Affirmations: Beyond Stuart Smalley

You remember Stuart Smalley.  A character on SNL, played by Al Franken, Stuart Smalley was “good enough, smart enough and by gosh, people like me.” Stuart Smalley may have made you feel uncomfortable, or you may have laughed at the New Age silliness, but you probably wondered  about affirmations.

Facial expressions by

Facial expressions by

Because they work. Yep, if you do them right, affirmations work. Here are basic ways to get them to work for you:

1. Practice before you need them. I know, I know, practicing is for wimps.  How hard can this be? You don’t jump in the car and head for the freeway before learning how to drive; you don’t start learning how to cook by doing  coq au vin, and practicing makes affirmations seem natural and easy, something you want to reach for before you are panicked.

2. Keep affirmations positive. Your brain can’t distinguish between what you think you experience and what your body experiences. That’s why you scream and kick while dreaming, and wake up in a sweat from something that never happened in real life. What you tell your brain is what your brain reacts to–when you believe it. So when you are hiking in the desert and a snake strikes at your ankle, you might mumble, “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” but your brain will feel quite afraid. Good thing, too. You need to be just scared enough to take effective action.

Notice the affirmation I just mentioned: “There is nothing to be afraid of.” It sounds positive, but it is not. It includes the word “afraid” and is phrased in a negative form, “nothing to be afraid of,” which lets your brain feast on “afraid,” –which is will. Negative affirmations are as powerful as positive–with negative results instead. If you have tried affirmations, this is mostly likely why they didn’t work.

A  good affirmation uses only positives to give the brain positives to work with. “I’m choosing to be calm,” “I am brave,” are both positives. It also helps you focus on something you want. Both help the brain provide thoughts in that direction.

3. Keep “Should” away from affirmations. “Should” is a two-by-four over the head. It heaps disappointment into your heart. Because “should” has come to mean “but you didn’t.” So when we say, “You should eat more fiber,” the second part of the sentence is, “but you don’t,” or “but I’m eating a donut.” “Should” is in the vocabulary of the gremlin–the voice in your head that spouts negative self talk. Stop “should-ing” on yourself.

4. Keep your affirmations short. Complicated directions don’t work when you are lost, and they don’t work when you are shaky, either. “I can do this,” “I’m ready to go,” work really well. “I’m ready to give this speech,” “I am happy to be here,” is acting “as if” and it helps you focus on the one important thing.

5. Keep your affirmation specific. Hate giving speeches? Right before you go on, think to yourself, “I am prepared for this speech.” Of course it helps if you are prepared. Your brain will override a big fat lie. Hate that client who’s calling? “I’m a polite person,” will help you be a polite person.

6. Repeat your affirmation. You probably didn’t clean up your room the first time you were asked, and neither do your kids. Your brain isn’t all that different. Repeating an affirmation several times calms the body as well as the spirit. Repetitions are used in rallies, prayers, and rituals for an excellent reason–they work.

7. Keep working on them. Some affirmations work better than others. If you have read this far, you are hoping they will work for you. They might not have worked in the past, but with practice, they will work for you.

Samples of affirmations you can use to develop your own

  • I can get through this
  • I am strong
  • I will be kind (instead of “I won’t get angry.”)
  • I choose what is healthy for my body
  • I feel grateful for. . .
  • I believe in myself

© Quinn McDonald, 2009 All rights reserved. Quinn McDonald is a freelance writer, trainer,  life- and certified creativity coach. She teaches people how to write and give presentations. She also teaches people who can’t draw how to keep an art journal.


Saying “No” and Keeping the Client Relationship

There are times in your freelance career when all of your clients seem to converge on your at once.  All of them needed a fast turnaround. All of them have gotten quick responses from you before. And none of them knew you were in the middle of a project that was sucking up time faster than a Shop-Vac sucks up dust bunnies, on a project that demanded focus and came with a tight deadline.

NoYou beg off two projects only to get hurt or angry emails, insisting you help and pointing to some guilt lurking off-stage that guarantees wincing on your part.

Several years ago I accepted too much paying and non-paying work and paid the price of humiliation and unfinished, promised work. Not wanting to do that again, I gathered up my coaching stamina and skills. . .and stayed up till 3 a.m. for three nights doing everything so people would like me. Damn. Personal growth can be a bitch.

Here’s what I learned. (I hate learning while it’s going on; afterwards, it’s always worthwhile. But when i see a learning experience coming on, I cringe.)

–People who don’t do your work invariably underestimate how much time and effort is involved. You cannot explain it because they don’t want to listen, they want results.

–When people ask you to re-write something,  they think it will take 10 minutes. It doesn’t. It takes 3 hours. When you open the email request,  send back an email that says, “This will take me 3 hours, and I can get to it next week. Is that all right?” When you get back an email that says, “I thought it would take 10 minutes, I just want you to glance at it and give me advice,” reply, “Nope, that’s 3 hours. Next week OK?” The key is to stick to the time it will take you and when you can get to it. Let the requester decide if that fits their deadline. If they tell you they need it sooner, you can honestly say you are booked. That’s the point where you started.

–In an ideal world, people get their work done before the deadline. In my world, I get requests to look at this “right away.” If I’m jammed up myself, I make up bad pictures of them thinking I have nothing to do and how inconsiderate is that? In reality, they aren’t thinking of me at all, they are trying to get something done. Back goes an email, “I’m jammed up right now, I can get to this in three days.” You have to stand up for yourself. Without making up ugly stuff about your colleagues. Just stick to the facts.

If you don’t want to do it, simply say “I can’t take this on right now.” You don’t have to offer more explanation. That’s hard, because we want people to like us and tell us it’s all right. But people are not concerned about what we want, they are concerned about what they want. Which is why they don’t care once you’ve said “no.” It’s amazing how well it works

If only I could follow my own advice. Meanwhile, you are free to try it out.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach who is still learning, and plans on making a life out of learning. You can see her work at