Positive Affirmations: This Self-Talk Can Change the Way You Think
Ever said something to yourself that you wanted to believe—and the act of saying it helped you feel more confident and prepared? You may have been saying a positive affirmation.
If you’ve never heard the term before, a positive affirmation is a statement or phrase you can say to yourself that helps you challenge and overcome negative thoughts. Also called self-affirmations, these statements tend to focus on positive traits, values, and skills and are both “believable and vivid,” according to the American Psychological Association. Often, these statements reaffirm a person’s resourcefulness, resilience, and self-worth.
As an example, someone facing the stressors of new parenthood may use the following positive affirmation: “I have everything it takes to succeed in my role as a parent.”
According to Krista Jordan, Ph.D., a board-certified clinical psychologist in Austin, Texas, there can be many benefits of positive affirmations, including:
- Increasing your overall sense of well‑being
- Improving problem-solving ability
- Decreasing stress
- Decreasing rumination (getting stuck on repetitive negative thoughts)
- Helping with behavior change
- Improving academic performance
- Promoting physical activity
So, how exactly does this type of positive self-talk have such a positive impact on your mental health and well‑being? Here’s what the research says, plus tips for an effective self-affirmation practice.
The Research on Positive Affirmations
The benefits of positive affirmations used in real-time can be immense, says Dee O’Neill, a licensed professional counselor and board-certified fellow in neurofeedback. In some cases, you may not notice these changes right away, but they can be effective; research suggests that using positive affirmations may affect activity in certain brain regions associated with reward.
According to O’Neill, as soon as you change your thinking to be more productive through positive affirmation, the activity in the emotional part of the brain decreases. Meanwhile, the language regions and more strategic parts of your brain become more activated, O’Neill says. When this happens, some of the most noticeable benefits include a calmer, cooler, and more collected frame of mind.
Other research supports the benefits of positive affirmations, as well.
For example, research published in PloS One in 2013 found that people who were chronically stressed who used self-affirmations could increase their ability to solve problems in the face of stress. In fact, the participant group that experienced high levels of stress and used self-affirmations performed at the same level as participants who experienced low stress levels, suggesting that self-affirmations may actually act like a buffer against stress.
In terms of behavior change, self-affirmations may be effective because they tap into people’s motivation to maintain their self-integrity. For example, if you say that you are a person who chooses healthy behaviors that support your physical and emotional well‑being, like eating healthy foods, you'll likely be motivated to match your actions to those words, research suggests.
Tips for Choosing Affirmations
Positive affirmations are personal. While finding affirmations that feel right to you may take time, making them applicable to your life will make them feel more authentic. Overall, beneficial affirmations tend to be positive, but they can also be neutral if that feels more helpful and attainable in your circumstances. The main objective is to steer clear of the negative.
Tricia Johnson, a licensed clinical social worker in Libertyville, Illinois, recommends a five-step process for choosing affirmations:
- Choose one area of your life where you'd like to make a change.
- Make your affirmation short and something that’s easy to remember. Here’s a good example of a positive affirmation: "I believe in the person I am becoming."
- Keep the focus of the affirmation in the present tense and add emotion to the affirmation to give it more power. For instance: "I am excited about this journey and capable of amazing things."
- Ensure that your affirmations are positive statements. Place the focus on the person you want to become. For example, if you sometimes feel a lack of control, you might use the affirmation "I am in charge of my life."
- Believe in your affirmation, and you will be able to take powerful steps on your journey to personal growth.
Examples of Positive Affirmations
If you need some inspiration, the following list can help get you started. Use these as is, or as a jumping-off point for your own personalized affirmations.
- I am worthy of my success.
- I believe in myself.
- I am good enough.
- I feel strong and powerful.
- I am grateful for the people in my life.
- I have the power to change.
- My life is full of potential.
- I am worthy of love.
- I have value.
- I trust in my ability to make decisions.
- My emotions have purpose and value.
Tips for Your Positive Affirmation Practice
Taking these steps may help you reap the most benefit from your positive affirmations:
Choose something believable. “Positive affirmations need to be within the realm of possibility for the subconscious mind to accept,” Jordan says, adding that over time, as a person’s self-esteem improves, they can increase the level of positivity of the statements.
Practice daily. The frequency of your practice also matters. “The more often you can use the statements, the more likely they are to have a beneficial impact on you,” Jordan says. Try building a daily habit. You don’t need to devote a lot of time to make it work. Even just a few minutes each day of positive self-talk can make a difference in your outlook.
Write them down. It’s also a good idea to make a habit of writing your affirmations down—doing so may help them “stick” so that you truly believe them. Consider combining a daily affirmation journal with a gratitude journal (where you write down things you’re grateful for, big and small) for maximum benefits.
Pick a favorite. According to O’Neill, it may help to have a standing word or phrase that you find calming and that helps you reset. For example, she uses “I got this” as a way to redirect and be more mindful in the moment, instead of worrying about a past stressor or anticipating a poor future outcome. “By intentionally and deliberately directing your focus and attention to the present moment, you can reset your physiology and psychology,” she says.
Combine it with your breath. O’Neill also recommends drawing your attention to a few deep, slow breaths while reciting an affirmation. Since your brain can only hold one thought in your mind at a time, the focus on breathing redirects from negative thinking or other stressors, she says.
Remember, There Are Other Tools, Too
While positive affirmations are a valuable tool, Johnson points out that they aren't a magic wand guaranteed to make negative thoughts and feelings disappear.
“It's important not just to add positive affirmations, but to also learn about the full scope of feelings that you are experiencing,” she says. It’s healthy to acknowledge and feel the variety of your feelings—so before attempting to change or alter any negative feelings you may be having, it may be a good idea to talk with a mental health professional who can help guide you.
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