“If you realized how powerful your thoughts are, you would never think a negative thought.”Peace Pilgrim
“Watch your thoughts; for they become words. Watch your words; for they become actions. Watch your actions; for they become habits. Watch your habits; for they become character. Watch your character for it will become your destiny.”Gandhi
“You need to learn how to select your thoughts just the same way as you select your clothes every day. This is a power to cultivate.”Elizabeth Gilbert
Positive Affirmations are very in style. You might have seen the uber popular books like “The Power of Positive Thinking” which has thousands and thousands of 5 star reviews.
Positive self-talk is also one of the most recommended prescriptions in therapy.
Or maybe you follow Yogis or coaches preaching that a positive mindset is the only way to become a millionaire.
Is this all just a new age hoax? Or wishful thinking? Is there actual science to backup such a nice idea?
All important questions, because let’s not incorporate one more “to-do” into our lives that isn’t helpful or effective. So here’s what science and really smart helpers have told us through the ages.
What are Positive Affirmations?
Positive Affirmations are positive and true words we choose to tell ourselves instead of negative ones. These words and phrases shape our internal confidence and how we relate to the external world.
Popular examples of Positive Affirmations are:
I am good enough.
Weight loss comes easily to me.
I deserve to be loved.
I choose to be happy right now, no matter what.
My body is absolutely 100% perfect.
I forgive and let go, for my own peace.
These positive affirmations are in direct comparison to the automated negative chatter that is on repeat in the background of our mind. These storylines are deeply imbedded in our psyche and are many times not fully known or understood.
Common examples of background stories:
I don’t deserve any better (ie revolving door of toxic boyfriends after childhood abandonment)
My life will never be different (ie scarcity mindset around growing up poor)
Being overweight is safe (ie trouble losing weight after assault)
Science behind Positive Affirmations?
Modern day Positive Affirmations were born out of a 1988 study by Claude Steele who came up with the Self-Affirmation Theory.
Steele discovered that if participants knew the benefits of Self-Affirmations and deliberately chose to participate in the recitation of them, the outcome was “consistent with the ability of affirmations to psychologically buffer people against threat and foster resiliency.”
Modern Day Studies
MRI proof of effectiveness
A more recent study used MRI’s to identify that Self-Affirmations activates the reward centers in the brain (i.e pleasurable experiences like great food or achieving a big win).
“Affirmation takes advantage of our reward circuits, which can be quite powerful,” says Cascio. “Many studies have shown that these circuits can do things like dampen pain and help us maintain balance in the face of threats.”Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
A study involving 92 college women who were high risk for depression were assigned either a control or Cognitive Behavioral Intervention group. The CBI group utilized thought stopping and affirmations.
The women that took part in the treatment group experienced decreased depression and negative thinking and higher self-esteem far after the study was over.
Stress Protective Effects
In another study, 80 undergraduate students were randomly assigned to either a control or self affirmation condition to discover if affirmations could buffer the effects of stress on problem solving abilities and creativity.
They were then given problem-solving tasks under time pressures.
Here’s what they found:
The present study builds on previous research showing that self-affirmation has stress protective effects in performance settings, providing an initial indication that self-affirmation can buffer the effects of chronic stress on actual problem-solving in performance settings.
Results showed that self-affirmation improved problem-solving performance in underperforming chronically stressed individuals.Self-Affirmation Improves Problem-Solving under Stress
How do Positive Affirmations work?
Scientists believe that Positive Affirmations work because the mind believes whatever you tell it – real or not. And why would it have any reason not to? You’re the one saying it after all!
So if you say “I’m such a loser,” then that becomes your truth. If you say “Actually I’m really great – funny, smart, and talented,” that is your new truth.
5 reasons why we need Positive Affirmations:
1. To Affirm
Affirm is a pretty strong word. In all the right ways. Here are some definitions of affirm:
to state or assert positively; maintain as true.
to show or express a strong belief in or dedication to.
to assert as valid.
to express agreement with or commitment to; uphold; support.
Ohhhh I like these. These words feel right. There is power there. A power that is not felt from the toxic Stories that play on a continual loop in our minds background.
But To Affirm is make a commitment. It’s a dedication to uphold and maintain the TRUTH. The truth of who you are. Who you actually are. Not what others have said about you. Not the Stories and lies you’ve believed from childhood. The actual truth.
This is active. Assertive. It takes some work. It takes work to support your mental health. Especially if it has been beaten down a bit through the years.
And if you are wondering, “Is this true for me,” let me ask you 1 question:
Is it true for your best friend?
If the answer is yes (which it is) then it’s true for you too!
2. To Remember
What exactly do we need to remember? And where along the way was this something forgotten?
Positive Affirmations gently remind you of who You are. The Original You. Who you are at your core:
Connected to the Divine
All that and MORE.
We are finding again the glorious You. Let’s take it back all the way to when you were 1st born. Before life happened. It’s all still there. It was never trampled into non-existence. It’s just tucked away now. Pushed into a little corner to make room for the Stories.
These Stories seep into every interaction. Every thought. Oozing with dangerous poison. Inviting us to forget who we really are. It’s the background code luring us into a state of ignorance.
But you’re still there. Don’t let her go just yet. Let’s take her back.
3. To Rewrite
We can think of Positive Affirmations as a kind of technology. A way to re-program mental patterns.
This is the magic of Affirmations: affirmations engage this cognitive bias in your favor. When you do affirmations, you are teaching your brain a new way to think about the world. This changes what your brain processes on your behalf, leading you to see different things and have different thoughts, until the landscape changes so much that you get what it is you affirmed. The best affirmations are specific because it gives your brain a very clear set of guidelines on what to process for you.The Scientific Reasons Affirmations Work
4. To Vibe High
If that sounds too eccentric for you, take a minute to close your eyes and observe how the following 2 statements feel in your body:
- I am completely safe and taken care of by a warm and loving Divine force.
- I have to fight and protect myself from everyone and everything.
5. To Replace
A helpful practice on this journey to a little more self love is the opportunity to give yourself to STOP.
Stop negative thinking dead in it’s tracks to challenge negative thinking by asking, and possibly re-asking, “Yea…but is that really true?“
Is it true that “you’re a loser” or did you make 1 mistake. And that 1 mistake doesn’t negate all the other wins. And it doesn’t replace a core tenet of your being – that you’re holy, perfect, and special.
So after we’ve stopped the habitual stream of harmful thinking, even for a moment, to examine its validity, now we can do something about it. We can replace it. We give ourselves the opportunity to overcome years and years of low self-confidence and hatred.
This interruption is critically important. All of a sudden the mind, like a racecar going 100 mph, screeches to a halt, and is forced to alter its direction. Instead of going round and round on that nice smoothe racetrack, it fires up that engine and makes its way onto an unpaven road. A path that’s new, slightly uncomfortable at 1st but that feels oh so right.
On this unbeaten path, things really begins to open up now, when we speak the truth. We discover what’s beneath that hood. We let its power rip:
“Actually I’m really great – funny, smart, and talented,”
How to do Positive Affirmations
1. Start observing your thoughts
Unfortunately many of us are not aware of the negative thoughts and Stories that play on repeat all day. It just feels normal. A part of who we are.
Totally normal. Totally ok.
So the 1st step in creating Positive Affirmations is simply to observe and to get curious about the mind.
This is not an exercise in judgement. We don’t berate ourselves when we begin to discover the negative. Rather we take a more detached position.
Why don’t we treat this like an experiment? It’s not personal. We’re just gathering the facts and taking a curious approach to what’s going on upstairs.
Notice what your thoughts are immediately after:
Someone else receives the promotion at work?
You step on the scale?
You receive a compliment?
A friend forgets your birthday?
Throughout an ordinary day….step back and observe. During daily interactions, notice your reaction. Without shame. Or thinking too much about it.
You are just gathering data.
2. Keep a record of what you find
An important step after observing your thoughts is to write down the consistent one’s you have from day to day.
Those consistent thoughts are the soundtrack to your entire life. These are your Stories. Some of your core beliefs.
And if you’re like me…..some of those beliefs are….concerning.
After I did this exercise I realized how often I told myself that I was a loser. Or that people and life suck. Not just suck, but are actively against me. Sometimes the thoughts varied a bit, but all with the same theme.
Just. Not. Good. Enough.
And part of the reason it’s important to actually write down these negative thoughts is to see, on paper, the sheer number of times you say these negative affirmations.
For me it was like….100 times a day. And I didn’t realize it until I saw it written down.
And although this may seem like a laborious and unnecessary task, it brings a profound clarity that just isn’t there without seeing it recorded. Physically having to write it down makes you painfully aware how absolutely abusive we can be to ourselves without even realizing it. We picked up The Stories others drilled into our heads and ran with them without missing a beat.
But now we know. And know that we know. We can change it.
Let’s not affirm the supposed “negative” characteristics. Rather lets affirm all the best in ourselves and the world.
3. Write an opposite to every negative
Starting with the top 3 negative thoughts, start by writing down whatever the opposite of that is.
How does that feel?
Is that something you can get on board with saying, or does it still feel off?
And when you feel like Positive Affirmations are bullshit….
Remember a sister technique used by Pro Athletes
Anytime I start to feel like Positive Affirmations are bullshit, or that I’m just lying to myself when I say them, I think about the Visualization techniques athletes use to win big.
Pro athletes routinely visualize each detail of their best performance. They walk themselves through every play and possible scenario so they’re prepared for any outcome.
Do these athletes know they’ll perform exactly how they’ve visualized? No of course not. So are they lying to themselves? Nope.
They are systematically building and reinforcing neural pathways to bring out the best in themselves.