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Self-Talk and Affirmations

Having other people on your side and offering support through the recovery process is great, but it is even more important to have you on your side. Research suggests that the average person has between 45,000 and 51,000 thoughts every day. This internal dialogue, or "self-talk", can have a surprising influence on your actions, and throughout the recovery process and beyond, the things that you tell yourself can either lift you up or sabotage your efforts.

Self-talk is an automatic, habitual behavior, and a little negative self-talk here and there is absolutely normal. However, excessive amounts of self-deprecating thoughts are a common problem among addicts and can lead to guilty, shameful feelings that increase the risk of relapse and make the recovery process difficult. However, with a little effort, negative self-talk can be spun around and turned into a tool of motivation and inspiratione.

Tied into the concept of positive self-talk is the use of affirmations. Affirmations are short, powerful statements that help consciously control one's thoughts and steer them in a more positive direction. These statements may be set in the present or the future and are set up with a clear goal in mind. Examples of affirmations include statements such as "I am in control of my own life", "I will become a drug-free individual", "I am not tempted by drugs", and "My life is free from drugs". Assert that the things you want to be true of yourself are true.

The aim of such statements is to rewire the brain and ultimately change the way you think and behave, keeping you motivated and giving you a more positive outlook on life. Create some quick and simple affirmations that reflect your own goals and repeat them to yourself whenever you are stressed, upset, or just generally feeling down. Even when you're not in a bad place, set aside a few minutes each day to say some affirmative words that will keep you inspired, energized, and motivated.

While the concept of positive self-talk and affirmations is simple, it can be tricky to master, and will likely take time to make a noticeable difference. However, even just recognizing one's own negative thoughts and the impact that these thoughts have makes a difference, and with a little practice each day, the use of positive self-talk and affirmations can really help to turn things around.

Affirmations can be a powerful tool, and turning negative self-talk around is an important step in the recovery process, but they are still only supplementary forms of treatment and should be used in conjunction with more traditional types of therapy.

Scientific Studies:

Research into the effects of self-talk goes back many years. In 1989, scientists at Temple University investigated the balance of positive and negative thinking and the relationship between self-talk and psychopathology. Participants in the study completed questionnaires in which they indicated the frequency of particular thoughts and rated each thought's degree of positivity or negativity. The study was broken into two parts - part one looked at a group that included dysphoric, overly optimistic, and normal people, and part two focused on a depressed inpatient group with psychiatric disorders. Researchers found that dysphoric and depressed participants "endorsed significantly more negative self-talk and evidenced a significantly less-frequent occurrence of positive self-talk than normal or overly-optimistic subjects...or than the inpatient psychiatric group with other diagnoses." This suggests that positive versus negative self-statements play an important role in depression.

A 2010 study looked at how different forms of statements (interrogative versus declarative) impacted goal setting and motivation. Participants were found to be more likely to successfully solve anagram-based puzzles after preparing for the task by asking themselves whether they would solve anagrams rather than just saying that they would solve them. In later experiments, writing "will I" instead of "I will" as part of a handwriting task caused patients to perform better on anagrams they were given later. These results suggest that in addition to playing a role in depression, the way one talks to oneself is important in motivation and the development of goals.

A 2012 study explored the impact of self-affirmation on the neurophysiological response to threatening or stressful events. Participants in the study were split into two groups - one group used affirmations, and the other did not. Physiological responses from both groups were then measured as they made errors on a specific task. The results showed that those who had said self-affirming messages prior to beginning the task responded better to the errors than those who had not, and also performed better on the task in general. This suggests that affirmations made the participants more open to and able to deal with the threatening, negative situation than they otherwise would have been.

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