it. It just was. When I remember and say out loud to myself that joy is my birthright, the very next thought is always that joy is also your birthright. It immediately brings me into a place of greater connection.

Joy and connection. These are two of my most deeply cherished values. I feel like myself, my best self, my most essential, effortless self, when I’m in touch with these. A member of one of my groups quoted the Indigo Girls in response to my 10-minute freewrite this morning. I had written about waking up with a heaviness, and how the world is so heavy in so many ways, and ended with the question of whether lightness is necessarily the goal.

Well darkness has a hunger that's insatiable
And lightness has a call that's hard to hear

When I remind myself that joy is my birthright, it’s like placing a direct call to my soul. Come out, come out to play. Joy is not only permissible; it’s life-giving. It keeps me going when I could get swallowed up by pain, injustice, and fear. And rather than denying those, tapping into joy replenishes my reserves when they’re low so that I can keep facing into what’s real. It also reminds me to smile and appreciate what’s right in front of me — my silly dog, beautiful kids growing up, loving wife, or just a kind exchange with a stranger in Penn Station or in a coffee shop.

One of my heroes, Muhammad Ali, said, “It's the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.”

As I enter a new season in my life and work, I need more encouragement than ever — and it feels right to be finding new ways of offering that to myself.

*Note and disclosure: I reserve some wariness about things like affirmations. I believe in their power, and also have seen great damage done in the name of “positive thinking.” Our thoughts and what we say about ourselves and to ourselves DO have a profound impact on our self-image and perhaps on our lived experience. But all too often, the blame for suffering is placed on the person struggling or experiencing abuse. The self-help industry makes billions of dollars every year banking on this internalized belief that you need to be fixed and that if you’re having a difficult time, it’s because you’re not “manifesting” or attracting the right things. I will never, ever endorse such thinking, which I believe is a form of violence and oppression. I share my own experiences of late with affirmations from a purely personal standpoint, not as an attempt to bypass the systemic and structural inequities that plague our culture and cause so much harm.