“Success is a process, a quality of mind and way of being, an outgoing affirmation of life.” – Alex Noble
Have you ever noticed how a bad thought can get stuck in your mind, causing you to dwell on it for much longer than intended? People constantly talk to themselves inside their heads. What they say is largely dictated by how they feel, what they are focusing on, and what they are dealing with in life at the time. If they are experiencing a lot of stress or are suffering from anxiety or depression, their internal dialogue is probably negative. If, however, people are experiencing a lot of love, support and care, their internal dialogue is probably a lot more positive. At its core, an affirmation is a statement or proposition that is declared to be true. And, just like with anything else, there are positive and negative affirmations.
What is an Affirmation?
When negative thoughts invade our psyches, they can cause us a great deal of grief, which in turn can grossly impact our confidence, outlook on life, and general wellbeing. And, when we give these negative thoughts enough attention – that is, if we allow them to run rampant in our minds – they can ultimately become self-fulfilling prophecies. This is when a positive affirmation serves as a tool for combating negative thoughts and their effect on the quality of our lives.
“I know what it’s like to feel that fear and the need of affirmation and appreciation. To build confidence in yourself is the toughest thing.”- Shakira
Numerous medical professionals, ranging from mental health providers to general practitioners, agree that using positive affirmations puts control of your mind back in your hands. In other words, you can think of it as self-programming. By being able to choose your thoughts, rather than being a slave to invasive negative ones, you can control your outlook, disposition, actions, and even wellbeing. However, much like with anything else, using affirmations the wrong way can have a negative impact on your wellbeing.
Positive Affirmation vs. Self-Affirmation
It’s hard to imagine that a positive affirmation like, “I’m lovable and people like being around me,” can backfire. But it very well can, if the person saying it does not truly believe it. Instead, the person can unintentionally become preoccupied with thinking of all of the reasons he or she believes they are not lovable and so on. As a result, the effect can be opposite of the desired outcome.
“Affirmation without discipline is the beginning of delusion.”- Jim Rohn
Instead, professionals suggest using self-affirmation techniques, which include engaging in activities that make you feel closer to the message of the actual mantra. For example, if you are feeling lost or without purpose, you can begin a self-affirmation ritual that includes jotting down a list of things or people that you value. Engaging in this activity will remind you of what’s important to you, which in turn can fuel your sense of purpose and drive. Alternatively, if you are feeling unattractive or unwanted, you can begin a self-affirmation ritual involving activities aimed at self-care.
Put simply, the practice of self-affirmation expands the foundation of our self-worth, rather than depends on it.
The Science Behind Self-Affirmations
Now, we realize that this all may sound a bit too good to be true, which is exactly why we decided to break out the science for you.
In 2013, a research team led by J. David Creswell found that by using self-affirmation, people could improve their problem solving skills under pressure. “Our present study suggests that a brief self-affirmation activity is sufficient to buffer the negative effects of chronic stress on task performance and can improve the ability to problem solve in a flexible manner during high stress periods.” In a different study a year later, a research team led by Crystal C. Hall found that: “self-affirmation can mitigate the stigma of poverty through randomized field experiments involving low-income individuals at an inner-city soup kitchen.”
These and other studies are part of a growing collection of research that shows self-affirmation can be an effective, non-invasive and inexpensive way to take control of our thoughts, and thereby, our reality.