In recent years, there’s been a strong movement among addiction scientists and advocates to change the language of addiction. The goal? Speak more supportively about addiction and less judgmentally, because words matter to our well-being. This is also the philosophy behind using positive affirmations to boost your recovery. While it’s easy to initially think these quotes and phrases are new-age, woo-hoo, gobbledygook, there’s some science to it.
The Brain Defaults to Negativity
How did primitive people learn to survive danger? By anticipating threats. So our brains developed an ingrained negativity bias over centuries of evolution. On one hand, this was beneficial thinking for our ancestors, as they faced numerous predators and extreme hazards just trying to survive—and continue the species. On the other hand, we modern folk have to actually train our brains to think more positively.
Psychologist and best-selling author Rick Hanson calls this process “hardwiring happiness.” He says negativity bias shows up in a lot of ways. “For example, studies have found that, in a relationship, it typically takes five good interactions to make up for a single bad one. Additionally, painful experiences are much more memorable than pleasurable ones. And people will work much harder to avoid losing $100 than to gain the same amount of money.”
Hanson, also the founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom, is an expert on positive neuroplasticity, and believes we all have the capacity to change our way of thinking through deliberate methods. One way to do this, according to the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences, is to use positive affirmations or mantras.
“When we begin to think negatively, we will call ourselves names or talk ourselves out of doing things because we fear failure. Creating and reciting a personal mantra is a positive way to change the path of your thoughts,” the organization states. “Mantras are positive affirmations that you can repeat whenever you feel negativity creeping into your mind. You can use them to motivate and inspire you to be the best you can be.”
How to Use Positive Affirmations to Boost Your Recovery
It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of believing in other people’s definitions and descriptions of us. For example, if you call yourself an addict or an alcoholic because someone else does or that’s truly how you see yourself, then your identity shifts from a whole person with a mind, body, and soul to simply a label—and all the negative connotations associated with it.
However, recognizing your journey as a human being and reinforcing what you’re capable of will help you develop resilience and find the happiness you deserve. Hanson explains more of this concept in this TEDxTalk.
Affirmations also help you find balance in life. Will bad things happen? Of course—it’s inevitable. But when you have focused wellness practices, you can overcome triggers and cravings and continue to build a more purposeful direction.
Mindfulness.com suggests a two-step approach to using positive affirmations—and it starts with gratitude. We provide their tips verbatim:
- Identify something you can appreciate.
- Is there something or someone in the room you’re in that you appreciate?
- Can you see or hear something that you feel grateful for?
- Walk outside and look around until you see one beautiful thing.
- Say it out loud or write it down to reinforce it. Here are some examples.
- What a beautiful __________.
- I’m grateful for __________.
- My life is a little bit easier because of __________.
- I really appreciate __________.
You might also want to develop more direct mantras that you place in areas where you’ll see them everyday or throughout the day, such as in a journal, on the bathroom mirror, your car dashboard—wherever you feel they’ll have the most impact. Maybe you repeat them as you’re getting ready for work or preparing for bed. The key is to be consistent and have a strong belief in their meaning.
So what might your positive affirmations be? Here are just a few examples from the therapy site BetterUp:
- I prioritize my wellbeing.
- I am resilient in the face of challenges.
- I do my best, and my best is good enough.
- I am proud of myself and my achievements.
- I can do the hard things.
- I am grateful for another day of life.
- I trust myself to make good decisions.
- I have everything I need to achieve my goals.
- I am safe and supported.
- I love and accept myself.
Now at first, it might feel a little odd to speak these out loud or see them on posties everywhere. But over time, consistent practice will improve your sense of self and your outlook.
You, Only Better, With Help From Fair Oaks
While learning to live substance-free is its own reward, what if going through addiction treatment actually helps you discover more of what you’re capable of and how to design a better future? The board-certified professionals at Fair Oaks Recovery Center in Sacramento, California, specialize in an evidence-based approach to addiction rehabilitation that allows each person to realize their true potential. Learn more about how we can help you.