What is an affirmation and more importantly, how can it help you ?
If your computer is a Mac or a PC it runs on different operating software. Same if your phone is an iPhone or Android.
Your brain is no different.
When you’re born, your brain is a blank slate. As you get older, both your conscious and unconscious thoughts, language, morals, values, and overall perception of reality are all slowly programmed into your brain (all based on the environment that you grew up in).
For example, if you grew up with a teacher always telling you that you’re dumb, it may sub-consciously you with-out you even knowing it. Positive affirmations are a way to counteract any negative or self-limiting beliefs.
Affirmations (positive or negative) are a powerful way to consciously reprogram your unconscious mind.
In this article we’ll take a hard look at expert opinions, personal experiences, and the science behind affirmations.
Let’s Dive In.
What Is An Affirmation ? (Harnessing Positive Thinking)
The goal of a positive affirmation is to ‘drill’ the saying into your head so deep, that it resurfaces in times of need. By consistently repeating a phrase, it slowly absorbs, first into your sub-conscious mind, and eventually even deeper into your unconscious mind.
When done correctly, these mental repetitions can reprogram our thinking patterns. Affirmations are a powerful tool, and when used consistently over time, we begin to think – and act – differently.
What makes affirmations so powerful is that they work both ways.
For example, whenever you’re faced with a challenge in life (and we all face challenges everyday) will you stand up and face the challenge head on, fail, and then keep going anyways?
If you’re someone who has an internal dialogue of ‘learned negative affirmations’ like ‘I’m stupid” or ‘I’m going to fail anyways”, then when times get tough and challenges arise that’s what your unconscious mind will be telling you.
BUT, if you’re someone has programmed their internal dialogue with positive affirmations, then when times get tough and life throw’s you a challenge, your positive affirmations (“I am strong” for example) will be the first thing your unconscious mind will pop into your head.
Affirmations have been shown to stimulate the areas in our brains which make us more likely to act on positive changes in regard to our health. Affirmations have also been used my the US military to successfully treat people with low self-esteem, depression, and other mental health conditions.
How Do Affirmations Actually Work ? (The Science)
Affirmations aren’t some magic voodoo miracle routine. Positive affirmations are a tool for you to use, that can give you an edge in life.
Positive affirmations are based on widely accepted and well-established psychological science, including Dr. Claude M.Steele’s widely praised self-affirmation theory which was published in 1988.
For some people, affirmations sound like “self-help hoopla” – and they kind of are, but that doesn’t mean affirmations don’t work. Here’s how.
According to a 2016 study published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, affirmations are all about hacking your brain’s evolutionary bias’s.
For example, negative confirmation bias.
If you have a NEGATIVE affirmation that you repeat to yourself (like “I’m so stupid” or “I’m dumb” or “I’m ugly” or “I’m not good enough”) then your brain will automatically look for reasons to confirm your internal bias.
Confirmation bias is looked at as the tendency to sub-consciously see more of ‘what already confirms your beliefs’, and filter out information to the contrary.
But confirmation bias works both ways.
If you have a POSITIVE affirmation that you repeat to yourself (like “I can figure it out” or “I got this, I’m smart” or “I’m a beautiful person” or “I’m strong”) then your brain will automatically look for reasons to confirm these internal bias.
Experts have found that affirmations teach your brain a new ways to think about the world. If you repeat phrases to convince your brain of something positive, then your brain starts to subconsciously search for signs of validation.
MRI evidence from a 2016 study found that certain “neural pathways” (brain connections) are actually increased when people practice self-affirmations.
The study concludes that when we choose to practice positive affirmations, we’re better able to view “otherwise-threatening information as more self-relevant and valuable”
Benefits Of Daily Affirmations
The true benefits of positive affirmations cannot be quantified.
By practicing positive affirmations, you’re re-formatting the programming in your brain that underpins your entire perception of reality. Positive affirmations can unconsciously seep onto every aspect of your life.
And same is true for negative affirmation (so watch out for those).
But here’s a few examples of some ‘stand-out’ benefits of positive affirmations
Affirmations Help Change Your Inner Dialogue –
Everyone has an inner voice. Some people have a more active inner voice than others, but we all do have one. When it comes to times of stress, times of failure, times of growth, and times of self-doubt, we often rely on our inner voice more than we realize.
Positive affirmations help make new routines and changing old bad habits easier short-term and sustainable long-term.
Each time you become aware of your internal dialogue sinking into hopelessness, tell yourself, “I got this,” or “I can handle this,” ect.
I personally have slipped into the negative spiral too many times and I probably should have tried practicing positive affirmations sooner.
Dr. Weber has seen first hand, that without a positive internal voice, you can easily stay ““stuck in first gear””, so to speak.
Affirmations Help Boost Your Confidence –
Study participants who used positive self-affirmations of what they were good at, went on to perform with more confidence when they placed in “high-stakes situations”.
According to Dr. Kang, “Anytime you have low expectations for your performance, you tend to sink down and meet those low expectations. [positive] self-affirmation is a way to neutralize that threat.”
According to the Association for Psychological Science, research suggests that those who practice positive self-affirmations are more receptive to feedback, which allowed them to better learn from (and correct) their mistakes. With-out bruising their ego or hurting their confidence.
Affirmations Can Help You Stay On Track (FOCUS) –
The internet, social media, 24 hour news, distractions are all around us, all the time, always competing for our attention. This can make it difficult to focus and stay on track, but by leveraging the power of affirmations you can trick your sub-conscious mind to stay focused and on track.
For example, while writing his very article I’m using the affirmation “I can write an entire article with-out distractions” – So far I haven’t looked at my phone in over 3 hours (which is pretty good for me).
Affirmations Can Get You Through Tough Times –
You might have surface level confidence or positivity, but it’s times of stress when our real ‘true colors’ shine through.
Stress brings out the best and the worst in people.
By programming your brain with positive affirmations, you’re giving yourself the best change possible to react to stressful situations in a calm and positive manner.
According to PsychCentral and licensed psychotherapist Sharon Martin, using positive affirmations is an excellent way to change your thoughts and feelings during stressful events. Repeating affirmations can help all of us to focus on how we actually want to feel, and on our ability to cope with both stress and anxiety.
How To Use Positive Affirmations
So far we’ve covered what an affirmation is, the science behind how affirmations work, and the benefits. Now let’s look at how to use affirmations to your benefit and advantage.
Affirmations work by repeating positive sayings in an effort to reprogram any ‘negative self-confirmation bias’s’ that you might already unknowingly have. But you can’t just repeat any old positive saying like “I’m great at everything” or “I’m the man”.
These are too vague and likely won’t resonate or have an impact.
Step 1 – Identify Any Pre-Existing Self-Limiting Beliefs –
If you’re already aware of existing self-limiting beliefs (negative affirmations) that you have, then great. Write them down.
If you’re not aware of any existing self-limiting beliefs, that’s totally fine. Try thinking about some times when you got down on yourself (we all do it).
Step 2 – Reflect On What You Want To Improve –
What part of your life do want to improve?
Do you need more confidence at work? Do you need more of an overall “can do” attitude? Do you want more of a positive body image? Do you need more self-discipline?
Take some time to reflect on where positive affirmations can help you the most.
Step 3 – Write Down 3-5 Positive Affirmations To Start –
The best affirmations are 100% authentic and specific to your life.
For example, if you often think that “you’re not smart enough”, using the affirmation “I’m smart” might be too vague.
Instead try “I’m smart enough to figure anything out”, or “I can learn anything I need to”.
You get the idea.
Step 4 – Say Out loud And Repeat Your Positive Affirmations Daily –
Let’s be honest, saying positive affirmations out loud to yourself (or with anyone in earshot) can feel a little “”hokey”” or unnatural.
This is common at first, but by saying your affirmations out loud it actually makes a big difference in helping to re-train your brain’s neural connections. Don’t Skip This !
According to Healthline, start out with repeating each affirmation out loud 10x in the morning and 10x before you go to bed.
Step 5 – Rinse & Repeat – Create an Affirmation Routine –
The hardest part about affirmations isn’t understanding how they work or creating them, it’s setting and sticking to an affirmation routine.
In order for affirmations to work it takes repetition and time.
There’s no set timeframe for how long it takes for a positive affirmation to change your mindset as everybody is different.
But after a while, you’ll start noticing your affirmations appearing in your sub-conscious at times when you need them most. Eventually you can tweak your affirmations, add new ones, or change existing ones.
Try setting aside a time in the morning and at night when you can repeat your affirmation out loud to your-self.
How To Write Your Own Affirmations That Actually Work –
Medical adviser, and licensed clinical psychologist, Dr. Marney A. White finds it best to avoid “”stock affirmations”” in order to get the biggest benefit.
If you do find a “stock” or “generic” affirmation that really resonates with you then its fine to use it. But experts agree that creating an affirmation specifically tailored to your individual needs and goals works best.
- Step 1 – Think of Your Negative Thoughts and Write the Opposite.
- Step 2 – Make it Personal. It Needs to Resonate With Your Core!
- Step 3 – Start With “I” or “My”.
- Step 4 – Keep It Short and Simple.
- Step 5 – Write in the Present Tense
- Step 6 – No “wants” or “needs”
- Step 7 – Use Positive Words
- Step 8 – Feel Free Experiment and Find What Works Best For You.
- Step 9 – Be Patient – Change Takes Time.
9 Affirmation Tips & Tricks
(How To Get The Most Out Of Positive Affirmations)
1. Put Your Skepticism on Hold –
I think it’s natural to be skeptical about affirmations. I personally was very skeptical until I saw 1st hand how affirmations could have a positive change on your perspective, perception, and outlook on life.
If you walk into affirmations with a closed mind, skepticisms, and doubt, then you’re putting yourself at a serious disadvantage for achieving what you want.
It’s OK to be skeptical – even expected – But try and put your skepticisms aside for at least the first 3-4 weeks.
Remember affirmations are rewiring your sub-conscious mind, so it takes time for your neurons to form new connections (and then solidify those connections).
2. Remember, Action Is Key –
Reading about affirmations is great, writing them down is better, but real results don’t come unless you take action daily. According to the Young Entrepreneur Council (an invite only membership) “Action is the Key”
3. Avoid Stock Affirmations –
In order to get the most out of affirmations they need to resonate with you personally. Stock affirmations can give you some ideas to make your own. But repeating vague sayings like “Think Positive” are generally too generic to resonate with you on a deep level.
Instead you could try something like “I am a positive thinker, even when I get upset”
4. Speak And Repeat Positive Affirmations OUT LOUD –
You can repeat affirmations in your head, but it’s more effective to say them out loud. You can try both ways and see what’s more effective for you.
Clinical Psychologist Dr. Lauren Alexander, PhD has found that…
“Sometimes hearing things out loud is more impactful than saying them in your mind,”
5. Use The Present Tense When Saying Positive Affirmations –
The goal with affirmations is to have them ‘pop-up’ in times when you need them most in order to give yourself a mental edge. And the times when you need them most, is in “”the present moment””.
Avoid “I should” which is future tense. Or “I will” which is also future tense. Instead try using “I am” which is present moment tense.
6. Avoid Negatives In Positive Affirmations –
The point of positive affirmations is to live a happier existence by changing your perspective.
Stay with positive words in your positive affirmations. Keep it simple to avoid any negative “cross contamination”. You shouldn’t use any negative words such as the word ‘not’, ‘can’t, or ‘won’t’ in any of your affirmations.
These words can have general “”bad vibes”” associated with them, and it’s best not to focus your mind on any negative words.
7. Craft Positive Affirmations That Are Specific, Simple, And Direct –
We mostly covered this already under avoiding “stock” affirmations. The more personal the better. Also keep it simple and don’t overthink it.
Programming a single word or simple phrase into your sub-conscious is obviously easier than an entire paragraph or long-winded-complex-phrase.
8. Avoid Toxic Positivity –
As humans we’re not supposed to be “positive” all the time. We all have a full range of emotions including anger, sadness, regret, sorrow, ect.
When you’re feeling explosively angry or sad, blocking out those feelings and repeating the affirmation “I am happy” is not a healthy option.
Allow yourself to feel human emotions. And then try to come back to a place of acceptance.
9. When To Repeat Affirmations –
Remember, action is key. For affirmations to work, it takes repetition. You can repeat affirmations as much as you want, but experts recommend 2x a day. Once in the morning and once at night. EVERY DAY.
When Positive Affirmations Don’t Work
I don’t get a commission for selling affirmations. I’ve seen them work on others and they certainly have helped my mindset, but affirmations aren’t for everyone.
Sometimes our negative unconscious beliefs are too strong.
If you truly believe that you’re ugly. And then you practice the affirmation “I am beautiful” ,
what are trying to affirm is incongruent with your deeply held negative belief, then all that results is an inner struggle.
According to PsychCentral – If you deeply believe and feel that you are ugly and worthless, positive affirmations will set off an inner war. With each positive declaration, your unconscious will cry out, “it’s not true, it’s not true!”
With time a repetition some people will get over this, but others will struggle to fight off their deeply ingrained unconscious beliefs.
What To Do When Positive Affirmations Don’t Work
If you’re negative perceptions or beliefs are too ingrained to change with affirmations, asking yourself the right question could make all the difference in the world.
A recent study lead by Dr. Ibrahim Senay, found that, for some people, self-interrogation is more powerful than self-affirmations.
For example, with someone who thinks they are ugly, repeating the affirmation “I am beautiful” may cause conflict and will not penetrate your negative unconscious bias. However, asking yourself the question, “Am I being unrealistic about my expectations and the perceived benefits of having 3 less wrinkles on my forehead?”
This question doesn’t directly challenge your belief of “I am ugly” but side-steps around it with logic and reasoning.
Once the direct challenge has been sidestepped, the a positive affirmation on-top of it “I am beautiful inside and out” may then help build yourself up.
Are Affirmations A Form Of Brainwashing ?
Except you’re in complete control of how you want to brainwash yourself.
When Mike Tyson became the youngest heavyweight boxing champion in the world, his trainer would make him repeat self-affirmations about being a lion, strong, tough, tenacious, like a caged animal ready to explode.
These affirmations brainwashed young Mike into thinking that he was indestructible.
Cults also use self-affirmations often making members repeat or write down phrases over-and-over again. But these affirmations are ore along the lines of “all hail our leader”
Repeating positive affirmations that you control is a positive form of brainwashing yourself.
Conclusion: Affirmations Explained
I personally have implemented affirmations into my morning routine (I say them in the bathroom mirror) and I feel they have helped to stabilize my “negative downswings”.
Affirmations are not a new idea, and have been used throughout history for thousands of years. There’s a reason why cults use negative affirmations to brainwash their members, because affirmation do work.
Obviously positive affirmation which you are in control of are a better route to take than negative affirmations.
If you personally use affirmation let us know your experience.
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Thanks for reading !
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