Sweat drips from your brow, your legs burn and ache in protest as it gets harder and harder to push down each pedal. “A little more!” your Spin instructor shouts and you reluctantly turn the dial, unsure whether you’ll make it up this metaphorical hill you’ve created for yourself.
This is the moment many instructors grasp as the perfect opportunity to shout words of encouragement or even ask their clients to shout along with them:
“I am strong! I am capable!”
But do these affirmations really work???
Don’t get me wrong, as a fitness instructor you play a crucial role in motivating and empowering your clients. But the method we often use to boost motivation and self-esteem, the use of affirmations, might not be as encouraging as we initially think it is. As you’ll soon find out, not all affirmations are created equal.
In this blog post, we’ll delve into the considerations all fitness instructors should have before using affirmations in their classes. We’ll explore why personalized affirmations can be more powerful and how instructors can encourage their clients to create their own affirmations.
What are affirmations?
Affirmations are short, positive statements that individuals can use to overcome self-sabotaging thoughts and confront their limiting beliefs. A person might silently say these words of encouragement to themselves, listen to them on an audio recording, write them down on sticky notes, or even rehearse them out loud. These affirmations are designed to instill a sense of self-esteem and empowerment.
When you think of just the word affirmation, what comes up in your mind? Maybe images of a woman standing in front of a mirror, repeating to themselves “I am beautiful,” or a runner silently reassuring themselves “You can keep going.”
In the fitness world, affirmations are commonly used to inspire group fitness classes, raise morale when exercises get particularly tough, and reinforce people’s commitment to their fitness journey.
Sometimes they’re just what students need to get through those last few reps. Other times though, despite our best intentions, affirmations can fall flat and maybe even elicit a few dramatic eye rolls. Why does this happen?
Dr. Maika Steinborn, a psychologist, discusses the effectiveness of affirmations in the YouTube video below.
“Can you give me the TLDR version?”
- Positive affirmations can be powerful tools for personal growth and self-improvement for those who already believe in themselves BUT they may not be effective for individuals with low self-esteem. The risk of affirmations coming across as implausible or far-fetched is greater for those who don’t believe in themselves and in these cases they can actually worsen their negative thoughts and feelings about themselves.
- Affirmations may not be enough to facilitate change if they don’t resonate with us and feel true to some extent. Before using affirmations, it is important to do the inner work of changing our belief structure, as affirmations can then help to reinforce and deepen those new beliefs.
- Affirmations that accept and embrace all emotions, rather than focusing solely on happiness, can be more beneficial for personal growth and self-acceptance.
- Repeating affirmations regularly and attaching them to existing habits can help reinforce their effectiveness.
As Dr. Maika Steinborn highlights in her video, the effectiveness of affirmations is not universal. It’s important for us as fitness instructors to consider the individuality of each of our clients when incorporating affirmations into their classes. Using generic or blanket statements as affirmations may not provide the desired results we’re going for. There’s the risk of sounding disingenuous or cheesy but the greater risk is that well-intentioned affirmations might backfire and end up making our students feel worse.
The Power of Personalization
Personalization is key when it comes to affirmations. Dr. Steinborn emphasizes the need for clients to connect with their affirmations on a personal level. Generic affirmations like “I am strong” or “I am confident” might not resonate with everyone in the same way. This is because these affirmations are often too far removed from an individual’s current self-perception or belief system.
Encouraging Clients to Create Their Own Affirmations:
As fitness instructors, guiding your clients to create their own affirmations can be a game-changer. Here’s how you can go about it:
- Engage in self-reflection. Encourage your clients to reflect on their fitness goals and personal challenges. Rather than focusing on their insecurities, doubts, and fears, prompt them to reflect on their strengths and past accomplishments.
- Create positive self-statements. From their self-reflection, clients can generate positive self-statements that reflect their unique journeys and aspirations. These statements might focus on areas where they want to see personal growth but they should also highlight their unique strengths and progress.
- Make it relevant. It’s important that clients feel a personal connection to their affirmations. Help them craft statements that resonate with their beliefs, even if it’s just a small step towards a bigger goal.
- Keep it real. Ensure that affirmations are both positive and realistic. Unrealistic affirmations may lead to frustration as they can seem too distant and unattainable. For example, “I’m becoming open to feeling brave” acknowledges growth without imposing an immediate change.
- Be consistent. Advise your clients to look for opportunities to incorporate their personalized affirmations into their daily routines, not just while exercising. Repeating experiences that support their affirmations can help reinforce positive self-beliefs and contribute to a more positive mindset.
Personalized affirmations are more likely to resonate with clients and have a greater impact on their self-belief. Clients who personally connect with their affirmations are more likely to stay motivated and are better equipped to sustain their fitness goals over the long term. By addressing personal values, beliefs, and goals, personalized affirmations can lead to improved self-esteem and a more positive self-image that doesn’t feel like an act.
As a fitness instructor, you play a pivotal role in motivating and inspiring your students. While positive affirmations can seem like an invaluable tool for uplifting your class, it’s important to recognize that one size does not fit all. As Dr. Steinborn emphasizes, what may be more appropriate, and more effective, is helping the people you work with make personalized affirmations. Share with clients the risk of using blanket statements as affirmations and instead encourage them to create their own affirmations based on their unique goals and challenges. Personalized affirmations have the potential to transform not only how clients view themselves but also their overall fitness journey.