Positive Affirmations- the Science, the Efficacy and the Practice

"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so," William Shakespeare

Have you ever felt like you needed a confidence boost and proceeded to pep talk yourself with statements like “I can do this” or “Yes, this is hard but I can get through this”? In these situations, you are most likely using positive affirmations. Yes, at the first glance it can seem a little absurd to think “I am awesome” all the time, but the fact remains: positive affirmations are backed by science and have proven efficacy. Although affirmations are the act of affirming something and can be either positive or negative, it is more beneficial to engage in positive affirmations rather than negative ones.


The essay will elucidate a short and easy-to-understand overview of why positive affirmations, when practiced consistently, work the way they do, the benefits of doing so and how can we become more effective in the practice of positive self-affirmations.


Why do they work?


Are there any scientific explanations for why positive affirmations work? Yes. Positive affirmations work by helping us reprogram our subconscious mind and encouraging us to make positive changes in our lives and surroundings. When we subconsciously think about something, it takes us closer to achieving it. This is in line with the self-affirmation theory of psychology, which says that the way we construct our personal narratives, i.e. the way we think about ourselves, influences our identity. If we construct ourselves as being flexible, moral, and capable of adapting to different circumstances, we will become that. Furthermore, as we have control over our self-identities, we can also mold ourselves to accept different versions of success through positive affirmations, rather than sticking to only one definition of success. Secondly, according to self-affirmation theory, sustaining one's self-identity is not about being unique, flawless, or outstanding (Cohen & Sherman, 2014). Rather, we just need to be competent and adequate in different areas that we personally value to be moral, flexible, and good (Steele, 1988). Lastly, self-affirmations help us maintain our integrity and authenticity because we start acting in consistent ways with our affirmations.




Positive affirmations remind individuals of psycho-social resources that extend beyond a specific threat, which allows them to focus on sources of positive self-worth that transcend the threat, i.e. the feeling of “My worth is not defined by the difficulties I am facing currently.” When we think like this, our reaction to difficult situations is not adverse, thereby protecting us. In the face of adversity, positive affirmations direct our focus to our sources of positive value; help us engage our reward systems which mostly include the brain regions of the ventral striatum (VS) and ventral medial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC; Bartra et al., 2013.). Another way this self-transcendence takes place is by focusing on our positive self-worth, by looking past the immediate situation with a reflection on our personal attributes like personal successes. Moreover, whatever existing psycho-social resources we have to deal with a situation, positive affirmations help us in using those existing resources more effectively and wisely (Sherman, 2013).


Much like exercise, positive affirmations raise the level of feel-good hormones and push our brains to form new clusters of “positive thought” neurons. So, when we feel good about ourselves and have a positive attitude, our lives tend to run smoothly, attracting good things along the way. Naturally, by solely dwelling on negative affirmations, we start engaging in self-defeating behavior, which hampers us in the long run. When we speak to the subconscious mind (whether intentionally or not), it receives the information, and then it tells the conscious mind what to (or not to) do.


It is expected that as human beings, we will wallow in our negative thoughts and feelings from time to time, but the idea is to not let them overpower our potential to do great things and us.

How do they help?


The key to successful affirmation is repeating them consistently. They are also written down or thought of only in the first person. They carry an emotional charge, i.e. they contain emotional words that can stir you to action. Importantly, they are thought of or written down in the present tense, For example, “My ability to conquer my challenges is limitless.” So, what are some of the benefits of daily positive affirmations? Affirmations make us more resilient to difficulties when they arise. Whether it is social pressures, health information that makes us feel uncomfortable, or feelings of exclusion, a broader self-concept can be an extremely helpful thing to have.


As per a new Carnegie Mellon University study, self-affirmations can buffer us from the negative effects of stress on problem-solving skills. They are especially beneficial if we want to raise our confidence before performances or presentations, control negative feelings such as frustration, anger, or impatience, and improve our self-esteem. They can also be used when we embark on a project and suddenly feel negative energy overcoming us. Positive affirmations can also help us in building good habits and improving our productivity. Simply put, whenever we need that extra push to complete the last bit of our task, or an extra “oomph” to just get up from our beds and get through our day, positive affirmations can work wonders.

Needless to say, positive affirmations do not claim to be the sole treatment for clinical depression or similar psychological disorders, but they surely can make a difference in how we feel about ourselves and our capabilities and are often inculcated in therapeutic practices to form a stronger sense of self and improve self-esteem.


Start with simple positive affirmations


Some simple positive affirmations are listed below. This list is in no way exhaustive and our affirmations can be tailored to suit us and our needs.

  • I'm the creator of my life; I lay the groundwork and pick the content.

  • Today I am teeming with vitality and delight.

  • I have plenty of creativity for this project.

  • I can do this!

  • I am blessed.

  • Today, I abandon my bad habits and take up new, more positive ones.

  • Many people look up to me and recognize my worth; I am admired.

  • I need to try a little harder, I will surely succeed next time

  • I have come this far, now I will not give up.

  • Think of the day when you will finally achieve what you are working so hard for.

  • Times are hard, but I will get through this.

  • No one is allowed to tell me how I should feel

  • I am content, I am enough.

  • I do not need to be perfect all the time.

  • It’s okay to have a not-okay day.

  • I accept myself the way I am.

  • I am not defined by my failures.




Conclusion


Remember, affirmations are not narcissistic. Also, the aim of this essay was not to reiterate that one can positively affirm their way out of poverty, discrimination, or other social evils (being unaware of a person’s socio-economic reality has never played out in anyone’s favour) but to send a message that positive affirmations can help us in whatever stage our life is in, or whatever our social location is. They help us in growing and flourishing and in turn, have a positive impact on our loved ones and surroundings. They teach us to be kind to ourselves, especially in hard times, and when we begin believing in our endless potential but at the same time not push ourselves too hard, we can strike a positive balance in our lives and rise above all odds. So, the next time you feel awkward in using positive affirmations, remember that these small statements can change your whole day.



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Unwired India is a neurotech-startup that aims at integrating state-of-the-art research and developments in STEM, for catalyzing the transition of Neuroscience to Neurotechnology. We develop avant-garde non-invasive neurostimulation products used to solve some of the world’s most critical global issues and challenges. Our mission is to take cutting-edge brain research directly into the lives and homes of people, thereby fostering a unique culture of sustainable neuroscience and scientific literacy in India.


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A friendly reminder: We've done our research, but you should too! Check our sources against your own and always exercise sound judgment.


Moore, Catherine (2021). Positive Affirmations: Is there science behind it? http://www.positivepsychology.com/ 

Lively, Kathryn J (2014). Affirmations: The Why, What, How, and What If?. Psychology Today.

Obidya McXherm, Ayomide (2020). The Power Of Affirmation: Creating An Illusion Of Positive Thinking. 

Cascio et al.(2016). Self-affirmation activates brain systems associated with self-related processing and reward and is reinforced by future orientation. Oxford University Press.

Picture credits- Pinterest


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About The Author


Priyambada Kashyap


Program Trainee, The Aryabhata-Shankara Neurotech Society (Unwired India)


Hailing from Assam, India, Priyambada Kashyap is a neurotech aspirant, who feels her life should have a perfect balance of everything in the universe from dance to academics. Pursuing her major in Psychology, every step of the way, she wonders about the various ways humans are influenced in their daily lives, as well as how embedded we really are in our social context. Her fascination lies in researching various psychological phenomena around counseling psychology, social psychology, biopsychology, educational psychology, political science, history, political psychology, and even a tad bit of philosophy.








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