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See Yourself Successful; Talk Yourself Into It: Using Visualizations and Affirmations to Support Recovery

When you are in recovery from addiction, you face many challenges. You must overcome not only the physical and chemical disturbances that addiction has caused within your body, but also the stresses that have been placed on your mind and emotions as well. Recent addiction research stresses the role of brain changes and illustrates the capacity for flexibility in brain functioning.

We now know that the brain has many ways to heal itself, and that there are coping tools that can capitalize on this self-regulating and self-healing brain capacity. Visualizations and affirmations are two such tools.

Visualization: Picture Your Success

Visualization is a form of mental “programming” or mental “rehearsal.” In visualization, you use creative imagination to fully develop a mental picture of a desired outcome. Scientific evidence gained from brain mapping studies shows that “mental rehearsal” results in similar brain changes and the strengthening of the same neural pathways as does actual physical rehearsal of a skill. A famous sports experiment conducted by Australian psychologist Alan Richardson in the late 1980’s showed that basketball players who merely imagined hitting free throws improved their performance at nearly the same rate as those who spent 20 minutes per day for 20 days actually practicing the skill.

But visualization can be used for more than improving sports performance. It can be a powerful tool to add to your recovery toolbox. As a component of hypnosis, visualization has been shown to increase the success of stop-smoking attempts, on average about 25%, over two years.

Visualization can aid recovery by:

  • Aiding in relaxation and stress reduction
  • Boosting confidence and motivation
  • Increasing problem-solving abilities
  • Mentally rehearsing a desired behavior
  • Programming a desired outcome into your brain circuitry

Basic Visualization Instructions

There are no hard and fast rules for using visualization, because it is simply a specialized form of imagination and we all have this innate capacity. But there are steps you can take to create clearer, stronger, more powerful visualizations.

  • Find a warm, comfortable position where you can fully relax. Close your eyes and “look” inside your head. Then move your inner gaze out and slightly up, about six inches from your face; imagine here a mental screen or blackboard upon which you will create your mental images. Focusing here will allow for more spontaneous, creative images because it facilitates a more relaxed mental focus than when your focus is held directly between your eyes.
  • On your mental screen, imagine your desired outcome, some specific circumstance or situation that would only be happening if your goal was already achieved. Fully imagine this situation, with all the emotion, action and color that you can visualize. It is important to make it as real as you can in your mind, because your mind does not know the difference between imagination and reality. “Showing” your mind what you want to happen in your life will set up mental and emotional attitudes and expectations that will help manifest your vision/goal in your outer reality.
  • After you have “energized” your mental vision with emotion and intention, imagine that you are “letting it go” with confidence and appreciation, knowing that it will return to you once it has gathered to it whatever is necessary for it to become materialized into your life. (This part seems a bit like magic, but it has real science behind it – see research on David Bohm’s implicate and explicate order regarding how physical manifestation occurs.)

Affirmations: Talk Yourself Into It

Another mind-based technique that can be used to aid recovery is the use of affirmations, or positive statements that you regularly repeat to yourself. “Talking to yourself “is nothing new; we all do it throughout the day. Unfortunately, much of our self-talk is negatively focused (I sure messed that up!).

Affirmations engage the power of the subconscious mind to reinforce positive mental messages of our choosing. Researchers David Sherman of the University of California and Geoffrey Cohen of Yale University suggest that our natural instincts to defend our sense of self-worth can be enhanced by using positive self-affirmations. However, they warn that the positive statements must be formed in a way that they are believable and do not excessively contradict subconscious programming.

One way to avoid conflict between conscious self-affirmations and subconscious doubts or negative beliefs is to make your affirmations in ways that acknowledge the process of change, saying to yourself for instance, “Every day I am becoming more comfortable being abstinent.”

Affirmations can aid your recovery by:

  • Reinforcing positive vs. negative mental programming
  • Reducing or removing limiting beliefs
  • Creating hopeful, encouraging subliminal mental messages

How to Use Affirmations to Aid Recovery

Here are a few keys to creating affirmations:

  • Keep affirmations simple. State them in the most concise, precise, simple language possible.
  • Use positive statements only. Avoid words like not, won’t, etc. Instead state what your mind is only to subconsciously program. (“I consume only healthy substances that enhance my well-being.”)
  • Focus in the now. Always make affirmations in the present tense. (I am relaxed and at ease.

Putting it All Together

Boost the power of both your affirmations and visualizations by using them together. While visualizing your desired outcome, mentally repeat one or more positive affirmations that relate to your vision.

Below is a sample affirmation/visualization process that can be used for recovery:

Get in a comfortable, relaxed state. On your mental screen, imagine a scene that might be taking place several months into the future, when you have stabilized your abstinence and are substance-free.

Imagine as fully as possible some of the ways that your life has changed. What are you doing that you would not have been able to do while addicted? See and feel the positive changes, imagining them fully with all five senses…really be there in the scene.

While fully immersing yourself in the image of your positive future, repeat a positive self-affirmation to yourself several times. (You might say something like, “Secure in my abstinence, I now enjoy this healthy, affirming lifestyle. Peace, joy and fulfillment are mine.”)



Images Courtesy of iStock

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