Robert F. Mullen, PhD
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This is a draft of Chapter Twelve – ‘Positive Personal Affirmations” in ReChanneling’s upcoming book on moderating social anxiety disorder and its comorbidities. I present this as an opportunity for readers to share their ideas and constructive criticism – suggestions that I gratefully consider and evaluate as I work to ensure the most beneficial product to those with emotional dysfunction (which is all of us to some degree). Please forward your comments in the form provided below.
Positive Personal Affirmations
The positive thinker sees the invisible,
feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible.”
– Winston Churchill
One of the most effective ways to input neural information is through positive personal affirmations (PPAs) – our self-empowering, motivating statements of purpose. Practicing positive personal affirmations is an extremely productive form of DRNI or the deliberate, repetitive, neural input of information.
On the surface, creating positive personal affirmations (PPAs) sounds easy, but it is deceptively complex for SAD persons. The theory is by deliberating repeating PPAs, the power of suggestion instigates positive changes in our thoughts and behaviors. We persuade ourselves to believe what we tell ourselves. Those of us living with social anxiety disorder, however, are not so easily fooled. Years of negative self-beliefs cannot simply be overwhelmed by a few choice words. It is difficult enough to say something self-supportive, much less believe it.
Space is Limited
I know many of you are skeptical. SAD drives us to distrust unfamiliar ideas and concepts. How can anything this simple contribute so significantly to the restructuring of our neural network? Our resistance to positive reinforcement is robust. Since childhood, we have been badgered by parents and teachers to think positively, but they never understood the science. Cajoling someone to do something without explanation is like teaching a puppy to walk on its hind legs. It eventually learns, but only under duress, and probably resents us. It also does not perform without an audience.
Many of us disparage the new-age implications of PPAs. Even when we become mindful of the obvious benefits of positive reinforcement in neural realignment, we dismiss it as silly and boring. Nonetheless, if we do the work – if we construct three viable PPAs and repeat them at least five times a day for one week, we will experience a perceptible change in our attitude and outlook on life. Trust me on this; I have experienced and witnessed the change.
That’s why mindfulness of the science behind proactive neuroplasticity is so important. If our PPAs meet the criteria for good information, our neural network will recognize them and restructure accordingly, whether we believe our information or not. Remember, our brain doesn’t think; it is an organic reciprocator. It doesn’t distinguish healthy from toxic information. Positive information in, positive energy reciprocated in abundance. Conversely, negative information in, negative energy reciprocated in abundance. So, telling ourselves PPAs are a waste of time because we don’t believe in them is not only self-annihilating but also incorrect.
In defining his counteroffensive in war, Sun Tzu wrote, “Supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.” That is what we are doing with the deliberate, repetitive neural input (DRNI) of our PPAs. We are breaking down our brain’s resistance to healthy thoughts and behaviors due to our life-consistent negative self-beliefs by barraging it with positive information. Executing PPAs properly initiates the rapid, concentrated, neurological stimulation that causes positive neural chain reactions. PPAs are the most effective form of DRNI. That they also help us focus on goals, challenge negative, self-defeating beliefs, and reprogram our subconscious minds should confirm their value.
Neurons don’t act by themselves but through neural circuits that strengthen or weaken their connections based on electrical activity. The deliberate, repetitive, input of information compels neurons to fire repeatedly, causing them to wire together. The more repetitions, the more robust the new connections.
Neuroscientist, Donald Hebb was a pioneer in establishing the correlation between psychology and neuroscience as it relates to behavior. Hebbian Learning is a complex algorithm that is best summarized as “neurons that fire together wire together.” That means the simultaneous activation of nearby neurons leads to an increase in the strength of synaptic connections between them. While our input of information is not simultaneous no matter how quickly we repeat it, the corresponding reactivity of participating neurons produces the same response. DRNI accelerates and consolidates learning by causing neural circuits to strengthen and power information.
In addition, as we now know, multiple repetitions of positive information activate millions of neurons that reciprocate that energy in abundance. PPAs decrease the flow of the fear and anxiety-provoking hormones, cortisol and adrenaline while simultaneously producing hormones for memory, learning, and concentration. PPAs amplify the activity of our axon pathways, creating higher levels of BDNF (brain-derived neural factor) proteins. We accelerate learning and unlearning through repetition.
Like any neural input of information, PPAs spark receptor neurons that forward positive energy to millions of participating neurons, causing a cellular chain reaction in multiple interconnected areas of our brain. A colleague visualizes her PPAs as holiday fireworks. The receptor neuron is the match, the sensory and postsynaptic neurons are the fuse, and the cacophony of colors and sounds simulate the neural chain reaction.
Three PPAs repeated five times, three times daily generates forty-five cellular chain reactions, dramatically accelerating and consolidating the restructuring of our neural network. The process takes approximately five minutes out of our day.
We outlined eight rules for productive neural information in Chapter 10. Mindful of the value of repetition for learning and unlearning, let’s repeat these criteria one more time.
Rational. The only logical recourse to irrational thoughts and behaviors.
Reasonable. Unreasonable aspirations get us nowhere.
Possible. If we are incapable of achieving our goal, there it is unreasonable to pursue it.
Positive. Negative information is counterproductive to positive neural restructuring.
Goal-focused. If we do not know our destination, we will not know it when we arrive.
Unconditional. Our commitment must be certain.
First-person present or future. The past is irrevocable.
Brief. Succinct and easily memorized.
The most effective PPAs are calculated and specific to our intention. Are we challenging the negative thoughts and behaviors of our social anxiety? Are we reaffirming the character strengths and virtues that support recovery and transformation? Are we focused on a specific challenge? What is our end goal – the personal milestone we want to achieve?
PPAs are only one example of the positive coping mechanisms we use in recovery. A structured plan to challenge our feared-situations incorporates Rational Responses to our automatic negative thoughts (ANTs); Character Focus and Persona support our clearly defined Purpose and overall Strategy, while our Projected Positive Outcome predetermines the realization of our efforts. Affirmative Visualizations are positive outcome scenarios that we mentally recreate to counteract our natural negative bias and our predisposition to set negative outcome scenarios due to life-consistent negative self-beliefs and images. These and other mechanisms are explained in detail when we begin to construct our Plan for Exposure Situations, and they are all supported by the positive construction of our information.
We are engaged in a war that is not easily won. It is a life-consuming series of battles. The process of proactive neuroplasticity is theoretically simple but challenging, due to the commitment and endurance required for the long-term, repetitive process. We do not don tennis shorts and advance to Wimbledon without decades of practice with rackets and balls; philharmonics cater to pianists who have spent years at the keyboard. Neural restructuring requires a calculated regimen of deliberate, repetitive, neural information that is not only tedious but also fails to deliver immediate tangible results, causing us to readily concede defeat and abandon hope in this era of instant gratification. Fortunately, the universal law of compensation anticipates this. The positive impact of proactive neuroplasticity is exponential due to the abundant reciprocation of positive energy and the neurotransmissions of hormones that generate the motivation to persevere. Proactive neuroplasticity utilizing positive personal affirmations dramatically accelerates and consolidates learning and unlearning.
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