How to Heal Your Heart and Mind with the Best "I AM" Affirmations
What are “I am” affirmations? How do they work?”
“I am” affirmations are short, positive statements you can repeat to reverse false unconscious or semi-conscious beliefs you hold about your most essential self.
“I am” affirmations work because your mind will believe whatever you tell it repeatedly.
Each time you repeat the same or similar thought, the neural pathway for that particular message grows stronger. With repetition, in time, the neurons on that pathway begin to fire faster and faster, until the belief becomes automatic, along with its associated emotions and behaviors. Deep-seated negative or traumatic thoughts, in particular, tend to “loop, ” meaning they replay over and over again.
This explains how you can develop false beliefs about yourself as a child.
Let’s say you had an interaction with a parent in which you felt shame. In response, you may have made up a story about yourself like, “I’m not lovable” Or, “This is what happens if I make a mistake. I’ll never make a mistake again. I must be perfect.”
If you continue to repeat this story to yourself again and again, it will eventually feel like an inescapable truth. Your parents don’t have to be mean, cruel, or vicious to trigger such a response. Good parents also speak out of turn from time-top-time. And this can happen at a pre-verbal level as well.
Roughly speaking, 90% of brain activity is subconscious, which includes beliefs, emotions, habits, values, long term memory, imagination, intuition, protective reactions (fight, flight, freeze), and the vital processes of the body (like heart rate, respiration, etc.).
Unless you make a conscious attempt for it to be otherwise, your subconscious beliefs govern your adult life. If they’re mostly happy ones, you probably feel fulfilled. If they’re mostly negative ones, you may struggle as an adult.
“The subconscious mind is ruled by suggestion, it accepts all suggestions - it does not argue with you - it fulfills your wishes.” - Dr. Joseph Murphy
But you can change the subconscious patterns of the brain, in the very same way that you developed false beliefs to begin with: through repetition, enhanced with emotion. What you think, say, and do now can rewire the neural pathways that regulate your emotions, thoughts, and reactions.
“I am” affirmations rework the subconscious patterns of your brain. For example, “I am lovable” becomes the default setting instead of “I am unlovable.” As you can imagine, this new positive belief will have far-reaching effects, changing your life for the better.
When no longer used, older neural pathways, the ones associated with your unhappy thoughts and tendencies, lose their power, and gradually wilt away.
As you can see, the use of affirmations isn’t just new age spin; it’s based in sound science. In almost every way, what you tell yourself is who you become.
How To Create the Best “I Am” Affirmations
The best “I am” affirmations are the ones that directly address the misbeliefs you developed as a child. An affirmation that’s perfect for one person may not do much for you, even if it is positive, because it doesn’t address your core emotional wounds.
Effective affirmations have 3 qualities:
The best positive affirmations are stated in the present tense because that’s the language of the brain. Positive tense is covered automatically with “I am” affirmations.
Effective affirmations contain only positive words. For example, if your affirmation says, “I don’t feel as bad as before,” that still has a somewhat negative tone, doesn’t it? Better instead to use an “I am” affirmation that specifically describes a positive state, like “I am good” or “I am grounded.”
Powerful affirmations are phrased as statements of truth. No equivocation, please! Leave out words like “might” or “sometimes.” Otherwise, you’ll confuse your subconscious mind and may not get the outcomes you desire.
Bearing in mind these 3 principles, use the following two steps to create your own “I am” affirmations.
Start by drawing a page with two columns - the first for the false belief and the second for the new “I am” affirmation.
Now you’ll look back at your childhood to identify a list of mistaken beliefs you developed about yourself. If that might be too painful for you, there’s an alternative method you can use at the end of step 1.
Think back to or feel into a situation when, as a child, you felt distress, shame, or inadequacy. You may have done something childlike, made an honest mistake, or perhaps did nothing “wrong” at all. May you were just being yourself. Yet one or more of you’re caregivers responded in ways that made you feel less than okay. They may have ignored you, ridiculed you, criticized you, laughed at you, or punished you.
For a child (and for many of us grown ups too) another person’s critical response doesn’t have to be extreme to sting and trigger shame. Even a nuanced look can make a child shrink and withdraw into himself, reach out desperately for affirmation, or act out in aggression.
What did you decide about yourself in that moment? Write it down, as “I am” statements using an adjective or noun. For example:
I am stupid.
I am alone.
I am dirty.
I am unworthy.
I am flawed.
I am unimportant.
I am unlovable.
I am clumsy.
I am a bad person.
Write these false beliefs in the first column of your page.
At any point, if you begin to feel distressed or overwhelmed by emotions, take a break. Go for a walk, call a friend for support, or do something you enjoy. Come back to the exercise later.
Or, if you’re not unduly disturbed, continue on.
Now think back to another distressing situation in childhood, and repeat the exercise. Continue to do so until you have a good list of false beliefs to start with. It doesn’t have to be an exhaustive list. More will likely emerge as you begin to work with your positive “I am” affirmations.
If you find it too painful to go back to your childhood, make a list of whatever false beliefs you know or suspect you hold about yourself. Ask yourself the question, “What false or negative beliefs do I hold about myself?” Instead of thinking too much, try out rapid logging. Write quickly and see what unfiltered beliefs spill onto the page.
Whichever method you used, come back and add any other beliefs that arise over the next few days.
For each false belief, write a new belief in the “I am” form, using a noun or adjective to complete the sentence. Write it down whether you believe it or not.
I am stupid becomes I am intelligent, I am smart, I am savvy, I am a problem solver, and/or I am clever.
I am alone becomes I am connected, and/or I am connected to everyone and everything.
I am unworthy becomes I am worthy, I am valuable, I am a treasure, and/or I am important.
I am flawed becomes I am perfect as I am.
I am unimportant becomes I am important, and/or I am valuable.
I am unlovable become I am lovable and/or I am adorable.
Make sure your statements don’t depend on anyone else. For example, for I am unlovable, don’t substitute I am loved. Because, as soon as someone stops loving you, do you become unlovable again?
Feelings of shame, embarrassment, and unworthiness connect with your essential sense of who you are. To heal those feelings, we use positive statements that aren’t conditional on someone else and put them in the form of nouns and adjectives.
Got your list of short “I am” affirmations? Well done!
How to Work With “I Am” Affirmations
Repetition is the key to changing neural pathways and the negative thoughts we have about our self.
Practice with your “I am” affirmations often, everyday if you can. Allow yourself 5 - 10 minutes, 2 to 3 times a day. Early mornings, when your mind is fresh, and evenings right before bed are especially good times.
As you speak or write your “I am” affirmations, put your heart into it. The addition of positive emotion will help imprint the new ideas more firmly and more quickly into your brain.
Here are some ways to work with your “I am” affirmations:
Read your list of “I am” affirmations two or three times a day. Speak confidently, enthusiastically, joyfully or authentically - whatever feels right for you.
Record your “I am” affirmations and listen to the audio recording two or three times a day. Again speak with positive emotion as you record.
Ask a friend to repeat your affirmations to you, in the “you are” form. You could do this for one another.
Handwrite your list of “I am” affirmations two or three times a day. Watch out for going into rote repetition mode. Try to feel them in your heart each time, and allow them to uplift you.
Write your affirmations on post-it notes and put them around in places you often look: on the fridge, mirror, car dash, desk, etc. Then when you see them, say them aloud to yourself or quietly in your mind.
Create an image of one or more of your “I am” affirmations. Post it on your wall or use it as a desktop or phone wallpaper.
Say your “I am” affirmations spontaneously, whenever they come to your mind during the day.
When you find yourself caught in a negative thought loop during the day, stop and begin to repeat one or more relevant affirmations.
Create a Pinterest board for your favorites. Put “I am affirmations” in the Pinterest search bar and then pin your favorites from the results.
How Long Does It Take for “I AM” Affirmations to Work?
The pathways in our brain are well set around the age of 25. But they can still change, it just takes more effort.
According to Julie Bjelland, author of Brain Training for the Highly Sensitive Person [affiliate link], it takes about 3 weeks to grow a new neural sprout. So, with practice, you can start to feel better in a matter of weeks. But new neural connections and pathways are fragile. You need to continue to train repeatedly to make them strong enough to become the default, automatic path.
In terms of habits, researchers at the University College London found it takes, on average, around 66 days to establish a new habit, but because everyone is different, they also found this number can very between 18 to 200 days.
I haven’t found the magic number for rewriring the neural pathways that regulate our emotions, thoughts, and reactions. I think the best measure is you.
Make a monthly date with yourself to reflect on your “I am” affirmation practice. Are you seeing results in how you think, feel, and act? In your journal, write down specific instances when you saw positive results.
For example, you accepted a compliment instead of negating it. You bought a new dress without feeling guilty. Or you didn’t buy a new dress because you no longer need external affirmation.
Don’t focus on the negative. While you’re training, there will, of course, be times when you fall back into old thought patterns or behaviors. If you focus on them, you’ll only strengthen those brain connections.
This is a good time to review your “I am” affirmations as well. Go through your list of affirmations and feel into each one. Does it still resonate? Do you need to change, tweak, or remove it?
You don’t want to constantly change your affirmations because it takes time for a new belief to integrate into your brain. If you keep switching them out, nothing will stick.
On the other hand, you don’t want to repeat an affirmation that doesn’t seem relevant or helpful. You know yourself best, use your own discernment. Of course, after you sense that your first set of “I am” affirmations is firmly planted in your brain, feel free to move on to a new set or to other types of affirmation.
During your monthly session, also consider what you can do to refresh your “I am” affirmation practice. For example, start speaking them, instead of writing them or vice versa. Or create a collage using words and pictures you cut out from magazines, to connect more deeply with your affirmations and in a sense, recharge them.
Our focus has been on learning about “I am” affirmations to counteract negative beliefs we adopted as a child, and to boost our self-love, self-esteem, and self-confidence.
There are other ways to use “I am” affirmations, and many different ways to construct other types of positive affirmations that don’t necessarily begin with “I am.” If you’d also like to work with other types of positive affirmations, check out these gorgeous affirmation images from Louise Hay for inspiration or these beautiful affirmations for deep healing from Positive Provocations.
It takes time to change your deeply embedded patterns of thinking, feeling, and responding. But, remember, the negative ideas you hold about yourself are not the “truth.” They’re only beliefs you constructed about yourself.
As real as they may seem, with practice, you can deconstruct negative beliefs and in their place construct self-affirming beliefs that will change your life for the better.
Have you used “I am” affirmations before? How have they worked for you? Please let me know in the comments. I would love to hear.
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