Like gratitude, affirmation is quite the buzzword these days. Self-help books and social media often promote daily affirmations as a self-care strategy to boost confidence and squash negative thoughts.
Cue the saying, "You are what you think!"
If you think you are going to bomb that upcoming presentation, you very well might because your mind feels like it already has. But if you instead think you are going to nail it, you are quite literally more likely to succeed. Sounds almost too simple, right?
Discover the power of positive affirmations and how to effectively utilize them in your own life.
What Are Positive Affirmations?
Sometimes referred to as morning affirmations or confidence affirmations, positive affirmations are phrases or statements that challenge perceived inadequacies or negative, unhelpful thoughts. They are used as a tool to shift mindsets and achieve goals.
Another trendy topic, some people utilize these positive mantras within their manifestation practice. In addition, many elite athletes swear by positive mantras, giving them credit for shifting their mindset from a place of scarcity or inability to utter success.
Effectively implementing positive affirmations certainly requires regular, consistent practice though. Saying that you believe in yourself one time won't mitigate months or years of critical self-talk.
Also important, create relevant affirmations for yourself. Your goals and dreams are different from your neighbor's, so affirmations should be too.
Now, there are many general ones that anyone can benefit from. However, they are more effective and results-driven when they matter to you as an individual.
The Science Behind Powerful Affirmations
Indeed, there is science to back the practice of positive affirmations but it is important to note that they are not magic.
Unsurprisingly, positive affirmations are based on a psychological theory called self-affirmation theory. This essentially means that empirical studies exist based on the concept that humans can create and maintain self-efficacy by affirming what we believe in a positive light.
For reference, self-efficacy generally refers to one's perceived ability to control moral outcomes and adapt appropriately if a self-concept is threatened.
Psychological Self-Affirmation Theory
The psychological self-affirmation theory consists of three main ideas.
1. First, self-affirmation allows us to develop narratives and beliefs about ourselves. Ideally, in this narrative, we are moral, flexible, and capable of responding to different situations in appropriate, productive ways. This essentially creates self-identity, which is important for viewing ourselves as fluid, adaptable, complex persons who can fill multiple roles, define success differently and achieve different types of success.
2. Secondly, self-affirmation theory suggests that we do not need to be perfect to maintain a beneficial self-identity. Rather, it's more important to work towards being competent and useful in areas of life that we specifically value.
3. Thirdly, the theory stresses that maintaining self-integrity requires acting in authentic, genuine ways to merit acknowledgment or praise. Instead of creating an affirmation to simply receive praise, practice the affirmation because you want to act in accordance with personal values regardless of praise or not.
If this somewhat abstract concept does not quite make sense, hopefully this next part will!
The development of this self-affirmation theory bridged into neuroscientific research to investigate how the brain actually responds to positive affirmations.
MRI evidence shows that certain neural pathways are increased and improved when people regularly practice positive self-affirming. Specifically, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex which is involved in positive valuation and information processing becomes more active.
In other words, this evidence is an example of neuroplasticity or brain rewiring – the brain's ability to change long-held beliefs and behaviors and adapt to different circumstances throughout life. One excellent example of this is an addict's ability to remain sober long-term. Whereas they might have possessed self-talk that encouraged them to cope with difficulties by reaching for drugs, they can create new, positive self-dialogue through affirmations that teaches them to remain resilient even in the presence of temptation.
Interestingly, the brain can't really tell the difference between reality and imagination. Creating a mental picture and affirming a belief (whether it’s actually true at the time or not) can "trick" the brain into thinking it's reality.
Visualizing yourself crossing that finish line first or nailing that job interview while also saying something that reminds you of that achievement just might help you feel prepared to tackle the task and interrupt self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviors.
Benefits of Affirmations
There are countless benefits of practicing positive affirmations, but here are seven backed by science.
1. Decrease health-deteriorating stress
2. Enhance stress management techniques
3. Improve adherence to goals
4. Perceive threatening messages or situations with less resistance and fear
5. Develop and enhance self-confidence and self-esteem for a variety of areas in life
6. Lower anxious and depressive thoughts
7. Create more gratitude
How to Create and Implement Affirmations
Begin creating positive affirmations by considering your unique aspirations. Perhaps you want to run a personal record in a 5k or buy a house or achieve body neutrality.
Keeping the above in mind, think of typical struggle points like:
• Do you view yourself as a mediocre runner?
• Do you have a scarcity mindset when it comes to money?
• Do you constantly berate yourself in the mirror?
• More importantly, how are you talking to yourself when thinking about your aspirations and/or weaknesses?
After thinking about a few areas of focus, it's time to actually create your positive affirmations. Here are a couple of tips for doing so.
1. Make Them Realistic
For affirmations to truly work, they need to be realistic and achievable. For example, a five-foot adult probably should not create an affirmation about growing to six feet tall. No matter how many times they say this affirmation, it is not likely coming true.
Affirmations can be bold and feel scary, but should also be realistically relevant. Change is certainly always possible, but some change is much more possible than others. Plus, if an affirmation focuses on a statement that you do not believe is possible in your core, it will likely have little effect if any.
In fact, many psychology professionals believe that simple, neutral and specific statements prove most helpful. This is because the mind actually has the capacity to believe in what you are telling it.
2. Minimize Stock Affirmations
Positive affirmations are literally plastered everywhere. However, they are generally short cookie-cutter mantras that easily fit on shirts and square social media posts. AKA– they are not individualized and therefore not as meaningful either.
If saying "Just Do It" gets you out of bed and to your workout in the morning, that's great! But taking it a step further by saying "I'm grateful for my strong legs and their ability to squat heavy," will probably help you hit that personal best better and sooner.
3. Make Affirmations Present-Tense
Because the practice of affirming is intended to reframe longstanding negative patterns and beliefs, it works best when the phrases are set in the present tense, as if you have already succeeded.
Remember that affirmations are different from goals in some senses. You generally have to work towards goals, thus they are futuristically based. On the other hand, affirmations remind you what you can do right now.
Some people complain that affirmations embody the "fake it til you make it" concept but that can actually be a good thing! Over time, your mind will not be able to tell the difference between the faking versus making.
No Olympian knows for sure that they will win gold or break a record, but they sure do believe they can during their months of training beforehand.
4. Practice, Practice, Practice
Finally, practicing or repeating the affirmations many times, usually daily or even multiple times a day is key.
Recall that neuroplasticity or brain rewiring is quite possible, but it is not a passive process. It requires consistency and active participation (and belief) to meaningfully work.
There is no set amount of times phrases should be repeated nor a certain amount of times per day either. Certain sources will boast the 55 principles, where one should write down their affirmation or mantra 55 times every day. But this is not based in science.
Instead, your affirmation practice should fit into your lifestyle and ideally be completed when you are feeling grounded and calm. However, sometimes they do need to be utilized during chaotic times, especially if their purpose is to help you deal with stress.
Many people enjoy spending 5-10 minutes in the morning to set the foundation for their day with positive energy. Others write or repeat their favorite affirmation a certain amount of times in the morning before getting out of bed and before going to bed. Still, others write one or two affirmations on their mirror and practice breathing techniques while thinking about them for a set amount of time.
There's no one right way to practice affirmations, but they do need to be practiced!
20 Positive Affirmation Examples
Of course, you can create your own positive affirmation and daily mantra. But if unsure where to start and want some inspiration, choose an example affirmation from the list.
1. I was created with divine intention. I am love and I freely give love.
2. I'm worthy of what I desire.
3. I feed my spirit. I train my body. I focus my mind.
4. The power to heal already lives within me.
5. I believe good things are coming my way.
6. Pain is not the worst feeling one can feel.
7. I commit to controlling what I can and letting go of what I can't.
8. I'm proud of myself for not giving up.
9. I am resilient. I will get through this storm.
10. I hold big visions and I'm ready to receive them.
11. Comparing myself to strangers on the internet is fruitless.
12. I choose to live in the moment, no matter how difficult.
13. I am kind, generous, and trustworthy.
14. I'm responsible for my money now, so I can splurge soon.
15. I treat my body with kindness and respect.
16. I set big goals because I want to push beyond my comfort zones.
17. This is my body, my choice.
18. I overcome fears by doing scary things.
19. I fuel myself well so I feel my best.
20. My work satisfies me and I know I'm creating a difference.
Recapping Positive Affirmations
Positive affirmations are phrases or statements that challenge perceived inadequacies or negative, unhelpful thoughts. They are used as a tool to shift mindsets, increase positive thoughts, help you feel confident, and achieve goals.
Creating and implementing affirmations does take some practice but taking the time to do so is well worth it! Use the 20 examples listed above as inspiration to start your day and affirmation journey!
Moore C. Positive Daily Affirmations: Is There Science Behind It? Positive Psychology. Published February 14, 2022. https://positivepsychology.com/daily-affirmations/.
Raypole C. Positive Affirmations: Too Good to Be True? Healthline. Written September 1, 2020. https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/do-affirmations-work.
Yu C. 19 Positive Affirmations That'll Change the Way You Think. Daily Burn. Published October 7, 2021. https://dailyburn.com/life/lifestyle/instagram-positive-affirmations/.