“Just think positively!” We’ve all heard this before. For some, this advice is a simple reminder to focus on the good things that can and will happen. However, for those who struggle with anxiety and depression, this advice sounds about the same as “Just grow taller!” or “Just be better!” A nice idea, but a virtual impossibility.

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One reason why some people struggle to think positively, even when they want to, is a simple matter of time and numbers. How long have you been feeling depressed or anxious? How many negative thoughts have been endlessly repeating in your mind? In many cases, the amount of time and sheer number of thoughts shrouded in negativity make it exceedingly difficult for people to think positively on their own accord.If this sounds familiar, there’s no reason to despair—as long as you’re willing to put in some time and effort. The key to changing the way you think is through vigorous mental exercise: daily affirmations. Just like you can’t expect to get in good physical shape without regular workouts, don’t expect to be capable of spontaneous and habitual positive thinking without frequent cognitive exercise.Simply put, daily affirmations train your brain to think positively; they are uplifting truths you want to believe and heartwarming convictions about yourself or the world as a whole. They are one of the most effective ways to proactively and permanently change the way you think.

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To be honest, I avoided using daily affirmations for years when they really could have helped me. I thought they were silly and that merely saying things out loud wouldn’t change the way I was thinking. I was wrong. I’ve had great success using daily affirmations and if you struggle to think in a positive, encouraging way, this might work for you too.

Step 1: Writing Your Affirmations
The wording and content of your affirmations are very important. They should be customized for your own life circumstances and the ways you would like to think. A good way to start is by first identifying your typical negative thoughts. For example, if you find yourself thinking, “I am unworthy of love,” an appropriate affirmation is the exact opposite: “I am worthy of love.”How many should you write? Write plenty of them! Don’t restrict yourself to just a few affirmations. If you need to have dozens to address each of the ways you want to think differently, that’s no problem. In fact, it may even be to your advantage to have a lot of affirmations; you may get bored or numb to reciting the same few repeatedly.It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe what you are saying! The whole purpose of using daily affirmations is to change the way you think, so don’t trust your initial doubts that will inevitably creep up.

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Step 2: Saying Your Affirmations
Keep it slow and steady. Don’t rush through them. Your affirmations will be more effective if you say them slowly, pausing in between each one to let it sink in. Consider taking a deep breath in between each one to feel as if you are inhaling the positivity and exhaling your old negative way of thinking.

Say them like you mean it (even if you don’t). When reciting your affirmations, imagine that you are trying to convince someone else that they are true. Also, try using different tones or emphasizing different words, like you’re rehearsing a line for a play. Don’t mumble them or go too fast just to get them out of the way.

Recite your affirmations every day. If some haven’t sunk in yet, repeat them multiple times in a row. Choose a time that becomes part of your daily routine—when you first wake up, before meals, or right before bed. Also, vary the order of the affirmations so that your recitations don’t become stale.

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Step 3: Enjoying the Fruits of Your Labor
Don’t expect your affirmations to derail your negative thinking overnight; changing the way you think is hard, slow work. It could take weeks or months to feel yourself turn over to a new perspective. Have faith that over time your diligent recitations will pay off and come to mind spontaneously as you go through your daily life. You’ll also be more aware of the negative thinking that used to be so automatic.

Rather than wallowing in the suffering that always accompanies negative, self-handicapping thinking, daily affirmations will help you eagerly anticipate each new day and feel as if you can cope better with daily challenges. Most importantly, you’ll begin to feel the happiness that comes with a steady stream of positive thoughts—not to mention the satisfaction of purposely changing the way you think. If you don’t think that affirmations will help you, I’ve taken the liberty of writing your first one: “Daily affirmations can and will help me to think more positively!” The rest are up to you. Good luck!

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