In my journey to stop the 40+ year habit of obsessing about my weight/appearance, I truly have learned the power of what I call “deliberate messaging.” This is just the repetition of truths that can’t be debated to counter negative programming inside my own head.
For example, I often will say to myself, “There are executives (who are mostly straight old white men) in board rooms today discussing the profits that they made off of you hating yourself.” This is not a positive affirmation, this is just a truth that I find very important and that I often forget and so I have spent a good chunk of the last few years reminding myself of that. Every time I get down on myself because of my body or my wardrobe or my personality or my wrinkles I remind myself: THERE ARE PEOPLE MAKING MONEY OFF OF YOUR SELF-HATRED. DON’T GIVE THEM MORE.
This deliberate messaging becomes a lot more permanent in my brain every time I say it so that I’m less likely to fall into traps of self-hatred. The radical social activist side of my brain is holding up a fist saying: NOT TODAY, MOTHERFUCKERS.
I also have some deliberate messaging I deliver to myself in regards to parenting. Things like THERE ARE NO PERFECT PARENTS, and THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS PERFECT PARENTING. I also like to remind myself YOU ARE A SHITTIER PARENT IF YOU DO NOT TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. Whenever I feel like I’m failing I remind myself of that and see if I A) Need a nap B) Need a meal C) Need a walk or D) Need some alone time.
Repeating this messaging is like installing a speed trap with cops and radars on the shoulder of a road, or an intersection with stop lights on the highway of self-criticism. When I find myself just speeding down the pavement thinking of all of the ways I’m screwing up my kids, this deliberate messaging trains my brain to slow down and remember some important facts: Don’t strive for perfection that does not exist. Take care of yourself.
I also have a lot of deliberate messages I use in response to urges I have to own/buy nicer things: “Extraction capitalism survives on you constantly feeling like you don’t have enough!” Or when I feel like my kids are disadvantaged compared to their peers: “You are surrounded by wealthy people, don’t compare yourself to them. Your kids have plenty. They are truly wanting for nothing and are simply falling victim to the competition that fuels consumerism.”
This is a new part of my system, using very specific messages to counter the programming done by media/society that promotes consumerism at all cost.
The science that shows why it works, and my own personal experience seeing it work in my life, makes me really want to do better with positive affirmations. The things I categorize as “deliberate messaging” works with the same science as positive affirmations. (Resources: Study Reveals the Neural Mechanics of Self-Affirmation, To Affirm or Not Affirm, We decode the science behind affirmations and how they can infuse positivity in your life, Self-affirmation activates brain systems associated with self-related processing and reward and is reinforced by future orientation.) It creates more permanent pathways to thoughts you may not naturally have because of previous negative programming. And I see it work with this effort to offer myself these pragmatic reminders/messages.
But jeezus if I don’t struggle with positive affirmations. It’s like the second I try to come up with some positive affirmations, they either sound empty or I spend a million years circling what the affirmation should be and never settle on anything.
For example, if I’m looking in the mirror and hating what I see…coming up with a counterbalancing positive affirmation sends me into introspective spirals. “YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL EXACTLY AS YOU ARE,” make me argue with myself and say, “But has the word ‘beauty’ been co-opted in such a way to describe physical appearance when really it’s okay to not be beautiful so am I confusing my focus with that message?“Or maybe if I try something like, “YOU ARE PERFECT HOW YOU ARE,” then I’ll start to wonder, “But what is perfection? And what about striving to be better? I’m not perfect if I want to be better. Is it okay to want to be better?“
I think I just need to have better positive mantras. I like the one Brené Brown took from Sonya Renee Taylor’s book “My body is my ally,” but I really want to read the rest of Taylor’s book to see if there are others. I keep waiting to find some positive affirmations that are simple and fit and don’t send me into these weird spirals of overthinking.
Speaking of overthinking…as I typed that last paragraph my brain asked me: Kim, do you struggle so much with self-love that positive affirmations simply make you uncomfortable so you feel the need to argue with all of them?
You can see my problem, can’t you?
When I hear my kids exclaim something negative about themselves I scream, “PRACTICE RADICAL SELF LOVE!” or I ask them, “What would you say if someone just said that about me? Or one of your friends?” Maybe I need to just start there. Just reminders to disrupt the negative self-talk until I can work through my weird block against positive affirmations.