How Do Positive Affirmations Work?

Positive affirmations: it is highly probable that you see at least one of these a day, whether it be on Facebook, Instagram, or pretty much anywhere else. But do they really work? You see them all the time from many different people but you’re probably wondering about how effective they really are. Sometimes people see them as awkward or pointless. Let’s examine whether they help at all.

First, let us define what a positive affirmation is. A positive affirmation is a saying or a quote that is intended to fight negative feelings, self-perceptions, and ideas. A lot of the time, the goal of posting or looking for positive affirmations is to also realign oneself with goals, to remind oneself that success is very possible.

In short, they exist to combat negative, unhelpful, and self-defeating ideas. They replace bad thought patterns. And for every type of negative thought, there probably exists a positive affirmation to help turn it around.

Positive affirmations can take the form of very short, general sayings: “I matter. I am important,” “I deserve love and success,” and “I can achieve my goals,” are all examples of this. Otherwise, positive affirmations can also take the form of longer quotes, perhaps ones written by an ordinary person or even famous folks.

In actuality, there is quite a bit of well-established neuroscience behind the effectiveness of positive affirmations!

Let’s go into the neuroscience behind positive affirmations: an important psychological theory behind them is the “self-affirmation theory,”‘ which entails that they are very useful in building a sense of self-integrity, which in turn involves self-efficacy. Self-efficacy, on the other hand, has to do with our ability to shift moral outcomes and respond in an adaptable way when negative thoughts threaten our self-concept. It’s theorized that this reflex of self-preservation is built into our very beings.

Walter E. Jacobson, M.D., states that there are real value and use in positive affirmations. Whether we are aware of it or not, our subconscious leaves a big impact on the way we actualize our lives, the way we control what we do and how we react to situations.

In this way, what we think about ourselves, our self-perception (whether good or bad) DOES play a significant role in how our lives play out because they guide our actions. This is why the more positive perception of our selves is, the smoother life is perceived to be. And there is scientific evidence: in a 2016 study, it was discovered that people who observe positive self-affirmations saw an increase in specific neural pathways- in particular, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex works better. This, in turn, transforms information that would otherwise threaten us into more “self-relevant and valuable” information. (Falk et al., 2015, Cascio et al., 2016.)

But with all good habits, in order to make positive affirmations truly effective, one must observe regular practice. This is done in order to build a pattern of positive, self-helping thoughts. The more we see or hear these positive affirmations, the more we internalize them and integrate them into our daily stream of consciousness. It becomes a pattern in our minds.

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