What are Positive Affirmations and Do They Actually Work

In truth, it’s a bit wild to think you can improve many aspects of your life just by repeating a phrase or statement over and over. This is what affirmations promise, but is there any science behind this claim?

affirmations on a note card
Affirmations can be a ritual of self love – source

Affirmations are said to be a way to train the mind, changing the way you think about yourself and different areas in your life. There are affirmations for everything from love, to confidence, to success and motivation, but do they actually work?

Let’s see if there’s science behind this popular technique today.

What are Affirmations?

Affirmations are a statement or phrase that is repeated to yourself. It is said to be used to shift or change your mindset positively, improving mental wellbeing. They can be tailored to specific things, like improving confidence, improving self-esteem, and increasing feelings of love, or they can be very general, for overall happiness.

Affirmations always tend to be positive and present tense however, with examples like:

  • I am happy.
  • I am confident.
  • I accept myself and my body.
  • I boldly go after what I want in life.

These statements are said to make new mental habits, shifting the mind from a negative mentality to a positive one. While it seems a bit outlandish to think that saying you’re confident will make you confident, let’s see what the science says.

The Science Behind Affirmations

Here is the science behind these statements.

In one study, scientists found that individuals who practiced affirmations before experiencing a social threat had a less defensive response. This means there were able to remain calm when confronted with a negative experience. 

Many studies, like this one, and this one, find micro-affirmations to be effective. These are small motivational phrases said to oneself when something unpleasant or inconvenient happens. These tiny actions and statements had a large role in improving a person’s state and situation, improving wellness and recovery.

But will these phrases change the way someone thinks? Well, this study attempted to see if affirmations could change the minds of people that did not care about environmental actions, nor did they believe climate change was an issue. The results? Participants that read affirmations about being environmentally friendly and climate change showed an increase in personal involvement with the environment and want to recycle. AKA, this study turned people into pro-environment promoters.

Basically, affirmations may be able to change the way you think, regardless of the beliefs you hold.

The negative side to affirmations is that they don’t always work. 

This study found that people with dissonance with the affirmation given were more likely to revert to a negative mindset. This means if you have a negative body image, an affirmation like I love my body may not work long term. It’s hard to go straight from hate to love.

The solution? Try an statement or phrase that is less about loving or fully accepting, and more about respecting, appreciating, and understanding:

  • I respect my body.
  • I appreciate my body.
  • I appreciate my legs getting me places.
  • I like my hands that create cool stuff.

How to Use Affirmations Effectively

Here’s how to use these statements in a way that can help change and improve wellbeing.

Repeat them Daily

Making affirmations a habit is all about repetition. Read them daily, write them daily, and say them out loud daily.

Put Them Where You’ll See Them

Put these statements where you’ll see them. Place them on the mirror, make them your lock screen on your phone, and write them on your desk. Whenever you see the affirmation, take a moment to feel it, read it, and say it.

Use Present Tense

You want the shift of mindset to happen now, not tomorrow, or next week. Do this by using the present tense when choosing your phrase. I am happy is a stronger sentiment than I am going to be happy.

The Takeaway

Affirmations can be a great tool in changing someone’s mindset if they are used correctly. Scientifically, affirmations have been found to improve overall wellness, mental wellbeing, and positively impacting the mind.

They can even shift a mindset, like changing someone’s mind to make them more environmentally conscious.

Sometimes though, if affirmations are drastically different from the way you currently think, it might be hard for them to work. Instead, choose an affirmation that is more neutral, more focused on appreciation, or even gratitude.

Even micro-affirmations are backed by science. Simply saying I can do this at work can do wonders for mental wellness.

Affirmations can be used daily to shift and improve mindset over time. Make sure you do them daily and make them in the present tense. Many aspects of life can change and improve when using affirmations correctly.

Affirmations can help improve self-esteem, self-image, and self-confidence, as well as many other aspects of life by training the mind to think a certain way.

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