Afraid You Won't Sleep Tonight? How to Use 'Superpowered' Affirmations to Beat Insomnia and Sleep Better.
Do you love using positive affirmations to create change? Do you find them cheesy, ridiculous or too self-helpy? Or have they just never worked for you?
I want to show you a very different and more powerful way of using positive affirmations that can help you sleep better, even if affirmations have never worked for you in the past.
The practise of using affirmations sometimes gets a bad rap, perhaps because they have been promoted as helpful for everything, from overcoming cancer to manifesting Ferraris. It’s easy to conjure up visions of deluded self-help junkies repeating ‘I’m a millionaire’ a hundred times a day and then sitting back expectantly and assuredly awaiting their lottery wins.
I’ve always kind of liked affirmations myself. When it came to my own recovery from 15 years of insomnia, using daily affirmations had a hugely beneficial effect on my recovery. In fact, I found them so powerful that in my book The Effortless Sleep Method, I recommended the technique of using affirmations to help change negative thinking about sleep.
I remember reading about affirmations from Louise L Hay in her bestselling book You Can Heal Your Life. I remember the feeling of empowerment that came from boldy stating such wildly positive and (at the time) wholly untrue statements as ‘I’m such a great sleeper now’ or ‘I’m getting better every day’. Affirmations were simple, non-exhausting and took very little effort. They worked even better when I did them in front of the mirror.
I’d stand there, look into my own eyes and boom out ‘You’re a champion sleeper!’ It felt almost naughty, brave and daring to be stating such lies as if they were true.
They also had a nearly immediate beneficial effect on my state of mind. And although I wouldn’t say they cured my insomnia on their own, positive affirmations were a very large part of how I got my negative thinking about sleep under control.
But how do they work? And why don’t they work for everyone?
Well, anyone who’s suffered with insomnia for any extended period will know,
Part of recovering from insomnia is overcoming all the negative thoughts and beliefs we start to have about ourselves and our ability to sleep.
A large part of my online insomnia program, Sleep for Life, is dedicated to changing negative beliefs. Negative beliefs about sleep can keep us trapped in a vicious circle of poor sleep = negative beliefs about sleep = more poor sleep = more negative beliefs.
Some years back, I remember reading Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. In that book, I first heard the idea that a belief is just a repeated thought. I remember being thrilled by this simple idea.
Because if a belief is just a repeated thought, it’s easy to see how affirmations can work so well. And changing an unwanted belief becomes simple. You pick a belief you like, keep repeating a statement attesting to that, and eventually, your belief will change. This is the mechanism by which affirmations work.
But this mechanism also explains why negative beliefs about sleep often develop.
Many insomniacs repeat negative statements all the time, to others and silently to themselves, unwittingly reinforcing those rotten beliefs about themselves.
For many, all it takes to change a belief is to make a conscious effort to stop thinking or saying the negative things – I’m a terrible sleeper, I’m getting worse – and replace those statements with positive ones. I’m a great sleeper, I’m getting better every day. In many cases, the beliefs can change quite rapidly. And when beliefs about sleep become more positive, the sleep itself then automatically begins to pick up.
However, my years of speaking to sleep consultation clients tells me that affirmations don’t work for everyone. I have clients tell me they’ve been repeating the same words for months with no discernible effect.
For some, the mind is prone to jump in and sabotage the whole process with multiple objections for why your positive affirmation is nonsense. You’re standing there in front of the mirror, saying ‘I’m such a great sleeper, I’m getting better every day.’ and from somewhere deep inside comes that nasty little voice ‘No you’re not. You’re a chronic insomniac. You’re permanently broken. You’ve always been a terrible sleeper. You’ll never get better.’
For others, it’s the technique itself that the voice attacks. ‘This is never going to work. These affirmations are all nonsense. What a load of bull. You look ridiculous saying such stupid things.’
Yep, our inner voices can be nasty.
Now, if this has been your experience, I do hope you’ve continued reading until now because there is still be hope. In a moment, I’m going to tell you about a really simple but powerful alternative to traditional affirmations.
First of all, let me just draw your attention to something…
If you’re an insomniac, you probably find yourself with questions running through your mind every day.
'Why can't I sleep through the night? Why am I getting worse again? How come I can’t sleep like normal people? Why don’t sleep aids work on me? Why can't I ever get over this sleep issue? What’s wrong with me?'
Not surprising, really. After all, you have a problem, and you want to know why it’s there. You want to know how you got it and what it’s all about. But let’s look at what happens when you spend a lot of your day silently asking these sorts of questions of yourself.
Think about it – when someone, anyone asks you a question, what happens?
Before you know it, your mind starts searching for an answer. It starts throwing up possibilities, possible solutions or reasons, before you’ve even made any conscious decision to do so.
Questions set your mind in discovery mode, off on a quest to find a compelling answer.
Your mind will also try to find evidence, reasons why. Taking your question very seriously, it assumes your words refer to a fact about the world that it needs to investigate. It goes into research mode, scanning your thinking and memories for evidence, for reasons why your insomnia is, indeed, worse than everyone else’s in the whole world.
But your mind doesn’t question the question itself.
So when you ask ‘What’s wrong with me?’ your mind doesn’t answer ‘nothing’. Instead it looks for evidence that might reveal the reasons that there is indeed 'something wrong with you'.
When you ask ‘Why is my insomnia is worse than everyone else’s?’ your mind doesn’t tend to answer, ‘Well actually, it’s not so bad really’. Instead, it gives you a compelling suggestion such as ‘You probably have a genetic disposition to insomnia.’
When you ask, ‘Why am I getting worse?’ it doesn’t answer ‘Don't worry. It only seems like that because you had a bad night last night.’ Instead it tells you, ‘It’s because you’re going mad, you’re falling into mental illness, you’ve got an incurable disease that will only deteriorate.’
Your mind has no respect for your sensitivities.
If you ask it negative questions, it will work to find reasons, any reason, the reason that sounds most compelling for why it’s absolutely true that you are a broken, different, incurable insomniac, one who is mentally ill, permanently incurable, and you’re only getting worse.
Let’s try another really extreme example just to hammer the point home.
Imagine for the next 30 days, you decide constantly to ask yourself the following questions:
‘Why does no one like me?’
‘Why am I such a loser?’
‘Why is my life so dull and pointless?’
What do you think the effect of such questions would be?
Even in this moment, as you read these words, you may feel your mood and energy sink. What do you think would happen if you repeated that question all day long?
Your mind would begin setting about finding evidence that reveal the reasons why you are such a loser, for why no one likes you, for why your life is dull and pointless.
Chances are by the end of the DAY, you’d actually have found a whole bunch of reasons why you actually ARE a loser. You’d find all sorts of evidence that actually, no one DOES really like you. And your life would have begun to seem and feel dull and pointless.
Okay, enough of this horrible negativity. It was essential to make the point about how the mechanism works, but I’m sure we’ve all had enough of it now.
So, with this in mind, let’s change the whole thing around. Instead of asking negative questions that your mind then attempts to make true, let’s give your mind something positive to work with.
Instead of using positive affirmations that may not have worked for you in the past, I want you to reword those positive statements as questions.
For example, instead of saying 'I’m such a great sleeper, I’m getting better every day’, ask yourself 'Why am I such a great sleeper, why am I getting so much better?’
Instead of saying 'I sleep right through the night' ask yourself 'How come I sleep right through the night?'
'How come I sleep so deeply? Why do I fall asleep so quickly? What allows me to sleep through every noise, in every place, at any time? '
Can you see that these sorts of questions have a completely different effect to normal affirmations. Give your mind something you want to be true, but worded as a question, and it will do its best to find a way to make that scenario real for you. Instead of provoking your mind to throw up objections, it sets your mind working in a different way, off on a quest to find evidence, looking for reasons for why it is true.
Before long, your belief about that scenario will begin to change.
And, when you believe that you are able to fall asleep quickly, deeply and sleep through the night every night, any place, any time…
Then you will fall asleep quickly, deeply and sleep through the night every night, any place, any time…
So just try this. Pick the number one thing you wish were true about your sleep. What would be the perfect scenario for you? Is it sleeping right through the night? Is it sleeping nine hours a night? Is it falling asleep in seconds?
Work out your number one ideal outcome, turn it into a question and ask it. And keep on asking it.
Do this as often as you feel like. Ponder on the question as if it were a deeply important philosophical one, as if it really mattered to your life (because it does). You can also ask the question whenever you have a negative thought pop in.
And watch in wonder as your mind finds evidence, reasons…
Watch as it finds a way to make that scenario true…