The Power of Affirmation

When you look at many successful people around you, do you find yourself assuming that success came naturally for them? Yet, if you could see behind the scenes of their lives, you might be surprised to learn that they experienced major life struggles, and that the power of affirmation gave them the boost they needed to move forward. Since what we believe strongly influences the way we act, developing an affirmative outlook for yourself and your employees can have a great impact on your organization. Imagine the force of energy that would result if every employee believed that he or she had something unique and vital to contribute to the value of your company! Whether affirmation is used in the form of positive self-talk or to build up those who work with or for us, there’s no doubt that as leaders, we must practice it daily to harness its benefits.

Self-Talking Positively

One of the best ways to achieve what we want is to actually believe we can do it. But sometimes, we take a little self-convincing! Such was the case with Jan*. When she entered the workforce, her chosen profession was entirely a man’s world, making it nearly impossible for a woman to succeed. It didn’t help that Jan hadn’t been blessed with great beauty, either; that meant that she couldn’t use feminine wiles to further her career. But Jan was made of strong stuff and took a different tack.  In addition to working extremely hard, of course, she looked herself in the mirror every morning and affirmed with conviction, “Jan, you are a wonderful person!” Against insurmountable odds, she literally talked herself into becoming an amazing success—and an anomaly—in her profession.

Affirming Others

As a leader, you have the power to encourage the progress of your coworkers and direct reports, as Mark* can attest. Constantly in trouble for daydreaming in his third grade class, Mark struggled just to pass. His teacher wrote in his file, “Mark will never amount to anything,” a remark that branded him as a loser in every consecutive class for years to come. But one day, a junior high teacher saw potential in Mark and commented that he was capable of doing something great.  Encouraged, Mark went on to do remarkable things, considering he’d been branded a loser! He became an Eagle Scout, graduated from college, and eventually became the CEO of his company, where he constantly affirms the gifts and strengths of those who cross his path. He is currently pursuing his Masters Degree because he wants to help ease the journey of others who are struggling like he did.

Identifying Mistaken Beliefs

One of the reasons we need affirmation so much is that we unknowingly cling to mistaken beliefs, either a personal conclusion or one we acquired from someone else. Mistaken beliefs aren’t always something we consciously subscribe to, but they negatively impact our actions nonetheless. Affirmation helps us to question those mistaken beliefs that cause us to act in a counterproductive way. John*, for example, was a typical class clown, always telling jokes and making people laugh, even during serious occasions. Although he wouldn’t have consciously admitted it, he mistakenly believed that he was unlikeable unless he brought something extra to the table, like constant humor. In reality, as people got to know and affirm him even when he wasn’t being funny, he began to realize the truth that he was a worthwhile contributor and likeable coworker whether or not he cracked a joke. John has gone on to write several books and help numerous people to conquer their mistaken beliefs.

Moving Forward

What keeps us from achieving our potential? It’s usually fear, generated by our mistaken beliefs. In the workplace, fear can inhibit productivity, creativity, and morale. The good news is, we can combat that fear, and it costs us very little—just a change of mindset and the commitment to affirm first ourselves and then others.  Why do we have to start with ourselves? If we don’t personally believe in something, we’re going to have a hard time convincing someone else to believe the same thing. But if we’re truly convinced that something is true, it will be easy to swing others to our way of thinking.

Mark, the CEO previously mentioned, has shed the mistaken idea that making a business blunder must be permanently crippling. Instead, he’s adopted the belief that mistakes are part of how we learn and grow—even if they are a frustrating, painful, and sometimes expensive way to get educated! So when one of his employees made a pretty big mistake recently, Mark wasn’t thrilled about it, but he focused the worker on learning how to do it better the next time. Instead of becoming paralyzed by the experience, that employee now also believes that mistakes are a learning experience—and he’s positively motivated to keep from making the same mistake again.

Choosing Self-Affirmation

Shedding mistaken beliefs and refocusing on what’s true can be painful but life-changing. It took losing his business for Steve* to realize that, all these years, his self-worth had been mistakenly based on his academic prowess. Recognizing and relinquishing his belief that people would only respect him for his knowledge and achievements was only the first step. During this past year, Steve has repeatedly accepted friends’ affirmations and found self-worth in his faith in God to keep him from getting stuck and sinking into depression. Receiving these affirmations has freed him to explore career options that he would never have previously considered.

How can you tangibly choose to affirm yourself? Lori*, a sales representative for Amtec, a staffing company, posts cards all over her cubicle with sayings like, “I am a breath of fresh air in my prospect’s day because I am exceptionally conversational!”, “We are the solution,” and “97.5% of our clients surveyed tell us that we exceed their expectations!” Chances are, the affirmations that are hardest for us to say are the ones we need to hear the most. Edmund J. Bourne, author of The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook, gives a list of sample affirmations to overcome negative self-talk. Here are a few favorites, but you can also write your own, stating the opposite of what you fear or what gets you down:

  • “I am learning that there is more to life than [financial] success. The greatest success is living well.”
  • “I’m willing to relax and let go. I’m learning to accept those things I can’t control.”
  • “I’m doing the best I can as a ___________ and I’m open to learning ways to improve.”
  • “I respect and believe in myself apart from others’ opinions.”
  • “I can accept and learn from constructive criticism.”
  • “I am learning how to balance work and play in my life.”

Raising Company Morale

Looking for ways to truthfully encourage others may take extra effort, but it’s worth doing to raise company morale. Beth* recalls that, in her first difficult months as a new recruiter, a couple of veteran recruiters cheered her on by observing that she had natural talent. Beth has also seen the positive results of affirmation in her junior recruiters. “Every time they find me a great candidate, I go out of my way to thank them and tell them what an awesome job they did,” she says. “It makes them feel more confident and motivates them to find even more candidates of the same caliber the next time around.”

As these true stories illustrate, we all need affirmation to release our ability to become fully engaged in whatever we do. Whether it’s a coworker, direct report, or your own face in the mirror you see struggling, remember that you hold the power to affirm. You can bring out the best in yourself or your employee with a few intentional, positive words of encouragement. Identify and affirm areas of gifting and strength in yourself and others to unleash potential, creativity, and energy that can transform your organization.  Discover for yourself the surprising power of affirmation!

*While the stories are all true, names have been changed to protect privacy.

Marcianne Kuethen, ©Amtec 6/2011

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