Do Positive Affirmations Work?

Do Positive Affirmations Work?

9 June 2016

Most of us are familiar with the concept of affirmations. If we say or think something often enough, then we can re-program our beliefs and behaviours. We’ve probably all tried it at some stage. Some people have had fantastic success with the technique yet others see no results at all and soon give up.

Often, the reason we don’t have the desired results is that we haven’t fully grasped how they work or how to choose the right words.


How do affirmations work?

Our minds are gullible creatures; they believe everything they hear - especially if the message being sent is backed up by a strong emotion or if it is send often enough. The problem is that it can’t distinguish between positive messages and negative ones.

So if we keep hearing things like, “You are so clumsy”, or “You’ll never be any good at sport” it is no surprise that we come to see them as true. The same goes for statements like, “You are so clever”, or “You are a great dancer”. Messages like these lay the groundwork for our state of mental health and behaviour as we grow.

That little voice in your head fires messages like these around all the time. It is always telling us what we should and shouldn’t do based on past events. The trouble is that it can get stuck on repeat if the same things keep happening, so your thought patterns re-inforce your behaviour and vice-versa.

The good news is that when we consciously change these thought patterns we can create more desirable outcomes. We can give that little voice some new phrases to churn around in there which can have an almost magical effect on our self-esteem, behaviour and perception of the world.


How to make affirmations more effective and powerful

To create affirmations that really help improve our mental health, we need to understand a few simple principals.

Firstly, the mind doesn’t take in every single word we tell it, it skips over the small stuff and holds onto the juicy bits. For example, if we tell ourselves “I don’t want a cigarette”, it only hears “want cigarette”.

So when you draft your affirmations, phrase them so they desire a positive outcome instead of not wanting a negative outcome. Throw that word ‘not’ right out of your vocabulary. Also chose phrases that resonate with you. Don’t just pick the catchiest ones from your facebook feed.

Poor examples:

  • “I’m not too bad”
  • “I don’t want to be in debt”
  • “I won’t make that mistake again”
  • “I’m trying to stop being such a coward”

Excellent examples:

  • “I am improving all the time”
  • “I have the ability to manage money well”
  • “I have learned from the past and it has made me stronger”
  • “I believe in myself”


Say it with feeling

The second key to making your affirmations work for you is to link them to emotion. While our brains may be gullible, they are also great at multi-tasking. One area of the brain in particular, the hippocampus, plays a major role in processing our emotions, learning and memories.

Flick back through your memories. The ones that come to mind first are always those that have the strongest emotions attached to them, positive or negative. It might be the embarrassment you felt having that daggy haircut in the school photo, the colour of the sea on that fun beach holiday or the anger you felt when your parents separated.

When you pick the words to use in an affirmation, chose ones that you can attach a strong emotion to. So when you say “I believe in myself”, feel that surge of confidence coming from deep inside you and wrapping around you like a warm blanket. Or for words like “becoming better”, “improving” and “strong” (especially in relation to health), feel the power burning through your muscles and veins.


Say it often

The more you repeat an affirmation, the more likely it is to sink in. There is no set number of repeats that works for everyone. A lot depends on the strength of any negative thought patterns you are trying to counter-act. If they are ingrained from your childhood, it may take many months for you to neutralise the negative emotions and replace them with your opposing positive ones. It is ok to change the wording of your affirmations as you go, just keep going and the benefits will come.


Use the present tense

The best way to make our minds see affirmations as real is to state them in the ‘here and now’. Instead of saying “I will be successful when…” switch to “I am successful”.


Make it real

Many studies have shown that when we connect a new concept to some sort of physical movement, it adds yet another dynamic to our neural pathways that helps us to retain the information. A simple way to do this is to link your affirmation to a specific physical action like clapping, clicking your fingersyour breathing.

Try thinking the phrase “I believe in myself” while taking a breath deep into your lungs, then repeat it while slowly exhaling. You could repeat this in your head while walking to the bus stop or even doing the ironing.

Many people find writing their affirmations regularly by hand really helps to bring the message home. The physical act of writing helps to hard-wire information into memory. (Remember all those years of copying important words or sums from the blackboard into your schoolbooks?)

At first, it may be tempting to stop doing your positive affirmations if you don’t see results quickly; however, if you really do want to make changes in your life, try to harness that desire and use it to help you keep going. When you do start to see changes, your sense of achievement can be even more motivating.

Here are some more examples you can adapt for your own needs:

  • Every day in every way I get better and better
  • I am thankful for everything I have and I am.
  • I am in charge of my life.
  • I deserve whatever good comes my way today.
  • The partner I seek is also seeking me.
  • I always have enough money to suit my needs.
  • I think, act and communicate like a leader.
  • There is a benefit and an opportunity in every experience I have.
  • I am a better person due to the challenges I’ve faced.
  • I am unique and have so much to offer this world.


Over to you

What do you think about positive affirmations? Have they worked for you in the past and what are some of the affirmation you used.

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