The Difference Between Affirmations, Changing Habits, and Thought Work
Imagine you have a broken arm. Do you pick a band-aid, pain medicine, or a cast to fix it?
The band-aid is the affirmation, the pain medicine is changing your habit, and the cast is the thought work. When we break our arm, what we really need is a cast, right? We can put a band-aid on it and it's a really quick fix, but it's really not going to solve for the real issue, the broken arm. We can take pain medicine every day, and it does feel better, but we have to keep going back to the pain medicine and we're stuck just taking the medicine.It feels better temporarily but it doesn't get to the root issue: the arm is broken, it needs to be re-set and cast so it can heal. That's the thought work. Yes, it takes longer, yes it can be a painful, but ultimately, it solves for the issue. Forever. Let's dive a little deeper.
For clarity's sake, let's all get on the same page with what affirmations, habits, and thought work are, exactly. Affirmations are defined simple, positive statements declaring specific goals in their completed states. Habits are a regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up. Thought work is writing down (or talking to a coach about) your thoughts and beliefs, examining them and the results they are creating, and then choosing what to think on purpose.
Why is an affirmation a band-aid? Affirmations are only as powerful as your belief in them. Often times, affirmations are a bridge too far. We try to go from, "I hate myself" to "I love myself," and our brains are like lol no. So we keep trying to plaster this pretty thought over this ugly thought in hopes that it changes the ugly thought. Except what actually happens is we create a whole new negative thought in the process that we may not even be aware of. We can end up doubling down on the negative instead of really starting to believe the positive. Now, it is possible that you can pick an affirmation that you do believe and that can make a positive impact. Our thoughts are incredibly powerful so when you believe it and practice thinking it multiple times per day, it's going to make a difference. However, it's a shot in the dark and not the most efficient, effective way to create change. And it ultimately doesn't bring awareness to the true, underlying problem - our thoughts and beliefs. It's a quick fix.
Why is changing a habit the pain medicine? When we try to change a habit we're changing only from the action level. Just like with affirmations, we can make positive change from just the action level. When that works, just like with affirmations, we already have some supporting beliefs that make that change possible. We're usually unaware of these beliefs. So just like with affirmations, we have no idea what's going to stick and what's not going to stick. What happens most often when trying to implement new habits, we can usually stick to them for a few days, maybe a few weeks but then our old programming (beliefs) take over and say no, no, no. This is not what we do and we're back to our old habits. Think New Year's resolutions. Now, I personally love making resolutions and I do end up making and keeping at least one new habit per year. However. with these habits I'm simply treating the symptom. I started making my bed on a daily basis 5 years ago because of a New Year's resolution. That was a symptom of me wanting a bigger, different life. One where I was on top of shit and organized and working in a different career and making way more money. It was a small change that I enjoyed making because it represented to me this bigger life, but it was just a symptom of a deeper issue: not so happy with my life, wanting more, wanting something different, career, money, and organization-wise. It's actually the same year I discovered life coaching and self-help books and was introduced to thought work. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.
Why is thought work the cast? Thought work, as the name implies, uncovers your thoughts and beliefs. The reason we do anything, ever, is our thoughts. Our thoughts create our feelings, and our feelings create our actions, and our actions create the results in our lives. If you want to make any change in your life, it's going to be from the thought and belief level. What's tricky about our thoughts is we're often unaware of what we're even thinking most of the time. And, our beliefs aka thoughts we think over and over, can be even harder to identify. With our beliefs we're often like fish in water. We don't know it's a belief because we're in it, living it. We can't see it. Thought work can be painful, it can take longer, and it's not a quick-fix. But, when you do the work, gain awareness about what you're thinking, and notice what results your current thinking is creating for you (your current circumstances, fyi) - it feels like magic. It's as if you've flipped the light on and now you can see exactly why you are where you are. Like Stacey Boehman says, when you're the problem, you always have the solution.
From there, and only there, you can take responsibility for your life. For the thoughts you're thinking, for the current results you're getting, and from that awareness you can make real, lasting change.