Affirmations are positive statements that are often used to combat negative self-perceptions or enhance focus on personal goals. Affirmations also tend to foster the expectation of success. Often, affirmations address a specific concern or fundamental self-talk theme. As an example, someone struggling with weight concerns may have frequent, albeit self-defeating thoughts such as, “I am never going to be able to lose/gain weight” or “My body is my enemy.”
Self-critical, pessimistic statements can make it more difficult to stick with goals, especially during the expectable minor setbacks most people experience on the road to success. In essence, habitual negative self-statements can erode self-confidence and become self-fulfilling prophecies of failure.
HOW AFFIRMATIONS CAN BE EMPLOYED IN DAILY LIFE
Affirmations can serve as an important tool for staying on track and staving off feelings of discouragement. To use the previous example, an affirmation to address anxiety or pessimism around weight concerns could be, “Each day, I am one step closer to achieving my healthiest weight.” If the negative self-talk is more generalized or self-critical, one might create an affirmation such as, “I partner with my body in keeping myself well.” An affirmation that is counter to negative feelings or beliefs related to exercise is, “It feels wonderful to eat well and move my body.”
Again, a productive affirmation is specifically related to a positive goal; the opposite of what the negative self-talk says; and helps one imagine a successful outcome.
AFFIRMATIONS PRESENT AND FUTURE
Although affirmations are commonly phrased in the present tense (to foster a feeling of these statements already being true), affirming statements can also be combined with guided or self-directed imagery to focus on future success. This technique is actually used in hypnosis and self-hypnosis, and is referred to as “future progression.” Future progression imagery involves creating the multisensory experience of being in that moment when one has already achieved a future goal, even though the actual imagery is happening within oneself, in the present moment.
HOW AFFIRMATIONS WORK
Although crafting affirmations can be straightforward, recent research has found affirmations effectively increase feelings of well-being and improve the likelihood of making good choices. As you’ve probably noticed, when under stress, most people are more vulnerable to self-doubt or feeling overwhelmed in general. Affirmations appear to work by reminding us of personal resources beyond what we notice when we are discouraged. Relatedly, affirmations seem to help us to reflect on our core values and draw upon the positive personal experiences we’ve had.
AFFIRMATIONS AND THE BRAIN
Several different brain regions are thought to be involved in the benefits seen related to engaging in affirmations. For example, in previous studies, the ventral striatum and the ventral medial prefrontal cortex have been linked to assigning a positive value to something (such as achieving a goal) and viewing it as a reward. Increased activity in the medial prefrontal cortex and posterior cingulate cortex have been linked to focusing on one’s personal strengths. In addition, self-affirmations may work in part by engaging the anterior cingulate cortex and the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex to regulate emotions (staving off negative emotions, or remaining more objective) when faced with difficult situations.
HOW TO INCORPORATE AFFIRMATIONS INTO YOUR LIFE
There are a number of easy, free-to-low-cost ways to use affirmations to help you make positive change. A quick internet search will reveal an abundance of audio programs featuring positive affirmations and imagery, but you can also make your own. Here are some suggestions:
- Set aside some quiet time to engage in this exercise.
- Write a list of some goals that you’d like to achieve. Make the list simple, specific, and concrete.
- Pick one goal to start. You are probably more likely to stick with a goal that is consistent with your personal values rather than one someone else sets for you.
- Note any negative thoughts you tend to have when you try to focus on your goal.
- For each negative statement, write a positive statement that is the opposite of the negative self-talk. Make the statements short and to the point.
- Even if the goal is for some time in the future, write the positive statements as if they are already true (e.g., “I enjoy moving my body and feeling healthy” or “Each day, I feel stronger, happier, and healthier.”).
- Recall a specific time in your life when each statement rang true for you. Remember, it’s not about recalling a time when things were perfect.
- For each affirmation, vividly envision the future goal as already being true. Imagine how your body feels, envision how your life or health will have changed, and how terrific it feels to have achieved something meaningful to you. Use as many of your senses as you can to engage in this imagery.
- Repeat each individual affirmation, silently or out loud. Breathe.
- Set aside a few minutes to meditate on your affirmations each day. You can even record yourself saying each positive statement, and play this back to yourself.