Stronger Every Day
We hear a lot today about using “affirmations”—repeat phrases that are supposed to help bolster our confidence and focus us on our goals. I believe that affirmations can be effective, so long as they do not conflict with overwhelmingly contrary feelings or facts. Then we get into a mental battle with ourselves.
A French hypnotherapist named Emile Coué (1857-1926) devised one of the earliest—and still the best—affirmative-mind programs. Although Coué’s name may be unfamiliar, you have probably heard of his confidence-boosting mantra: “Day by day, in every way, I am getting better and better.”
Coué won thousands of followers in the early 1920s, but critics mocked his formula for its singsong simplicity, and today he is forgotten. The mind pioneer deserves a new look, however. Placebo researchers at Harvard Medical School recently validated one of Coué’s core insights.
In January 2014, a medical school study reported that migraine sufferers responded better to medication when given “positive information” about a drug. Coué made that exact observation in the early 1900s while working as a pharmacist in northwestern France. He found that patients benefited more from their medication when he spoke in praise of a formula—which led to his famous mantra.
Coué believed that anyone with almost any need could stimulate the same positive mental forces he saw among patients by gently whispering the “day by day” affirmation twenty times before drifting off to sleep at night and again on waking. He called it “conscious autosuggestion.” In 1922, Coué described his program this way:
Every morning on awakening and every evening as soon as you are in bed, close your eyes, and without fixing your attention on what you say, pronounce twenty times, just loud enough so that you may hear your own words, the following phrase, using a string with twenty knots in it for counting: ‘DAY BY DAY, IN EVERY WAY, I AM GETTING BETTER AND BETTER.’ The words: ‘IN EVERY WAY’ being good for anything and everything, it is not necessary to formulate particular autosuggestions. Make this autosuggestion with faith and confidence, and with the certainty that you are going to obtain what you desire.
It is very important to follow Coué’s directions about using the formula just before drifting off at night and just upon waking in the morning. Scientists sometimes call the period when you hover between sleep and consciousness the hypnagogic state. At such times, your mind is uniquely impressionable. During the hypnagogic state, your conscious and subconscious minds are fused, so to speak, which is why you may notice hallucinatory experiences. Also, emotions such as such as grief or worry can take on greater intensity. It is a very sensitive period. But you can use this time for positive ends by employing the day-by-day formula.
More than a century later, the Harvard Medical School paper, while echoing Coué’s original insight, made no mention of the mind theorist. But Coue’s work is known to one of the study’s architects, Ted Kaptchuk, who directs Harvard’s program in placebo research. “Of course I know about Coué,” Kaptchuk told me, agreeing that the migraine study could coalesce with Coué’s observations.
Try “day by day”—you may be surprised.
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