Do Affirmations Really Work?

Today I am A Lioness…Honestly!

by Paula Gardner

There are plenty of coaches and experts out there telling us to use affirmations to build confidence and help us get what they want. But, do they really work?

First off, what exactly is an affirmation? The dictionary says something along the lines of “a statement that is true.” The popular thinking behind using affirmations is that if we say them often enough then we begin to accept them as our truth.  What many people don’t know is that there are intrinsic and extrinsic affirmations. The first, intrinsic affirmations, are all about the core self, such as “I am a good person”, “I am brave,” “I am assertive.” The second, extrinsic affirmations, are about deeds and behaviour. So, “I can run this race easily,” would be an example.

Which affirmations work?

Research suggests that the first type, referring to our core selves, have more influence and effect than the second. These were tested in situations that included maths and subtraction tests and circumstances that were socially threatening. One reason this might be is because of something called “cognitive dissonance.” This means that you may unconsciously disbelieve that you can run the race easily, and so no amount of affirming that you will is going to have an effect. However, telling yourself that you are kind or brave does make sense, because you have some experiences of being brave, of being kind.

There’s a lot of research out there that links affirmations with reduced stress and a more positive self-image as well as quicker problem-solving. In short, you can probably think of any challenging situation and there’s an affirmation that can be used.

What do we think?

There’s really no downside to experimenting with affirmations so why not try it and see! Choose one affirmation that’s intrinsic, so about your inherent qualities rather than something you are going to do. Practise this as often as possible: while you’re waiting for the bus, cleaning your teeth, doing your downward dog. You don’t have to say it aloud; you can repeat it in your head if more appropriate. Give it a period of time so you can evaluate it and journal around it. How does it make you feel after one day? What about after one week?

It can impact you in other ways too. One side effect that you may experience is a feeling of calmness, as your affirmation becomes almost like a chant. It can be soothing in its repetition, in the same way as a prayer bracelet.

Tips for writing your affirmations:

  • Keep it short
  • Keep it positive
  • Chose something that resonates and feels right for you.

I particularly like my lioness affirmation because it resonates with me as a mother, with my ferocious protective streak. On top of everything else, it makes me smile.

Want to read about it in action?

Here’s an interesting story by someone who says affirmations saved his life. Kamal Ravikant used the affirmation “I love myself”, as well as some other easily adopted actions, as a way to lift himself out of depression and back into good physical and mental health. You can check out his book here.

 

References

Creswell JD, Dutcher JM, Klein WMP, Harris PR, Levine JM (2013) Self-Affirmation Improves Problem-Solving under Stress. PLoS ONE 8(5): e62593. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0062593

J SchimelJ Arndt, KM Banko, A Cook  Not all self-affirmationswere created equal: The cognitive and social benefits of affirming the intrinsic (vs. extrinsic) self. Social Cognition, 2004, Guilford Press