When I was a preschooler, I watched a TV show called Romper Room. My favorite part of the show (and the only thing I remember) occurred at the end of each episode. The female host looked directly into the camera and held a magic mirror that allowed her to see all of her friends watching from home. As she saw each shining face through her enchanted lens, she would call out names, “I see Debbie, I see Bobbie, I see Susan…” I would inch closer to the TV set, aching to be seen and recognized.
There is power in the simple message, “I see you.” It conveys recognition and honors individual worth. Statements of affirmation that acknowledge a person’s strengths and abilities are an important skill for health coaches and practitioners to utilize as they help people with behavior change.
People generally seek help when their own efforts have fallen short of their desired outcomes. They can be discouraged, deflated and focused on what is not working rather than what is right in their current situation. Health Coaches and practitioners can help their clients see their individual strengths through the use of affirmations. Research supports that affirming a person’s strength is more important and more powerful that pointing out their weakness when motivating change.
The basic guidelines for effective affirmations are quite simple. First, we have to genuinely know and appreciate a person before we can affirm them. Clients can sense disingenuous or forced affirmations. Attempting a contrived affirmation will only serve to decrease trust in the relationship. Second, affirmations are not the same as cheerleading and praise, which can sometimes serve as roadblocks to communication. Compliments have an evaluative component implicit in them and place the practitioner in a seat of judgment. Finally, affirmations should be used sparingly. A colleague of mine compares them to good seasoning- a little can add a lot of flavor, but too much spoils the dish.
I recently worked with a client who was in a tragic accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down. She has lived independently in a wheelchair for the past 20 plus years. As we explored her values in an early session, she struggled to name a single strength. As we discussed what it was like to live as a paraplegic, she thought for a while and replied that she was determined not to be a burden on others. She shared that she had experienced many tough times, but she somehow made it through them. She recalled times when she had to be creative to figure out how to accomplish simple tasks from her chair. Determination, perseverance, resourcefulness are just a few of this client’s attributes. Shining a light on them helped her realize the tools she already possesses as she worked to accomplish her personal goals.
We may not possess the magic mirror made famous from Romper Room, but we can utilize the skill of affirmations to reflect our client’s strengths, abilities and efforts.