You have probably heard of people using various mind tools such as the practice of daily affirmations.
On the surface, it seems quite simple and perhaps even too simple – that we create positive phrases and repeat them to help achieve goals and improve our mood.
So, one of the common questions are: do positive affirmations work?
Is there evidence to support the use of this practice on a daily basis?
Let’s take a look at the research, the mechanism at play behind daily affirmations, and any caveats you might want to consider.
Are affirmations scientifically proven?
According to mental health experts, the answer to this is yes, however, this doesn’t mean that an affirmation will have an immediate magic effect and turn us automatically into happy people .
But self-affirmations can help you promote a positive change, thanks to something known as neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity refers to the capability that our brain does change consistently.
For example, when we adopt a new habit in our lives or even just a new way of thinking by eliminating negative self-talk, little by little, this makes an actual change to how the brain functions and even to the way it is.
Now, positive affirmations involve taking up an actual habit to eliminate some of those negative beliefs.
It also involves you focusing on a set of imaginary scenarios and ideas that inspire positive feelings as it evokes positive imagery as opposed to continual fear based thoughts and questions.
Either by having a daily routine of practicing positive thinking or at least doing it consistently, you can actually make a physical change in your brain.
Think of it as reshaping it a little to be more positive, so your mind is more oriented toward your goals, or at least more aligned with the positive notions you want to set for yourself.
The reason is that our brains don’t always know the difference between something real and something imagined.
The things we think about, imagine in our mind, visualize, dream about, all have a profound impact on our brain almost as much as the real thing.
For an example, consider your life path and any impacts of those negative thoughts.
Even though they may not be real, they generate a lot of stress inside of the body and lead to problems with your overall health.
Although they are imaginary, in a sense, they can impact your brain and shape it in a particular way, changing its functioning (which can be a scary thought, depending on how you think, right?)
Positive affirmations have a similar effect.
They influence the way the brain functions in a positive way, supporting a change of habits for the better in our lives.
Why are affirmations not working?
If there is a beneficial effect for positive affirmations, then how come it doesn’t work in some cases?
So the first thing to remember is that positive affirmations and statements are not magic wands.
Here is what positive affirmations can do for you:
- Increase your motivation
- Make it easier to change your habits and beliefs
- Think more positively fulfilling better outcomes
- Visualize and connect with your goal
- Increase your confidence
- Make you feel more positive emotions, like happiness and self assurance
However, an affirmation unfortunately doesn’t do all of the work for you.
You do need to make the actual changes you want to see, toward your mental and physical health as well as all of your other goals.
For example, if your life goal was to increase your confidence overall, affirmations will help with this goal and start to make you change some of those negative feelings and beliefs about yourself.
So it’s a great starting point for your thinking mind.
But you also need to try for yourself, how does it feel to be confident, using these positive statements and making sure you are not using any negative affirmations.
See how you stand up for yourself, or how to speak up in a self-assured and confident way.
Self-affirmations do help, but they can’t do 100% of the work for you.
Another reason there may not have been an effect from the positive affirmations, is that too little time might have passed, so giving up way too soon.
Three days of self affirmations won’t have a strong enough effect, being that the brain trips you into an interrogative self-talk on why you are doing something new. It might even give you some bad feelings along the way, just to prove you shouldn’t do a new goal or habit, so the thoughts can lean more toward the fear of failure right?
So if this sets in for you, which is quite natural, perhaps include some healing affirmations on your sheet of paper, to be more kind to yourself and not punishing yourself, if it doesn’t happen immediately.
Even if you give yourself a “self-affirmation task” for a week or two that you will stick with the positive new affirmations as your new everyday therapy.
You are more likely to develop stronger thinking thoughts towards the new values and goals you want to achieve in life .
A great idea is to write the date of when you started your new positive affirmations and give yourself an annual review of what shifts have actually transformed in the new version of you and what negative behavior patterns have been eliminated.
You may even want to use a journal with prompts inside to help you along with any additional questions you may not have thought of, for the beginning of the new version of you and your life journey.
You can even set this special journal up like a “future orientation” on how you want to see things in your future life, which could be a few weeks, months or year from now.
This Law Of Attraction Journal has to be one of my favorites that I love to use, as it has prompts, showing you how to become the best possible version of yourself, on many different levels.
It has so many success and mindset tools inside like:
- Mind maps
- Habit trackers to keep you accountable
- Morning and evening routines
- One of my favorites, has a foldable vision board inside, that you can carry with you no matter where you go.
- It also comes in some beautiful colors and different cover designs
Law of Attraction Planner - July 2021 Deluxe Weekly, Monthly Planner, a 12 Month Journey to Increase Productivity & Happiness - Life Organizer, Gratitude Journal, and Stickers
This will not only help you to be accountable to yourself, but you will see the small positive and successful changes along the way that you are making, month to month.
You may even incorporate a spontaneous self-affirmation dialogue into the mix, making your feelings shift to a whole new level, as you “rip out that negative self-talk”.
Let’s face it, the negative self talk doesn’t help you in any way right?
But the positive affirmations can only improve your new frame of mind.
Don’t forget our brain does take time to change and modify itself.
A third reason is that yourself affirmations might not be constructed in the best possible way?
Perhaps they are written in neutral statements or neutral affirmations as opposed to strong declarative statements which reinforce commitment.
It’s always good to start with a short list of affirmations to begin with, so the energy and your goal-directed behavior is more focused and fine tuned.
Check to make sure that:
- They are short and to the point
- They are not attached to self-limiting beliefs
- They are spoken in a declarative self talk
- They resonate with you and your core values
- They focus on a specific goal and incorporate an emotion
- They are in line with the goal you want to achieve
Some people might not benefit as much from positive affirmations or positive statements on their sheet of paper, because they repeat them without engaging emotionally with little meaning or commitment.
When should you use affirmations and when you should not?
So, what should you do with positive affirmations?
They are very versatile tools, but even so, they work best for some goals more than others.
They are useful for goals that have a strong emotional component and a strong motivational component.
Affirmations don’t replace actual actions, for example, exercising or eating well or changing yourself through your behaviors.
They can support behavioral change but not instantly replace them.
What are the actual and confirmed benefits of affirmations?
There has been some research on affirmations that has showcased the many benefits they can have.
Let’s take a look at some established benefits.
- Affirmations are associated with lower stress
- Affirmations can cut down on the negative stress we feel that can hurt us physically and emotionally.
- Affirmations can support positive behavioral change
- In studies of health behaviors, people have improved their mental health more, when they used affirmations to support their work.
- Affirmations can open our minds and release some of those self-limiting beliefs
Our affirmations can help us receive messages from other people and the world with more willingness and confidence toward our personal goals.
Even if we get difficult information, affirmations help us to be more adaptable of the information.
According to mental health experts, this means that mind tools such as positive affirmations can have actual effects.
They support us emotionally and help us get the right mindset to achieve our goals.
They don’t work miracles, but they are very useful and an easy to implement tool.
Affirmations provide opportunities for improving our emotional state and motivating ourselves.
When we visualize on we want and focus on it with positive statements, it increases the odds of a better outcome and a more successful life.
Cascio, C. N., O’Donnell, M. B., Tinney, F. J., Lieberman, M. D., Taylor, S. E., Strecher, V. J., & Falk, E. B. (2016). Self-affirmation activates brain systems associated with self-related processing and reward and is reinforced by future orientation. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 11(4), 621–629. https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsv136
Creswell, J. D., Dutcher, J. M., Klein, W. M., Harris, P. R., & Levine, J. M. (2013). Self-affirmation improves problem-solving under stress. PloS one, 8(5), e62593. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0062593
Epton, T., Harris, P. R., Kane, R., van Koningsbruggen, G. M., & Sheeran, P. (2015). The impact of self-affirmation on health-behavior change: a meta-analysis. Health psychology : official journal of the Division of Health Psychology, American Psychological Association, 34(3), 187–196. https://doi.org/10.1037/hea0000116
Harris, P. S., Harris, P. R., & Miles, E. (2017). Self-affirmation improves performance on tasks related to executive functioning. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 70, 281–285. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2016.11.011
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