Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it — making a point to recite positive affirmations regularly isn’t just for the “live, laugh, love” crowd.
Positive affirmations, in short, are little mantras or phrases you repeat to yourself in order to boost your mood, or help you achieve a goal. They help your subconscious zero in on a specific outcome and believe it until it comes true. Whether you’re focusing on building self-confidence, working on self-love, succeeding at work, or bringing more love and joy to your life, daily affirmations help you align your energy with your goals so that they are realized.
If you’re new to the idea of visualization and self-affirmation, practicing positive affirmations can be as simple as reciting your statement or goal aloud in the mirror, or repeating it over and over in your head. Speak in the present tense, as if the thing is already yours. Affirmations like, “I am strong,” or “I am confident” are more effective than saying things like “I will be strong,” or “I will be confident.” On a subconscious level, speaking as if everything has already happened helps to shift your thinking to experience the feelings associated with what you want, bringing it that much closer.
They’re not just for your yoga-obsessed friend who puts up daily Rupi Kaur poems in their Instagram stories — there’s actual science behind affirmations to show they work. In a study conducted by Christopher Cascio at the University of of Wisconsin at Madison, reciting affirmations helped participants maintain a positive view of themselves, and showed more activity in the part of their brains that dealt with self-processing.
Still not convinced? Here, we outline exactly how reciting daily affirmations can improve your life in ways both big and small.
They Can Increase Your Performance
If you’ve watched an episode of Cheer on Netflix, you’re likely familiar with Jerry, the heart of the Navarro squad, and his now-infamous mat talk wherein he enthusiastically cheers on his fellow teammates, building up their confidence with every trick they hit.
When you have a friend on your side cheering you on, somehow, everything falls into place a lot better. You feel more confident in what you’re doing, things run a lot smoother, and you’re focused on accomplishing the task at hand — whether you’re trying to make mat, are up for a promotion at work, or are doing your best Celine Dion at karaoke night. Taking that same energy and internalizing it in the form of a positive affirmation will likely have the same effect on your performance, whether you choose to speak the statement out loud or write it down. In a study published by the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, people in low positions of power performed better when self-affirmations were used to calm their nerves. They had more confidence in executing the task at hand, and were able to reflect on skills or aspects where they knew they could succeed. This allowed the participants to perform better in their given task, even when in a high-pressure situation.
They Help Reduce the Amount of Mistakes You Make
When you care very little about a certain task and aren’t paying attention to it, you’re more likely to make mistakes. For example: Take the contrived game you had to play at your friend’s bachelorette party, planned by the overbearing maid of honor. You were rolling your eyes at the concept during the initial planning emails, you barely paid attention as Susan explained the rules to you and the rest of the bridal party, and my god, if she doesn’t shut up and stop trying to show everyone she’s the bride’s absolute best friend…
Suffice it to say that you bungled your way through the task, and made errors in the game you could have cared less about just so you guys could move on to the actual fun already.
Alternatively, when you put emotion and attention into something you want to achieve, you take extra care in making the thing you want to happen, happen. With extra attention, you tend to make less errors. Additionally, because positive affirmations focus on the overall end goal as opposed to the obstacles in the way of said goal, you tend to dwell less on any mistakes you may happen to make along the way.
When you make an error in a task, your brain creates a reaction called error-related negativity (or, ERN) that occurs within milliseconds of making a mistake. These reactions happen whether or not you realize it, though when you are aware of an error, you’re less likely to repeat it. That was the case in a study conducted by Lisa Legault of Clarkson University — all participants were given a task to do, but only half practiced self-affirmations. The group that used the positive affirmations measured higher ERN activity, and ended up making less mistakes in their task as a result.
They Can Help to Silence That Doubtful Voice in Your Head
You know the one. It’s the obnoxious, nagging voice in the back of your head that, without fail, somehow makes you doubt yourself and question whether or not your goal is really possible, even if you know it is. Luckily, practicing self-affirmations can help shut that voice down once and for all.
According to Dr. Tchiki Davis at the Berkeley Well-Being Institute, positive words activate different areas of the brain, and every time each area is activated, it gets stronger and your brain naturally gets used to thinking in a more optimistic manner, and the positive thoughts, memories, and ideas are more accessible for you. When you set a path and think positively about your goals, your brain will have an easier time both plotting and processing it — and that negative, self-doubting voice won’t have a chance to chime in.
They Can Help You Set and Stick to Specific Goal
When you speak things into existence — like telling a friend that you’re finally starting that podcast — you’re more likely to follow through with the plan. Speaking about your goals in the present tense has a funny effect on the way your brain views them. Statements about the present have more of an influence on your subconscious, rather than saying you’re “going to” do something, or you’re working on it soon. When you speak your affirmation as if it’s already happening, you’re more likely to stick with it and you’ll likely engage in behaviors to make it come to life. The clearer you make your goals, the clearer your subconscious also sees them, and keeping said goal at the top of mind makes it easier to do real, active things to set it into motion.
That, and you don’t want your friend to think you copped out when they ask when your first episode is dropping.
At the very least, reciting positive affirmations can give you the extra motivation you need to accomplish the task at hand, even if it seems super daunting. A few minutes of reflecting and focusing on the affirmation can keep you grounded and remind you of the positives when the attitudes swirling around you seem overwhelmingly negative. They serve as a “Remember who you are, Simba” moment, sans hallucinations of your dad in the sky, and you know what? Just in case you needed a reminder, you’re pretty freakin’ great.