This month at Art as Therapy we are unlocking our powers of positive thinking through the use of positive affirmations. At Art as Therapy we believe that our thoughts have the power to change how we feel, how we behave, and ultimately what we believe about ourselves.
Here’s how it works: our thoughts impact how we feel. Our feelings influence how we do the things that we do. When our actions reinforce our thoughts, eventually these thoughts become automatic. Automatic thoughts are like software programming for a computer, and they form the basis of our beliefs about ourselves and the world. This connection between beliefs, thoughts, feelings and actions can be summarized as: Beliefs →Thoughts → Feelings →Actions.
Here’s a concrete example from the art therapy room. A client draws a shape and then wants to cut it out using scissors. This is a fine motor skill that some younger clients find challenging. It’s one of many task-oriented challenges that a client may be faced with during an art therapy session. Challenges often evoke automatic thoughts, for example: “This looks hard. I don’t think I can do it.” A negative automatic thought creates feelings of discouragement and frustration (essentially, disempowerment). Once the client feels frustrated, it is difficult to concentrate and to control fine motor actions. These feelings can lead to impulsive actions like making a mistake or scrunching up the paper. Then the client may feel even more discouraged and want to give up. The incomplete or failed task only reinforces the original thought that the task was too hard and the client can’t do it. This self-fulfilling prophecy, if repeated enough times, can lead to a belief about the self that the client is not capable and they can’t do hard things.
But what if, when faced with a challenge, the client automatically thinks: “I can do it! I will try my best.” This thought leads to feelings of confidence and competence. With the expectation of trying your best, even mistakes are okay along the way. The client completes the task to the best of his or her abilities, and the thought that they can do it is positively reinforced. Over time, this builds a sense of competency and empowerment, and a belief that they can face challenges and do hard things.
The art therapy process provides opportunities for clients to tune into their thoughts and feelings. If a client experiences a moment of frustration and acts impulsively during the session, this provides a great opportunity to stop and reflect on the thoughts and feelings that were happening in the moments leading up to the behavior. At Art as Therapy we approach these moments with an attitude of acceptance and curiosity, free of judgement, because we see them as an opportunity for self reflection and discovery. This also provides an opportunity to reprogram the thought. Once we become aware of our automatic thoughts and notice how they impact our emotions and behavior, we can decide if this is working for us or if we would like to make a change. Change can occur at any point in the cycle, but we find that changing our thoughts can be very effective. It’s kind of like reprogramming a computer. We replace a negative automatic thought with a positive one. After much repetition, this positive thought becomes the automatic one and it changes the chain of events – it changes how we feel, which impacts how we behave. Our altered behaviour proves the positive thought, which reinforces a positive belief about ourselves.
The art therapy space is a safe space where clients can try things out. It becomes an arena where they can test out change on a small scale, and repeat the task starting with a positive thought to see if it alters the results. A different thought may create a different feeling, and a different feeling may lead to a different result. After this has been tested out, the art therapy sessions provide space to practice – essentially to reprogram.
This month, we have taken this concept a step further by creating a board of daily positive affirmations. Affirmations are positive statements that you can say or think to yourself as a way to reprogram automatic thoughts. For instance, the positive affirmation in our example would be: “It looks hard but I can try my best. I believe that I can do it.” By saying this phrase, we can plant a positive thought which will lead to a positive feeling. This will help us to face challenges.
Come visit our Orangeville office (15 Elizabeth St) to get your positive affirmation today! We truly believe that you have the power to do hard things, and that you can unlock your inner power through positive thinking!
Try it out and let us know how it goes! Share your stories via social media, or send us your favourite positive affirmation. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-519-307-9000 today.
Written by Rubi Garyfalakis, Art Therapist at Art as Therapy