This is not intended to be a religious post, though it might ruffle some feathers of atheists who I know read this blog.
I believe there is a strong psychological power in using words like “God” and “prayer,” and I often use this kind of language to facilitate my own personal development.
The truth is I consider prayer a form of self-hypnosis. It’s a way to connect with our inner agent of change – our “God” (if you so wish to call it that), and in return we can use these powerful words and symbols to motivate ourselves to be better people.
About a year ago I was going through some spiritual and emotional turmoil. By this time I had already been practicing self-hypnosis for a couple years, and I was contemplating ways to make my practice more effective.
Before we begin, I should probably explain what hypnosis is to me. Hypnosis is primarily about language and the meaning behind language. Specifically, it deals with how we communicate ideas and suggestions to both ourselves and others.
For example, when someone is “highly suggestible,” a hypnotist can give a direct order and the person will probably act them out. They may suggest you “cluck like a chicken” and if you are suggestible enough you will follow through and pretend you are a chicken. Highly suggestible people make for great entertainment during staged shows.
However, hypnosis can also do something much deeper than just get people imagining weird scenarios and acting them out for fun. It can be an agent of real and powerful change that can greatly improve our lives.
A daily prayer is like a daily affirmation
One of the most popular techniques in self improvement literature is the use of affirmations. An affirmation is a suggestion you say to yourself on a frequent basis in hopes of creating a positive change in your life. It’s similar to a prayer.
For example, someone who has a short temper may want to use the affirmation: “I will be more calm and understanding when dealing with others.”
If they say this on a daily basis, with a clear focus and strong intent, they may find themselves acting more calmly and understanding to others. That is how affirmations work.
One of the books that first popularized the use of affirmations was Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, which was first published in 1937 (if you have ever read a self improvement book ever, than you have certainly heard of this book).
However, the real origins of affirmations can probably be traced back to 19th century psychiatrist Émile Coué, discoverer of the placebo effect.
(Coué noticed that he could improve the effectiveness of a drug by praising its effectiveness to his patients – which is one form of hypnosis or suggestion).
Coué’s famous affirmation was known as “The Coué Method,” which stated: “Everyday, in every way, I am getting better and better.” This was arguably one of the first affirmations, and it marked the beginning of self improvement as we know it today.
Prayers are affirmation on steroids
There is a lot of crap today about how to do affirmations. Some say as long as you read it 100 times a day and drill it in your head that they will work. I disagree. A meaningless affirmation repeated over and over won’t get you anywhere.
In order for any kind of suggestion to work, it must mean something and you must believe in its effectiveness.
If you go to Google searching for “daily affirmations,” you can find plenty that can help. However, the best affirmations are the one’s that come from your own creation, because they are the ones that are most meaningful to you – and that’s what really counts.
Similarly, in Thich Nhat Hanh’s book The Energy of Prayer, he emphasizes that a prayer is most effective when we don’t see its power as separate from ourselves, but a power that comes from within.
This is why I recommend you write your own prayers, which is really nothing more than a series of affirmations that best suit you and your goals.
An example of a prayer I wrote
I’m going to write something on the spot, right now, to give you an idea of how your prayer might look when you are finished.
Let’s pretend I’m writing a prayer to help me improve my health.
Please give me the awareness and strength to make healthier decisions.
Before a meal, give me the awareness to know what I should and shouldn’t eat.
Throughout the day, give me the strength to exercise and stay fit.
Never let me forget that my body and mind are one,
And I must take care of both.
Okay, so I literally wrote this up in a minute, but the effect won’t occur unless I take this prayer seriously and read it on a daily basis.
The advice is simple and commonsense, but a quick reminder like this can help me cultivate healthier habits and take better care of myself throughout the day.
Here are some tips for making your daily prayer more effective:
- Use language that is meaningful to you
- Make your intentions clear
- Be focused when you recite your prayer
- Make it a long prayer or repeat certain lines
- Repeat it on a frequent basis
- Light candles or create a shrine
Words like “awareness” and “strength” are important to me when trying to act healthier, so I made sure to include both in the prayer.
You don’t want to send yourself mixed signals. Make sure you know exactly what you are aiming to achieve when you write your prayer.
Don’t just rush through your prayer. Minimize distractions and recite it with a clear and focused mind. Make sure the message is fully absorbed.
My prayer was short, but I could have myself repeat it 3-5 times to amplify the effect. In the past, I have written much longer prayers, and this helps me to convey an even clearer message about what I want to change.
Optimally, once or twice a day is best. But even just a weekly reminder can help rejuvenate your motivation.
Using candles or creating a special “shrine” for your prayer will help intensify the effects. The environment in which we pray can have a huge influence on our suggestibility.
Internal change vs. External demands
Some of you reading this may find this advice similar to Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret. However, I think there is an important distinction that needs to be made when talking about intentions and intention-manifesting.
Like I said earlier, the power of prayer is not something outside of ourselves. When we pray, we are not demanding something from the universe, but stimulating a change in ourselves to make things happen.
Sitting in a room all day praying cannot make you more healthy or wealthy all by itself. The idea is to change your mind first, and then your actions will follow.
You will know when your prayers are effective based on the results you get through your speech and behavior. If your prayer isn’t changing the way you act, then you need to change the way you pray.
Check out The Science of Self Improvement to learn valuable tools and techniques to help improve yourself on a daily basis.