Affirmations can change your life for the better. Don’t just take my word for it!
Check out the science behind these wonderful tools.
Do you use affirmations?
I have for years. I am a firm believer in them and while I’ve always known intuitively how they work, it’s nice to see the science behind them.
Even without the hard scientific evidence, anything that feels intuitively right to me is scientific enough!
Affirmations are a powerful tool to transform your life. They work deep within to change your belief system. But before we get into that, let’s have a look at what an affirmation is.
What is an affirmation?
An affirmation is a statement you say to yourself repeatedly. The statement usually starts with the words ‘I am’, and is normally said because you don’t believe the statement and want to change the belief. Or you believe the statement but want to strengthen the belief.
Affirmations are a symbol of hope. You say them because you hope what you are saying becomes true for you.
This hope is now grounded in science.
So what is the science behind affirmations?
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life.
Or in Max Cynader’s words; “neurons that wire together fire together” and “continuity breathes connectivity”. What this means simply is that we can rewire our brains. We can make new neural pathways and we can strengthen the wiring between these pathways.
Watch a very brief video on what neuroplasticity is here from the University of Sydney or a more detailed one here from Dr Max Cynader, Director of the brain research centre in Vancouver.
Our brains are shaped by our thoughts and emotions and what we focus on becomes stronger due to the strengthening of the neural pathways within our brain. Neuroplasticity is like the muscle of the brain that we can work on through repetition. When we think, feel or behave in a certain way often enough it becomes hardwired in our brain. This is how habits are formed.
The brain is like an energy saving system that uses these neural pathways to make a thought, emotion or behaviour more natural and effortless for us. This produces both good and bad results. If your brain has been hardwired for something negative it becomes second nature to you to be like this. And if your brain has been hardwired for something positive, then this too becomes second nature to you.
But the beauty of neuroplasticity is that we can change these neural pathways within our brains and in doing so create new and healthy habits for ourselves.
What we focus on grows stronger
The fuel for neuroplasticity is our focus of attention. What we focus on grows stronger.
You know this yourself. When you give attention to a thought that has passed through your mind it becomes more prominent. That thought then plays out in your mind repeatedly. That thought can become so big, it literally occupies your entire thought process. It does this because it has been given the focus of your attention.
Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist says;
“The more you focus on something — whether that’s math or auto racing or football or God — the more that becomes your reality, the more it becomes written into the neural connections of your brain.”
Another neuroscientist Richard Davidson says;
“You can sculpt your brain just as you’d sculpt your muscles if you went to the gym. Our brains are continuously being sculpted, whether you like it or not, wittingly or unwittingly.”
What’s all this got to do with affirmations?
Neuroscience says that the thoughts that we focus on produces chemicals in our brains that make us feel how we are thinking. So, if you think good thoughts, you feel good about yourself. And if you think bad thoughts, you feel bad about yourself. Whatever you ultimately think and feel leads to how you behave.
Now that doesn’t mean that if you think bad, you feel bad, then you act bad. What it means is that if you think poorly of yourself, you are going to feel quite low in yourself and the behaviour part of this is that you won’t put yourself forward for job promotions, dates, friendship etc.
“Thoughts have a direct connection to your health. Thoughts make a chemical. If you have happy thoughts, then you’re producing chemicals to make your feel how you’re thinking”. Dr. Joseph Dispenza
Affirmations are a positive statement. It’s their repetition that works on breaking old neural pathways and making new ones.
Let’s look at an example of this
Take the issue of self-esteem; it’s the basis for a healthy and fulfilling life. Every woman in the world should be hardwired for healthy self-esteem.
If you suffer with low self-esteem it blocks you from doing many things. You won’t think or feel good about yourself and you won’t behave in the same way as a person who has healthy self-esteem.
This poor way of thinking and feeling about yourself will be hardwired into your brain and coded into your belief system
But we can change how we feel about ourselves. Lasting change comes about when we feel the way we want to feel. It is the feeling that encodes our belief system. And anything that’s coded into our belief system is the dominant force in our life.
You change your belief system through repetition and one such way to do this is through daily affirmations.
Do you need to believe what you are saying?
I’ve read a few times that in order for affirmations to work you need to believe them.
But if you believed what you are saying, you wouldn’t be saying it in the first place!
You are saying affirmations because you don’t believe something to be true. In fact, you’re saying them because the thing you are saying them for is a struggle for you. Yes, you can say affirmations for anything. Even for things you want to attract or for beliefs that you just want to strengthen but the juiciness of an affirmation comes from something you really don’t believe but if it came through your life would change exponentially.
But this comes with a very BIG WARNING!
Watch out for these:
1. Core beliefs
A major reason why affirmations don’t work is if you create an internal battle with a deeply held negative core belief. Our core beliefs are the basis for our life. They effectively run our lives.
Saying an affirmation over a deeply held core belief can create inner conflict and in the end will only stress you out.
Instead of trying to stuff a positive affirmation in a very full box, try pull out the negative core belief. You can do this by asking questions about this core belief. Is it really true? Or is it something you inherited in your formative years? Is there any basis for this belief?
The chances are the answer is no because our beliefs are perceptions based on our worldview. So instead of ignoring your negative core belief, talk about it. Shed light on it. Bring it into your awareness and dive deep into uncovering it. When you realise that there is no real basis for it, you can begin to change this belief.
Often awareness alone is the tool that can transform your life, and then the affirmation is the catalyst to propel you forward. Either way, affirmations shouldn’t be used as a tool to disguise what’s really going on.
Instead use them to assist you in leaping forward with your life and beliefs. But do the hard work if it is required, especially if you find some niggly feeling that just won’t shift. The best tool you can bring to this is awareness.
2. Doing the opposite of your affirmations
Another torn in the side of affirmations is if you say your affirmations at a designated time but switch back into your negative thinking for the rest of the day.
Or if your actions throughout the day do the opposite to your affirmation and make you feel like crap. There’s no point in affirming ‘I have a lovely body’, if you’ve stuffed your face with cream buns all day. Because honestly, that action is just gonna make you feel bad and no amount of affirmations will override those feelings!
Affirmation work to change your feelings, as it’s your feelings that will change your belief system. And it’s your thought that will change the feeling, hence the reason for the affirmation.
But if you are doing something that is the opposite of your affirmation, then you are just overriding your affirmation.
On one hand you are affirming;
‘I have a lovely body’
but on the other hand, while eating a cream bun you are affirming;
‘I have a horrible body’
And the horrible body affirmation will win because this is what you believe anyhow! You are just confirming your negative belief by eating cream buns.
3. Relying solely on affirmations
Affirmations aren’t the saviour of your life. Yes, they will help change things significantly but only in conjunction with other things, particularly if you are looking for transformation.
If you are trying to transform your life, you need to look at the bigger picture and again a healthy dose of awareness of your thoughts throughout the day will go a long way in helping your overall mental and emotional wellbeing.
I’m not necessarily a proponent for positive thinking. For me, it requires too much effort and I’m not sure how healthy it is to think positive thoughts all the time. But what does work, is choosing the positive over the negative. So don’t beat yourself up by thinking you need to walk around high as a kite on happy thoughts!
Most of our thinking is neutral, in that we just get on with our day to day lives. But we use our thoughts as tools to get what we want and create the life we want. So if you are looking to change your life, then you need to become aware of your thoughts. When a negative thoughts pops into your head, don’t pay it attention. Instead, switch out that negative thought for something more positive. That self-talk can appear something like this;
“Ok, negative thought about [how I look/feel etc], I know that you are just a pattern but I’m not entertaining you right now. Instead I am going to ignore you or think something positive or if you really persist I’ll look at you in more detail to uncover your basis and find if you are really true.”
Which you’ll find isn’t because everything is based on perception.
4. Missing the subtlety
The golden treasure of affirmations is their subtlety. But this is also their problem. Most people are expecting something massive to happen and when it doesn’t they complain, miss the subtlety and switch back to their old belief system, with the thought blowing around;
‘that was a load of rubbish…shouldn’t have believed that nonsense in the first place’!
Affirmations won’t work if you miss the subtlety. Don’t be that person who expects a massive outcome and misses the subtlety.
Out of acorns grow mighty oaks
And especially don’t be that person who doesn’t put the effort in and then complains when nothing happens!
Affirmations for self-esteem
Taking all of the above into account and in conjunction with other tools, why don’t you give affirmations a go?
Let’s say you want to try an affirmation for self-esteem. Think about your self-esteem and how it affects you. Write down all the negative responses to how you feel about yourself. Then think about how you would feel if the opposite were true and write these into an affirmative statement. These affirmative statements can also form the basis of other tools you will try for improving your self-esteem.
It’s best if you write your own affirmation or even take what somebody else has written and make it more personal to you.
After you have written your statement, which is your affirmation, say it to yourself. Tweak it until it feels right to you. Then say it.
The trick is to say it a lot. Say it morning, noon and night for weeks or months. Let it become your personal mantra. This may seem like a lot but it’s not really. With repetition you’ll know it off by heart and it will become almost like a song to yourself.
Continue to say your affirmation constantly regardless of whether you believe it or not. Say it every day. Say it until it becomes second nature to you and the words just roll of your tongue. And I can guarantee that one day (hopefully soon) you will believe it.
This is how the affirmation will work.
You say whatever the affirmation is that you want to say and you say it repeatedly. Nothing will change for a while because your old belief system is still in place. But by saying it constantly you are reprogramming your mind with these words. These words are like subtle thoughts and these thoughts act on your feelings. Your feelings then act on your belief system.
But you are unaware of all these subtle changes taking place.
Until one day you are in a fitting room, trying something on and you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and you think to yourself;
‘Wow, I look really well today’
And yes, you are surprised by this because it’s not normally how you think or feel about yourself.
Or you do something that you never normally do, like putting yourself forward for something or going to a social gathering. You notice this small change in you. You don’t know where it came from or how it happened.
It happened because of your affirmation. And if you don’t pay attention to that subtle change you will think the affirmation didn’t work. And yes, it is subtle.
You can’t honestly expect yourself to explode with confidence if you haven’t felt good about yourself. Instead, watch for the subtlety. Take notice of the new good thought or feeling, no matter how small it is. By doing this, your good thought and feeling grows, until it becomes your new norm.
Whatever you pay attention to grows.
If you notice that one little good thought and feeling, then you are making room for more. The more you notice, the more will come. This is how you grow your self-esteem and this is how you encode your belief system.
Affirmations are a great tool for working on self-esteem. And for many other things! But to get the best out of them they should be done in conjunction with other tools required to transform your life. While there is no substitute for therapy or talking issues out with someone, the best help is self-help. Self-help is empowering and affirmations are just one small tool in that big bag of self-help.
In everything that you do in life, practice trust and faith. These go a long way in securing the outcome of any process.
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