Positive affirmations have become fashionable with the spread of Positive Psychology, although in reality they have their origin in self-help books, being Louise L. Hay one of its main proponents. Without a doubt, positive phrases are a valid tool to counter recurring toxic thoughts and destructive self-criticism, but to notice a true change, it is necessary to formulate and use them properly. Otherwise, they may end up doing more harm than good.
What are positive affirmations exactly?
Positive affirmations are basically a simple self-help method through which we try to generate a certain mental state that allows us to better face the challenge that lies ahead.
They are simple statements that combat negative mentality and destructive self-criticism to generate a more positive attitude that allows us to focus on our strengths. Positive affirmations, therefore, have a motivating action. They can help us clear up doubts, overcome fear and see the more positive side of life or of ourselves.
However, positive affirmations are not magic. That means that they will not make the things we want to happen, it is necessary to carry out a deeper psychological work to change our mentality and strive to achieve the objectives that we have set for ourselves, becoming the person we want to be.
What are positive affirmations for?
Positive affirmations serve to challenge negative, intrusive, and unhelpful thoughts that often get in our way or make us feel bad. These phrases help us to reconnect with our potential and positive qualities, aspects that we don’t usually see when we feel frustrated, overwhelmed or stressed. They are a breath of motivation.
In practice, they help us deal with our negative inner dialogue by contrasting its statements to bring to light that other facet that we usually take for granted and to which we do not pay enough attention. In fact, a study carried out at the University of California verified the power of positive affirmations to make positive changes in our lifestyle. These researchers found that people who use self-affirmation phrases remain more firm in their path to follow a healthy diet.
Another research conducted at the University of Texas found that positive affirmations reduce our defensive response to self-threats. In other words, when we are in situations that we perceive as threatening, such as a moral dilemma, performance expectations that are too high, or an attack on our core values, self-affirmation drastically attenuates our defensive biases and promotes a change in attitude.
When we are involved in situations that threaten our ego, we tend to adopt a defensive attitude. However, positive affirmations have the power to calm us down and give us security, so we become more tolerant and can better deal with those circumstances without perceiving them as a threat.
As a result, positive affirmations help us stress less. In fact, they are particularly effective at preventing catastrophizing thoughts from making stress worse by helping us broaden our perspective.
The power of positive affirmations: is it as big as they say?
Positive affirmations do not have unlimited power, although they are an effective tool in some circumstances. Neuroscientists at the University of California, for example, found that they can actually activate our brain’s reward system and influence how we experience emotional pain. When the reward system is activated, stress is relieved, which can help us overcome difficulties.
Another study conducted at the Beijing Institute of Psychology found that much of the power of positive affirmations comes from the reassurance and security they provide us. When we assert ourselves, we reduce emotional stress, which increases our cognitive resources and helps us better deal with adversity and uncertainty.
Positive affirmations remind us that our psychosocial resources extend beyond the specific threat we are exposing ourselves to, allowing us to focus on sources of positive self-esteem and transcend adversity. That reduces our reactivity to threat and protects psychological well-being.
However, positive affirmations are not a panacea. We cannot lie to ourselves. Repeating ourselves that we are the most secure person in the world will not make us the most secure person in the world. Therefore, for these types of statements to be effective, they must first and foremost be credible.
It is also convenient that they are oriented to the future, instead of reflecting the past. For example, it is more effective and motivating to tell ourselves “I have enough strength to go on” than “I have already dealt with this type of situation”. Future-oriented positive affirmations have been shown to activate brain regions involved in processing our self-image and help us imagine positive rather than negative future events, allowing us to anticipate potential rewards.
In any case, we should know that positive affirmations will not work if we do not get down to work. Wanting something is not enough to get it. We can repeat motivating phrases, but we must be the ones to put them into practice.
It is also important to mention that positive affirmations do not help people who have mental health problems, since in such cases it is necessary to address the underlying problem. When positive affirmations are disconnected from reality and do not have a change plan to support them, they can generate states that are contrary to the one you want to achieve, marked by emotions such as frustration and the feeling of failure. If you repeat an impossible phrase to yourself, such as “I will achieve anything I want,” and you don’t have a solid action plan, failures may end up further undermining your self-esteem and self-efficacy.
20 short positive affirmations that you can turn into your personal mantra
Talking to yourself in a kind and positive way can make a big difference in your life. That does not mean that you will achieve everything you set out to do or that the obstacles in your path will vanish, but you will be able to face adversity better and, therefore, respond in a more resilient way.
Some examples of short positive affirmations that you can use in your day to day are:
1. I deserve love and respect
2. I trust my potential
3. I have enough strength to overcome this problem
4. I believe in myself
5. I have the right to be happy
6. I feel satisfied with myself
7. I have the right to prioritize myself and say ‘no’
8. I can work hard to achieve my goals
9. I am grateful to have people in my life who appreciate me and whom I appreciate
10. I give myself permission to make mistakes
11. I listen to my intuition
12. I am going to find my balance
13. I pay attention to the signals my body sends
14. My past does not define me
15. I am much more than my failures and mistakes
16. I prioritize calm
17. I am at the point where I have to be
18. I will strive every day to do my best
19. Every challenge is an opportunity to grow
20. I can overcome my fears
Repeating these positive affirmations is helpful, but make sure they are not empty but have meaning for you at the time in life you are going through. The most powerful positive phrases are those that make an emotional resonance within us.
Of course, you should also come up with a plan to bring those claims to life. You can incorporate them into your life as a habit, using them as a personal mantra, but don’t forget that in the end it all comes down to treating yourself with compassion, fostering positive self-talk, and dealing with problems with confidence. Positive affirmations are just a reminder of that.
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Dutcher, J. M. et. Al. (2016) Self-Affirmation Activates the Ventral Striatum: A Possible Reward-Related Mechanism for Self-Affirmation. Psychological Science; 27(4).
Cascio, C. N. et. Al. (2016) Self-affirmation activates brain systems associated with self-related processing and reward and is reinforced by future orientation. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci; 11(4): 621–629.