Last night I was reading The Book of Knowing by Gwendoline Smith, a book about where your thoughts come from, as well as how to manage your moods and emotions more efficiently based on CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) methods.
What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)?
CBT in the most simplest form addresses how we respond (mind) to events in our lives (activity), and that in turn affects how we feel (mood). CBT encourages you to look at events as fact, rather than assumption. That way, you can change how you feel about it.
Gwendoline gave the example of your boss coming in to the office, she doesn’t say a word and slams her door shut. You may wonder what you did wrong, did you forget something, is she upset etc. But the facts are: she was running late, had an important call to be on, and the wind slammed the door shut.
If you look at the situation that way, it removes the emotion from it and you’re not left dwelling on the “what ifs”.
The Book of Knowing: Know how you think, change how you feel Review
It was a nice easy read that I enjoyed, right up until near the end where she points out that her methods of reframing thoughts and events are NOT positive affirmations.
In fact, she refers to positive affirmations as ‘putting sugar on shit’.
Which really confused me – because I saw a lot of similarity between positive affirmations and the CBT methods she suggested.
For example, Gwendoline states, “if your thoughts are positive, hopeful and optimistic – fabulous! Because as your thoughts move about and become repetitive, they form belief systems. They kindle tracks in your brain that act as pathways to how you feel about yourself, your relationships and your place in the world.”
That to me sounds a lot like positive affirmations, in the way they are typically worded (positive, hopeful, optimistic, empowering), as well as their repetitive nature leading to new pathways of thinking.
So, do positive affirmations not work then?
Gwendoline later gives the example of “I am a child of the universe. I am special and I can love myself just for who I am” for a positive affirmation. She then goes on to say “the cognitive method is not about glueing positive thoughts to your existing negative thought content and hoping that, fingers crossed, it will fix you.”
While I personally don’t find power in her affirmation example above (nor would I include something like that in one of the positive affirmation sets), I believe good positive affirmations are indeed helpful, constructive and reality-based.
You have to be wise about the type of positive affirmations you are using.
If you used her positive affirmation example of ‘I am a child of the universe. I am special and I can love myself just for who I am’ multiple times a day, nothing would change because it isn’t addressing or reframing your thought patterns.
Whereas if you were to use positive affirmations like:
- I hold the keys to my destiny (from the Daily Affirmations set)
- I choose progress over perfection (from the Healthy Eating affirmation set)
- I am worth more than second thoughts and maybes (from the Self Love affirmation set)
- I am in charge of my happiness (from the Anxiety affirmation set)
- Actually, I can (from the Positivity affirmation set)
You would notice a change because they specifically address and reframe negative thoughts.
From this, I think I can see the distinction Gwendoline’s trying to make between her CBT methods and positive affirmations… CBT looks at how you’re viewing the event initially, which then leads to adjusting your thought patterns in order to change how you feel (mood) from responding to the event.
So while there is that difference between the two, I believe they are one in the same, if you compare her methods with GOOD affirmations.
The Key to Positive Affirmations That Work
Make sure your positive affirmations are specific to a challenge or thought process you want to work on, state what you want to achieve instead, and use words so you feel empowered by the affirmation.
Then stick it somewhere you can see it and read/say it to yourself throughout the day and when the challenge arises.