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Literally the Best Thing Ever: Daily Affirmations

For when you need to remind yourself how awesome you are.

Illustration by Esme

Illustration by Esme

I was 18 the first time a therapist tried to get me to embrace the idea of daily affirmations. I was dealing with depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder, and the only thing I told myself regularly was that I was pretty much the most terrible, disgusting person on earth. Daily affirmations, the therapist told me, were little sayings I could use to combat the default negativity that was always running through my mind. “It sounds dumb,” she said. “But it works.” She gave me a little box of cards, each with a happy image (sunshine, a heart, a smiling face) and a saying such as “I am a good person” or “I deserve recovery” or “I am lovable and capable of sharing love with others.” I rifled through them on my bed, rolling my eyes at each card and feeling as if I’d been transported to the “Esteemsters” episode of Daria or one of those old Stuart Smalley sketches from Saturday Night Live, where now-senator Al Franken would parody the entire idea of daily affirmations with his signature catchphrase, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!” In short, I felt like an idiot. This, I decided, was not for me. For years after that, any time someone so much as mentioned daily affirmations, I mentally changed the channel.

During those years I kept up my typical routine of doing the difficult work that recovery and treatment entail, and then retreating home, looking in the mirror, and thinking, You’re a piece of crap. It was so automatic, so natural, that I didn’t even recognize that I was essentially undoing hours of hard work by allowing these reflexive thoughts to take control, as they’d always done. I never understood why I couldn’t make recovery work, why I never seemed to feel better. When I began to relapse this year, I didn’t even notice (my husband had to tell me) because these feelings had become so normal.

While struggling through outpatient treatment last month, I came to rely on repeated spins of Fiona Apple’s The Idler Wheel… both for comfort and catharsis, and I went back and read the interviews she’d given after its release. I felt like I could hear the darker and lighter parts of myself in her songs, and I wanted to know how she felt when she was writing them. I came across this New York Times article from last May, and something she said in it stuck with me: “What fires together wires together. If you keep on having these negative thoughts or being angry all the time, then that area of your brain is going to get stronger.” I realized that I’d never opened a pathway in my brain for positive thoughts to flow through. (This, by the way, is the basic concept behind dialectical behavioral therapy, which encourages patients to be mindful of their thoughts and feelings and to try to find a balance between being rational and being emotional. It is the therapeutic approach I have found most helpful in my own treatment.) But how would one do that? I wondered. Oh. Right. That’s why people kept pushing the whole daily-affirmations thing on me. I decided to try it, at least.

This was not easy—self-encouragement was a totally foreign concept to me. I was going to need all the help I could get. So I dug out the stupid cards, which had been stuffed in the back of my closet for posterity, and read one aloud.

“I am a good person.”

I stood in front of the mirror and watched my mouth make those words and listened to my voice push them out into the air. I said it again.

“I am a good person.”

I felt so stupid and corny and ridiculous, but I said it again.

“I am a good person.”

And then I started bawling. Not because I’d miraculously come to see my own inherent virtue as a human being, but because saying these words, feeling how strange they felt in my mouth, and watching my face struggle to look like I believed them—that’s when I realized what I’d been up to all that time. I never understood why I couldn’t make recovery work, why I never seemed to feel better. The fact that I could barely get out the most basic positive message showed me how negative my inner voice really was, how cruel I’d been to myself on a regular basis. It was shocking to consider that maybe there was something good in me, something worth saving, and that maybe all my brain needed was a little encouragement from the healthy side of me, as opposed to a constant stream of bullying from my illness.

When your brain is constantly telling you you’re worthless, ugly, stupid, unlovable, evil, horrible, mean, disgusting, etc., you start to believe it, even when it isn’t true. Taking a second to say, “Wait a minute, I’m not worthless,” may sound foolish (watch out—there’s that inner bully undermining you), but it actually brings you back to a state of control over your own thoughts, and the more you repeat it, the quieter that mean voice in your head becomes. Eventually, the positive thoughts are the ones that come naturally, and you can spot the negative ones creeping in from a mile away, no longer automatic, but sinister and nasty and worthy of this response.

If this sounds awful and ineffective to you, I understand. I am as cynical as they come, and my first instinct with anything of this nature is to roll my eyes and run away as fast as possible. But rolling my eyes and running away didn’t solve any of my major problems, which were and still are (as Kanye once said, IT’S A PROCESS) caused by a mix of tiny things, including antagonistic thoughts, self-loathing, obsessive-compulsive behavior, depression, and feeling like I didn’t deserve help.

These days I use daily affirmations as needed: in dark times I try to keep an affirmation book or stack of cards around when I need a little support, and I’ve also developed little sayings of my own. (My favorite is actually from my favorite movie, What About Bob?: “I feel good, I feel great, I feel wonderful.” Not only does it work, but the thought of Bill Murray saying it just makes me laugh so hard that everything is better.) If you don’t want to buy affirmation books or cards, it’s super easy to make your own, just by writing down a bunch of positive thoughts and quotes on scraps of paper and sticking them into a jar and pulling one out when you need one. Here are some examples:

I am beautiful.

I am loved and love others.

I am trying my best.

BE BEYONCÉ.

Should you feel that all of this is way too Cornball City for your liking—and trust me, it does feel that way for a while until you get used to it, and then it’s like a tiny meditation, a self-esteem boost, a little shot of empowerment that helps make the world seem better—you can also tackle daily affirmations by keeping a journal and listing five things you’ve done or noticed during the day, including even the simplest stuff, which you may be surprised to notice adds up to a deeper appreciation of the universe around you and your place in it. For example:

1. Got out of bed
2. Laughed really hard at a dumb movie
3. Drank a delicious glass of lemonade
4. Hung out with my dog
5. Noticed how warm the sun felt on my skin

Sounds kind of basic, right? But when you do it often enough, you become more aware of how beautiful tiny moments in your life can be, which helps to make the bigger, more overwhelming stuff seem a little less scary.

There are days when I hop off the daily-affirmation train and forget to show myself, and the world around me, the love and empathy we deserve. But I always seem to come back to them, because sometimes you need to love yourself before you can notice it coming from anywhere else, and if you can take two seconds to stare the mean girl in the mirror down and pay her a compliment (and not, like, “I love that skirt, where did you get it?”), you’ll eventually stop feeling like a total poser and start believing the things that are coming out of your mouth. You are beautiful. You do deserve to be loved. You are good enough, you are smart enough, and doggone it, people like you. ♦

44 Comments

  • MegW May 9th, 2013 7:28 PM

    I really needed this today. Thanks Rookie for awesome articles and BEING PSYCHIC! :)

  • kolumbia May 9th, 2013 7:33 PM

    I was thinking, I love writing letters, meeting awesome people, and Rookie. And it would be cool to combine all three of those things into one giant awesome thing by starting a pen-pal group of Rookies! If anyone wants to have a Rookie pen-pal, message me on Tumblr and I’ll try to organize this!
    http://kittydrawscomics.tumblr.com/

    • Vasia May 10th, 2013 3:10 AM

      Omg this sounds awesome!!! I love writing letters too and I’ve always wanted a pen pal who reads rookie too! I don’t have a tumblr, though, but I wouldn’t mind making one! :)

      Heyy… I just remembered… I THINK I once read in the comments that rookie is in the process of setting up a pen pal system… Has this ever happened or did I just make it up? :P

    • nizmocat May 10th, 2013 6:30 AM

      Yes, I’ve been wanting a rookie penpal for ages! Good on you for organising :)

      http://myperpetualperplexities.blogspot.co.nz/
      http://perpetual-perplexities.tumblr.com/

    • taste test May 10th, 2013 12:23 PM

      that sounds really awesome!! I can’t figure out how to message you, though, because I guess I’m bad at tumblr.. so here is my url

      snoothy.tumblr.com

    • Franckswife May 10th, 2013 1:46 PM

      Yes, I read many times that Rookie was going to organize it, but it seems it never happened.. :(
      I’M 100% FOR THAT. LETTERS ARE THE BEST. <3

      http://i-feel-just-like-a-child.tumblr.com/

    • cole123 May 10th, 2013 10:01 PM

      That would be seriously awesome! Making friends is hard at school but here, your all such lovely people! I think every here has a lot in common and I would be honored to have any one of you guys as a pen-pal!

      Don’t Forget To Be Awesome!

  • flapperhatgirl May 9th, 2013 7:40 PM

    I think this is the first time I’ve cried over a rookie article. I needed this, and I think this is just about the best thing you people could have posted right now. I’ve been having a really hard time lately, and I think this will help. Thank you.

  • Kaetlebugg May 9th, 2013 7:40 PM

    THIS IS PERFECT. Great essay. Seriously. Everyone should read this.

    embarrassingurl.blogspot.com

  • kolumbia May 9th, 2013 8:02 PM

    I’ve tried affirmations too, they never seemed to help. Maybe I just didn’t stick with them long enough. I do kind of like the gratitude journal, though.

  • jane alice May 9th, 2013 8:05 PM

    this article gave me shivers! thanks rookie for being awesome as per usual.

  • abby111039 May 9th, 2013 8:08 PM

    This is the perfect article at the perfect time. THANK YOU! :)

  • jenaimarley May 9th, 2013 8:11 PM

    This almost made me cry, it’s so true.
    I do a Tibetan Buddhist meditation ten minutes a day, and a large part of it is the celebration-of-the-universe-and-my-life-and-self type of practice you mentioned. But I still struggle so hard to see myself in the postive ways others see me.

    Thank you for this, Pixie.

  • starsinyourheart May 9th, 2013 8:21 PM

    I love this :) I was in outpatient for a year and thought I was totally fixed until a few weeks ago, I’m suddenly realising recovery really is a constant work in progress. Which is hard when you’re a teenager. I was a year clean of self injury two months ago, but other things have cropped up making me feel less good about it. I have a ‘good things’ jar that I should remember to do and I want to start these affirmations :)

  • PJ Barker May 9th, 2013 8:27 PM

    aw man i’m going to cry i’ve been so low lately and in need of a picking up. And usually in times of need, there’s always a strange coincidence of some sort. this time, signs have been pointing to daily affirmations. i don’t really believe in karma and “everything happens for a reason” but what do i have to lose?

  • Eileen May 9th, 2013 8:42 PM

    This is perfect <33
    It's so much harder to be negative, so why are we always surrounding ourselves with negativity..?? I love how rookie is always enforcing positivity!!
    waitingforeuro.blogspot.com

  • Marian May 9th, 2013 8:45 PM

    I stuck a notecard on the mirror in my bedroom that says “And baby even on our worst nights, I’m still in to you.” It’s a quote from a mundane pop song, but having it up when I look at myself somehow helps me be more forgiving of my flaws.
    Thanks for writing this Rookie! <3
    http://thelunalovingbookworm.tumblr.com

  • loonylizzy May 9th, 2013 8:58 PM

    thank you! this is just what i needed today. plus FIONA APPLE omg <3 <3 both she and her music are so inspiring to me. fiona has helped me through so much in my life, i'm so glad you mentioned her!

    http://www.theflightoftheflamingo.blogspot.com

  • Kourtney May 9th, 2013 9:02 PM

    This was great. I really like the idea of making an affirmation book, too. I try to encourage myself with these positive affirmations but sometimes I’m too embarrassed or depressed for them to even work. But I’m trying. Love this article<3

  • Chloe22 May 9th, 2013 9:36 PM

    Pixie, I’m always so excited when I see you posted a new article. I have OCD and I’m naturally negative. All the time. Which in reality really isn’t realistic. Good stuff does happen sometimes! And so does bad stuff. Its a mixed up mash. It makes me feel so good to read something from someone who will admit they aren’t always sunny and happy, like me. The few times I’ve ever told ”friends” about my problems, they usually stop being friends. Our world is so weird! Luckily we’re very accepting of people with physical disabilities, but the attitude towards people with emotional trouble is one of disdain and we’re often the butt of many jokes. THANK YOU!
    http://rhinestonemoon.blogspot.com/

  • LittleTiny May 9th, 2013 10:12 PM

    DBT is the best. I’ve done it for almost 3 years. And it has helped me so much with stopping self harm.

    My therapist lately has had me say “I am enough” in the mirror. In the beginning I could barely say it out loud. And when I tied in the mirror I’d break down crying because it hurt so much to try to belive it. After a while it became easier though and I started believing it. It has made me feel better about myself and when she suggested this a few months ago I was like are you effig kidding me. I didn’t want to belive that saying some words to myself would help, but I’m so glad I tried. Because it did.

  • sarahf May 9th, 2013 10:24 PM

    THANK YOU

  • moonchild May 9th, 2013 10:50 PM

    has anyone mentioned Jessica’s affirmation? or maybe i missed that in the article? because the article is not complete without it!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qR3rK0kZFkg

    Love,
    gwen
    http://under-a-bridge.blogspot.com/

  • wissycosh May 10th, 2013 1:32 AM

    this is exactly what i need.

    i struggle with this, even at 27.

    i don’t like or relate to the Beyonce comment though…

  • Julianne May 10th, 2013 1:43 AM

    Making gratitude lists totally works for me. When you think of it of just making lists of things you’ve been enjoying or think are cool (like songs or good meals or TV shows), it feels less cheesy. And I often find when I start writing them, I just tap into some positive part of my brain and I can’t stop thinking of more things to be grateful for. Before I know it, I’ve filled up several pages. It’s a great feeling.

  • Smriti May 10th, 2013 1:48 AM

    I love this… Off late i have just been trying to get over this stupid depression that surrounds me (cos there are a lot of mean things happening). I do need to make those small cards for myself and keep repeating – I am a nice person and people love me… Thanks again Rookie…

  • elliecp May 10th, 2013 2:09 AM

    God did I need this article. Thankyou pixie.
    I know what you mean, you do sound stupid at first…but little things like this really can make a difference, even if you don’t feel them working straight away.

    http://roseandvintage.blogspot.com/

  • OLiveYouToo May 10th, 2013 2:54 AM

    I’m going to re-read this tomorrow morning. And probably tomorrow afternoon. Probably tomorrow night, and multiple times in the next week. I know that I need this reminder! This article was perfectly timed and in itself is an incredibly positive affirmation for me. Thank you SO much.

  • Isabellla May 10th, 2013 3:17 AM

    I love these and have been doing them for years! They really did help me. Just remember when you are making up affirmations they should always be in the present sense- b/c now is the moment! (for example instead of ‘i can create a world of my own design’ you say ‘i am creating a world of my own design) Great article :)

  • @sarahspy May 10th, 2013 11:06 AM

    that’s so funny you mentioned the bill murray quote from What About Bob! i’ve used that one myself many times (and frickin LOVE that movie)

  • all-art-is-quite-useless May 10th, 2013 12:29 PM

    my friend gets anxiety, she has a “nice things jar”, she writes down things that made her happy each day on slips of paper and keeps them in there, it reminds me of this.

  • kendallkh May 10th, 2013 1:05 PM

    self-affirmations really are the best, this sounds so dumb but i filled up the back page of my journal with stuff like this so i can always come back and read it and it really does help you feel better

    also calming manatee is sorta similar to this idea and makes me feel so much better when i start thinking crappy thoughts about myself lol

  • limegreensunset May 10th, 2013 3:15 PM

    i seriously needed this right now, thank you so much!!! <3

    http://limegreensunset.blogspot.co.uk/

  • Hailey Rose Jones May 10th, 2013 5:14 PM

    I’ve been doing personal affirmations now for a little over a year and I too started out thinking they were ‘Cornball City.’ Seriously though, what you said about them becoming a meditative practice with an added shot of self-esteem and empowerment is spot on; I usually feel giddy after some good self-talk!

    For me, a good way to get past the corniness is to not always use pre-made phrases. Some mornings I’ll just stand in the mirror and push myself to remember why I love myself and my body. It feels much more real and grounded. These past few months most of that energy has been directed towards my thighs and how I just look at them has changed so much.

    Don’t get me wrong though, when I’m in a downward spiral over my body seeing my “I love myself unconditionally” sticker up on my mirror goes a long way in getting me back to a place of self love. I always need a backup phrase in place when I can’t muster the words myself. And just like you said, I can’t accept love, compliments, or even friendships until I have a baseline of self-love built up.

    Thanks so much for the article, its always good to have a reminder for why I do this!

    p.s. we are ALWAYS worth recovery

  • marengo May 10th, 2013 6:49 PM

    Last week I realized I have depression…I struggle hugely with self-esteem issues. You have no idea how much this helps. Thank you <3

  • aliceee May 10th, 2013 7:18 PM

    I’m going through such similar issues right now, & it’s so hard to believe anything good about myself, but at the same time I’m starting to realize how inwardly cruel I am & how unnecessary it is. I think I’m starting to turn it around. And this article helped.

    One thing I’ve done for a while that really helps me remember I’m not worthless is that every Friday I make a list of my triumphs of the week, whatever I’m proud of. And I usually wind up seeing there’s a lot.

  • junipero96 May 11th, 2013 1:24 PM

    it’s amazing how hard we can be on ourselves. i do it to myself all of the time, and i see my mom and my friends doing the same. it’s when those positive thoughts and affirmations feel so weird that you really need them the most. thanks for writing about something that really hits home.

  • bethleeroth May 11th, 2013 11:31 PM

    Louise Hay!!!! “You Can Heal Your Life” is the single most influential and healing book of my life. Affirmations are where it’s at. Check her out, everyone.

  • Shaniece_LostGirl May 12th, 2013 12:54 AM

    This is pretty darn perfect. I’ve been going through a rough time myself, a bit of a transition, and it’s very true that those negative thoughts are just so normal. They just come so easy. I’ve been going to counselling for a few months and it’s kinda strange actually that these thoughts are kind of fading. I almost don’t know what to do with myself sometimes lol. I’m so used to the negativity. It may be strange at first, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with just feeling good about stuff.

    And that pen-pal idea sounds pretty cool.
    http://insatiablegirls.tumblr.com/

    http://youthatlostit.blogspot.ca/

  • neenbean May 12th, 2013 1:53 AM

    This honestly is really helpful – even if you find it corny or dislike it, it DOES make you realize just how often you talk to yourself negatively, and how wrong all those negative thoughts are. It helps you a lot to bring attention back to the fact that you are not the awful person you tell yourself to be, and to consciously try and get away from those thoughts.

    I think it’s super powerful to tell yourself daily affirmative things, but I always hate seeing notes around that people leave saying things like “you’re beautiful/smart/etc” because it’s like, you don’t know me! Haha. But it’s different when you say it to yourself – by doing so, you make it come true, and that’s great.

    http://greybluedreams.blogspot.com

  • justsomeone May 12th, 2013 5:45 AM

    Well, if that wasn’t just the most beautifully written, important message ever.

  • sineadmarguerite May 15th, 2013 10:58 AM

    Thank you for this, Pixie! It was just what I needed. I cried a bit then immediately got my journal and started scrawling my own daily affirmations to start making.

    sinead-marguerite.tumblr.com

  • Julie Davis May 18th, 2013 10:04 AM

    I loved this. I remember watching a film called “What the #$*! Do We Know” (or “What the Bleep Do We Know?). One part showed an animated explanation of neurological re-wiring. The scientist running this experiment believed that if you stop negative thoughts over time and replace them with positive thoughts, the old connection (“I am a piece of crap”) fades away, while a new connection (“I am good”) begins to form.

    Thanks for the reminder of the gratitude journal as well. My therapist suggested I do it but I have gotten out of the habit.

    Thank you, thank you!

    Julie