Do Affirmations Really Work?
"Remember, you have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens." ~Louise L. Hay, You Can Heal Your Life
Affirmations are positive phrases which you recite to yourself, describing how you want to be. The goal of repeating affirmations is to have the positive messages sink into your subconscious mind and combat those limiting belief systems and replace them with empowering thoughts. This healing technique that dates back to the 1920s , has gained increased popularity in recent years through the attention given by Louise Hay and The Law of Attraction. Popularity aside, Do affirmations really work? Does saying, ‘I am lovable’ when you aren't feeling so wonderful really change your self-perception? I have seen affirmations work in very effective ways but only for those who can train their mind into believing the stated concept.
Affirmations are tools that I have seen work in powerful ways both personally and professionally. However, it’s important to acknowledge that they aren't always effective and in many instances utilizing them can make you feel worse. Joanne Wood and her team at the University of Waterloo published a study in the Journal of Psychological Science. They concluded that “repeating positive self-statements may benefit certain people, such as individuals with high self-esteem, but backfire for the very people who need them the most.”. For many people struggling, repeating statements that feel untrue can reinforce feelings of inadequacy.
While affirmations will not work for everyone, a brain-imaging study published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience has found neural evidence to support why so many will benefit from reciting affirmations. This practice can make us feel good by reminding us of the things in life we cherish and by focusing on the positive, we will diminish the attention and energy we are giving to what isn't working. Likewise, research shows that practicing affirmations can lower the levels of stress hormones in our brains, affecting the Reticular Activating System, the part of our brain that tells us what to pay attention to and what not to. Similar to exercise, affirmations have been shown to increase the ‘feel-good’ hormones and push our brains to form new of positive thought neurons.
There are many self-help tools out there that can help us get through our toughest times. I appreciate using affirmations in conjunction to therapy because affirmations are very simple practices that can quickly allow us to be kinder to ourselves. Since our thoughts are deeply rooted in our unconscious mind, affirmations alone won't solve negative self-perceptions. We must be careful when engaging in utilizing affirmations to recognize that they do have limitations. Reciting affirmations can improve our mood but utilizing them alone without doing the deeper work will not provide us with awareness on the sources of our thoughts or behavior. Therapy can be a really important investment in further delving into why we think the way we do. If you are ready to find the right therapist and want help, please reach out. I'm always happy to connect you with a trained professional who can support you on your journey.
Even though affirmations have certain limitations, I believe they are a worthwhile tool to make a practice in your life. Therefore, I invite you to join me in the 30 day #AprilAffirmation challenge I'm running on Instagram @aimeebarrlcsw. With all going on in the world we really need more kindness. The perfect place to begin practicing kindness is with yourself.
If you want to really get the most value out of utilizing affirmations, please implement the 4 tips I have listed below! Sending everyone much sunshine and bright energy this April. And as always, be kind to yourself.
Tips on Making Affirmations Work For You:
1. Don't lie to yourself. Faking it until you make it doesn't work. As mentioned above, affirmations need to be scripted with total honesty in order for them to work. If you aren't feeling beautiful saying ‘I am beautiful’ won't feel soothing. However you can say, ‘I am being kinder to myself everyday.’ Find something positive to say to yourself that feels true- that's how affirmations will be most effective.
2. Speak the affirmation out loud. There is something powerful about hearing our own voice. Repeat the affirmations for about five minutes three times a day - morning, mid day and evening. Since our negative thoughts are so deeply ingrained, we need help practicing new conversations! Saying new thoughts out loud will help the messages sink into your subconscious mind. For extra credit, look at yourself in the mirror when you repeat your affirmations!
3. Get inspired by writing. For inspiration on what to journal about visit Louise Hay’s website where she has a lot of wonderful examples of affirmations. Journaling and writing your own affirmations can be a wonderful exercise to help get out your emotions and bring greater self awareness. Your words are sacred and I recommend buying a journal that reflects the way you want to feel. Journal about the areas of life that you are committed to seeing personal growth in. If you want help creating your own affirmations, there is an app called Affirmable that lets you easily create your own affirmations and work with them every day.
4. Visualize your success. Research has revealed that mental practices (such as visualization and meditation) are almost as effective as true physical practice, and that doing both is more effective than either alone. Mental imagery impacts many cognitive processes in the brain: motor control, attention, perception, planning, and memory. Therefore, the brain is getting trained for actual performance during visualization. When you are saying your affirmations, ‘I accept myself completely,’ visualize yourself
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Sending you peaceful thoughts and wishes for brighter days.
being accepting and really embrace feeling this experience completely.