“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.” – Albus Dumbledore (J. K. Rowling)
Most of us are aware of those lines, aren’t we? Drawing from that, let’s agree that words have power. In our muggle world too! Often more than what we could imagine, when we use them. But the point is, are we harnessing that power for a better life, for better relationships, for a better version of ourselves?
We are talking about Positive Affirmations today.
*What are they?
*Do they work?
*If yes how?
*What do we use them for?
*What they are not for?
*How can we use them?
*Are there any hacks?
*What affirmations to use?
And if that array of questions is making you anxious already, you might be scrolling in the right content now!
Ok so let’s get to them step by step
∆ What are Positive Affirmations?
These are brief phrases, repeated frequently, which are designed to encourage positive, happy feelings, thoughts, and attitudes.
Put simply, they are statements that challenge negative, self-sabotaging, thoughts and allows a more adaptive and helpful way of looking at things.
But honestly, the idea of repeating some ego boosting statements can seem weird. Which brings us to the question does Positive Affirmations really work?
∆ Do they work? How?
Yes. Not by magic but by scientifically proven ways.
The two key psychological theories in this regard are
✓Self affirmation Theory
Let’s talk a bit about both of them.
In its most basic form Neuroplasticity proposes that, ‘How we use our brains, will alter our brains’. Thinking patterns – both positive and negative – run certain “pathways or track” into our brain. The more we use the same track, the deeper, automatic, and easier it gets. Thus, what we practice, we become. And that’s why and how affirmations work. They will create “positive tracks” or thinking patterns and alter the negative ones.
When we are able to deal with negative messages and replace them with positive statements, we can construct more adaptive, helpful narratives about who we are and what we can accomplish. This could well be associated with a cognitive restructuring.
Another key psychological theory behind positive affirmations is Self-affirmation Theory. It focuses on how individuals adapt to information or experiences that are threatening to their self-concept. Through self-affirmation, we keep up a global narrative about ourselves. In this narrative, we are flexible, moral, and capable of adapting to different circumstances. This makes up our self-identity (Cohen & Sherman, 2014).
There is MRI evidence suggesting that certain neural pathways are increased when people practice self-affirmation tasks. The ventro medial pre frontal cortex (VMPFC), the specific brain region involved in positive valuation and self-related information processing—becomes more active when we consider our personal values.
∆ what do we use Positive Affirmations for?
So now that we know this thing is not just a psychobabble and has a scientific background, let’s chart out the areas of our lives that they can help us with. And if you come to think of it really, it is pretty much everything! From boosting self-confidence, to good eating habits, sleep patterns, managing depression, anxiety, improving academic performance, the benefits of practicing positive affirmations are copious.
∆ What they are not for
✓ they do not replace clinical treatment of a diagnosed mental health condition like anxiety and depression
✓ they do not work without practice –
Just as physical excercise requires practice to build muscles and stamina, understanbly it requires time and consistency to ‘rewire’ our brain pathways.
✓ they do not work equally well for all people
Now here’s the bit of irony. Positive affirmations are often found to work best for people with more than average self esteem. One reason of this might be the fact that the positive statements that we say to ourselves must be more or less aligned to our core beliefs and attitudes. For example if a temperamentally pessimistic person is asked to say positive statements like ‘ I am awesome, I can achieve anything’ , that is not really going to reap great results. So the essence is staying more authentic and synchronous to oneself and using phrases that are more egosyntonic.
∆ How to use them?
✓ practicing them repeatedly and consistently so that they become a habit
✓a good start would be 3-5 minutes per day. An effective way to establish the habit is to pair it with an existing habit (behavioural cue). For example you can say/read/look at these positive statements when going to bed or getting up in the morning, as you brush your teeth or get dressed.
✓combine it with other approaches like goal setting and visualisation.
✓ be consistent and patient.
∆ Are there any hacks?
Well if you think for yourself, there should be no short cuts to success. However, a few tacts might help affirmations to works better for people who are low on self esteem.
✓ Examples can be
Instead of : I am beautiful. I love myself
Try : I am learning to accept me as I am.
Instead of : Every day is going to be amazing.
Try : I have good days and bad days. Today is an Ok day.
Using neutral sentences. Reframing statements with questions and projecting them in future and making them more reality based, allows our brain to bypass the confrontation and collision of unrealistic and egodystonic thoughts. Instead a new path of neutrality develops that helps us to give our narrative a far more adaptive spin.
∆What Affirmations to use
1) Make them up yourself!
Honestly it is the best way. Get creative. But make sure you frame statements that align with your beliefs and address what is valueable to you.
2) Turn to Google!
3) Get hold of affirmation card decks available in the market.
Just for that headstart here area few examples that might be helpful
•I am exactly where I need to be now
•I focus on what I can change and let go of everything else.
•I accept all my feelings without judgment.
• I am grateful for the kind and loving people in my life.
•I am grateful for all the experiences that make me who I am.
• I open my mind to everything life has to offer.
So that’s that. Hope this read gives you a nudge in a good direction. I personally use a lot of affirmations that I believe in in the form of home decor since a very long time. Small wall hangings, photo frames, posters and other knick knacks. And while I cannot really claim to have found ultimate happiness or to have saved a million in my bank account, I definitely know that these little ‘signs’ do help me in my difficult days especially when I am looking for a direction. Do let us know if and how you practice this habit.