The Power of Positive Affirmations
Changing your mindset & rewiring your brain
Our brains are neuroplastic, meaning that they can change over time. Cognitive science & positive psychology shows reciting self affirmations to ourselves, can train our brain to think differently by building 'positive pathways' in your brain.
This is when we actively change our thoughts and focus our attention on pleasant thoughts and experiences. When we replace negative messages with positive statements, we can construct more adaptive, hopeful narratives about who we are and what we can accomplish. When you recite affirmations, you train your brain to think this way more automatically.
Self-affirmation helps change the balance of neural activity. Self-affirmation theory (Steel 1988) also suggests self-affirmations help you solidify a narrative about yourself as being capable and able to adapt to various circumstances (Cohen & Sherman, 2014). Neuroscientific evidence has shown that positive self talk and affirmations can help you decrease stress (Critcher & Dunning, 2015). Situations that may seem threatening can actually seem valuable, especially if we're processing information about ourselves.(Cscio et al, 2016).
Affirmations work in a similar way as anti depressants such as Zoloft, (SSRI) which alters brain connectivity and over time creates new connections in the brain by boosting production of a serotonin, which is thought to boost mood. We know thinking happy memories boosts serotonin, and positive self-reflection in general likely has the same effect on increasing serotonin activity. While affirmations shouldn't be a replacement for medication, they can work alongside it for better results.
Choosing your Affirmations
Its important to choose affirmations that fit with your inner dialogue and what you want to work on. When people with low self-esteem recite positive affirmations, they actually feel worse (Wood, Perunovic, & Lee, 2009) so may benefit from ones that focus on gratitude instead. You may choose to use:
- positive affirmations to motivate yourself
- encourage positive changes in your life,
- boost your self-esteem
Or if you frequently find yourself getting caught up in negative self-talk, positive affirmations can be used to combat these often subconscious patterns and replace them with more adaptive narratives.
When trying them for the first time, saying things like “I love me” whilst looking into a mirror can feel awkward and silly, but after time it leaves you feeling more self-accepting, confident and resilient.
Easiest way to start is to create a routine and set a time every day, like first thing in the morning which can set the tone for the start of the day.
Positive affirmations require regular practice if you want to make lasting, long-term changes to the ways that you think and feel. The good news is that practice and popularity of positive affirmations is based on widely accepted and well-established psychological theory.
Sources: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/prefrontal-nudity/201312/thats-affirmative; https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/the-guest-room/200911/the-danger-self-affirmation; https://positivepsychology.com/daily-affirmations/