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Creating Positive Affirmations, Do Positive Affirmations Really Work?

Do Positive Affirmations Really Work?

The power of affirmations is a wonderful discussion topic with many facets. Many people are surprised to learn there’s some science behind the practice, but does this truly answer the question as to whether positive affirmations really work? It depends on your perspective, and how you believe various coping mechanisms—such as the right therapy and sobriety support groups—help sustain good health. Let’s take a closer look. 

Positive Affirmations: What Science Indicates

Psychologist Lauren Alexander of the Cleveland Clinic states that “positive affirmations are phrases you can say, either aloud or in your head, to affirm yourself and build yourself up — especially in the midst of difficult situations. They’re a way of helping overcome negative thoughts that can sometimes take over and make you doubt yourself.”

In an article for Positive Psychology, psychologist Catherine Moore notes that the primary theory supporting the practice is one of self-affirmation, and “there are empirical studies based on the idea that we can maintain our sense of self-integrity by telling ourselves (or affirming) what we believe in positive ways.” She cites results from key areas of research, which we provide verbatim: 

  • There is MRI evidence suggesting that certain neural pathways are increased when people practice self-affirmation tasks.
  • When we choose to practice positive affirmations, we’re better able to view  otherwise-threatening information as more self-relevant and valuable.

University of Pennsylvania researchers discovered individuals who repeated self-affirming phrases had physical changes in brain regions associated with self-processing, which ultimately impacted their perspective and, consequently, helped them make positive changes in their behavior. Findings from a joint study conducted by psychologists at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Cornell University indicate that self-affirmations expand our view of who we are and what we can accomplish while also reducing a perceived threat or challenge. 

Moore adds that people use positive affirmations in multiple ways, and there are some noted benefits, including reduced stress, improved academic and professional achievement, lessened worry or rumination, and enhanced health outcomes, to name a few. 

10 Tips for Creating Positive Affirmations 

Not every positive phrase or statement works for each person, as we all have specific ways of increasing motivation and shifting our outlook. But affirmations usually involve a combination of self-reflection, experimentation, and personal resonance. Here are some steps that may help you design statements you find meaningful.

  1. Reflect on areas needing positive change. These could be related to self-esteem, relationships, career, health, or any other aspect of your life.
  2. Be specific. For example, instead of a general affirmation like “I am successful,” you might choose “I am confident and successful in my career as a software engineer.”
  3. Use present tense and “I” statements. This helps to reinforce positive beliefs and encourages your mind to accept them as reality. For example, “I am” or “I have” rather than “I will” or “I want.”
  4. Stay positive. Focus on what you want to achieve rather than what you want to avoid. For example, “I am healthy and vibrant” rather than “I am not sick.”
  5. Personalize them. Choose words and phrases that feel authentic and meaningful based on your beliefs, goals, and values. What works for someone else might not necessarily work for you. “Self-affirmation theory argues that maintaining self-identity isn’t about being exceptional, perfect, or excellent,” Moore says. “Rather, we just need to be competent and adequate in different areas that we personally value in order to be moral, flexible, and good.”
  6. Be realistic. While it’s important to be positive, it’s also crucial to keep your affirmations realistic. Setting unattainable goals can lead to frustration and disappointment. Choose affirmations that stretch you slightly beyond your current comfort zone but are still achievable.
  7. Test them out. Experiment with different affirmations to see which ones resonate most strongly with you. Pay attention to how you feel when you repeat them and whether they have a noticeable impact on your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
  8. Repeat regularly. “If we want to start to make less room for the negative thoughts, we have to intentionally practice positive thoughts,” Alexander says. Set aside time each day to repeat your affirmations, ideally in the morning or before bed when your mind is more receptive to suggestion.
  9. Remain open. Recognize that you might have to adjust or refine your affirmations over time as your goals and circumstances change. 
  10. Trust the process. This might be difficult at first, especially if you’re not used to such a practice. “If you’re typically a negative thinker, it’s not realistic to expect to become a positive thinker overnight,” Alexander says. “Be patient and give it some time to sink in and feel normal.” Sure, it might feel a little weird at first, but you deserve to believe you’re capable of achieving your goals and that your affirmations have the ability to support your journey towards positive change.

The Benefits of Whole-Person Care at Great Oaks

At Great Oaks Recovery Center outside of Houston, Texas, our treatment philosophy incorporates effective evidence-based addiction treatment and long-lasting holistic recovery techniques. Rehabilitation isn’t simply detoxification: our board-certified medical professionals believe in healing the mind, body, and spirit with customized solutions and progressive recovery techniques that help you achieve lasting wellness on your terms. Call us today to learn more about how our approach might work for you.