Affirmations are a powerful tool for improving mental health. If you’ve explored the realm of mindfulness, you’re likely familiar with affirmations and their impact on mindset. Skeptics may cast their doubts, but research has shown that affirmations are effective. I’ve seen the power of affirmations firsthand in myself and in my clients.
Before you begin an affirmation practice, the idea can seem somewhat unnatural. Affirmations ultimately involve talking yourself into believing things that are intangible. Speaking affirmations can seem awkward or even far fetched if you’ve never experienced it for yourself.
So, if you’ve never tried speaking affirmations, it’s something I encourage you to consider. It’s a transformative practice that has so many benefits for your mental health and mindset.
Affirmations are Backed by Psychological Research
An affirmation is a positive phrase, word, or statement that is used to overtake and replace negative thoughts. These phrases can be spoken silently or aloud, and they can be used in a variety of settings.
The concept of affirmations sounds compelling in theory, yet many people wonder if affirmations actually work on a scientific level. The psychological and neurological research points to yes. Positive affirmations have been shown to improve optimism, lower stress, and even improve physical health.
One study from University of Michigan and UCLA found that self-affirmations can create noticeable changes in the brain. The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to find that self-affirming behaviors activate common reward centers in the brain, including the ventral striatum and ventromedial prefrontal cortex. The findings of the study confirmed that self-affirmations create feelings of pleasure which can negate harmful or threatening thoughts.
The study also determined that self-affirmations increase activity in the medial prefrontal cortex and posterior cingulate, which are responsible for self-related processing. When this area of the brain is activated, it has the ability to reduce physical pain and silence negative thoughts or information.
Another report published in Health Psychology Journal looked at the correlation between self-affirmations and smoking. In the study, 87 young smokers were randomly asked to perform self-affirming behaviors or perform a control task before looking at several images used on cigarette packaging.
After reviewing the images, the participants were asked to share their thoughts on subjects like reducing cigarette consumption, their desire to quit smoking, and their vulnerability to smoking-related diseases. One week after the study, the self-affirmed participants rated the images as more threatening and had more motivation to reduce their cigarette consumption compared to individuals in the control group.
Instead of focusing on the narrow threat they saw in the images, the study found that self-affirming behaviors widened the smokers’ perspective and made long-time smokers more open to the idea that smoking is harmful and perhaps they should quit.
How We Can Use Affirmations to Grow
I find that speaking affirmations every morning is a great way to start my day with focus and clarity. I also use affirmations throughout my day when I’m starting to feel anxious or just need a little boost.
Positive affirmations stem from a psychological concept called self-affirmation theory, and this theory was coined by Claude Steele in the 1980s. It’s the idea that when our self-image is threatened, we as humans inherently want to affirm our self-esteem. Ultimately, we want to excel in certain areas that we personally believe are important to success and happiness.
One of the best ways to improve self-esteem when our self-identity is threatened is to speak positive affirmations. Repeating positive words and phrases can improve our sense of self-worth and boost self-image when we feel like a part of our being is under threat.
Perceived threats narrow the perspective we have of ourselves and the world around us. Speaking positive affirmations broadens our point of view and allows us to transform negative thoughts into more positive beliefs that reinforce self-perception.
Examples of Positive Affirmations
The beauty of affirmations is in their simplicity. You can speak your affirmations whenever and wherever you want to. No one has to know when you’re doing it. There’s no right or wrong way to practice your affirmations, and you get to choose what your affirmations are. Some examples of affirmations are…
- I can accomplish anything I set my mind to.
- I am worthy of love and kindness.
- I turn challenges into opportunities for growth.
- I am here and I am present at every moment.
- Even though I am feeling (fill in the blank) I love and accept myself fully and completely.
Affirmations work by changing your mindset and altering the way you think and feel about certain situations. For instance, if you’re feeling anxious and overwhelmed, repeating the mantra “I am here and I am present at every moment” can remind your brain to slow down and focus on what’s in front of you.
If you’re feeling frustrated, repeating the phrase, “I turn challenges into opportunities for growth” can change the way you feel about difficult situations. Instead of letting frustration or anger consume you, repeating the affirmation allows you to reframe the feeling and let go of the negativity.
Affirmations have so many benefits. They can be used to improve your motivation, boost your confidence, and promote positive thinking. When you repeat affirmations consistently, your subconscious mind starts to believe those thoughts. That can completely transform your mindset and uplift your entire being.
We’ve all heard the idea that anything is possible with positive thinking. I’m a firm believer in that statement, but more so, I believe in the science that backs it up. A consistent affirmation practice can help you overcome negative thinking, which creates space for happiness, confidence, and success to flourish. Don’t be tempted to give in to the threats we experience as human beings on a daily basis. Commit to an affirmation practice and watch how your subconscious mind soaks up the positive thoughts you feed yourself.
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