The power of affirmations

Gain confidence, overcome blocks around money, find self-acceptance… affirmations are often praised for achieving the seemingly impossible. But how much power do they really have and how can we harness it?

Smiling woman

Repeating positive statements is a simple concept and, in the right circumstances, the echoes of the words you speak can reach deep into your subconscious to make powerful changes.

But, how exactly do affirmations work? It’s important to note here that research into the power of affirmations is ongoing and we’re learning more and more every day, but there are already several theories around why they work.

How do affirmations work?

A key idea is that affirmations effectively rewire the brain by influencing our neural pathways. A 2016 study by Cascio et al. found MRI evidence that certain neural pathways are increased when people practice self-affirmation tasks. 

Using language to repeat positive affirmations to ourselves helps our brain understand that this idea is important. Speaking to Happiful, NLP practitioner Nicola Rae-Wickham explains.

“Language is one of the ways our mind is influenced and we can use it to help us get the results we want. It is this information that impacts our behaviour.

“Affirmations present your mind with an alternative narrative which seeps in on both an unconscious and conscious level.”

Other thoughts on why affirmations work include the fact that they can keep us highly motivated and focused. By repeating an affirmation about a certain topic regularly, we are putting that topic at the front of our mind, and are more likely to take action to help make the affirmation true.

Finally, affirmations can be an important reminder of our core values. They can remind us of who we are deep down and what we truly care about. Connecting with this helps us stay on a path that feels truly fulfilling and authentic. 

It’s not quite as simple as saying the words and seeing results, however – and affirmations don’t always have the desired effect. A study carried out by the University of Waterloo in Canada asked participants to say, “I am loveable.” They noted that those with a good level of self-esteem already found the practice beneficial, but those with low self-esteem ended up feeling worse. 

When an affirmation feels too far from the truth, it can backfire. The researchers didn’t say affirmations shouldn’t be used, however. They simply highlighted the benefits of using them as part of a program/intervention (such as cognitive behavioural therapy) or while working with a professional coach

Starting small with affirmations could be key here. Rather than saying words you don’t believe at all, trying to find words you can get behind at first can help. Then, as your thinking changes, you may find you’re able to go bigger with your affirmations. 

What can affirmations help with?

Affirmations are incredibly versatile and can help you change your mindset on a range of topics. Perhaps the most common areas people turn to affirmations to help with are self-esteem, money/financial issues, emotional resilience, stress/overwhelm and relationships.

As already noted, believing in what you’re saying is important. According to self-affirmation theory, it’s also important that your affirmations reflect your core personal values. If you don’t believe your affirmations to be moral or worthwhile for example, you’ll struggle to get what you want from them. 

There are lots of different ways to use affirmations. Some people like to use pre-made affirmations through prompt cards or even apps, while others like to personalise their own affirmations. To start with, you may prefer to use pre-written affirmations but when you want to drill down into something specifically tailored to you, try creating your own. 

How to create your own affirmation

If you feel ready to make your own, follow these steps:

  • Identify what area you’re struggling with and what you want your affirmation to help you do/feel.
  • Use the first person (for example: “I am worthy of love” or if this feels too big right now, “I believe all humans are worthy of love”). 
  • Ensure the statement is positive and in the present tense. It’s thought that our subconscious can’t understand certain aspects of language, if you were to say “I don’t want more debt” as an affirmation, for example, your subconscious would focus on the “more debt” part. Using “I have all the money I need” instead would be easier for your subconscious to understand and latch onto.
  • Make it personal and ensure it aligns with your core values. 

Once you have your affirmation, it’s time to find a way of incorporating it into your routine. 

How to make it a habit  

Repetition is an important element here. This is how messages get reinforced and the rewiring of our brain can begin. Saying your affirmation at least once a day, therefore, is encouraged. Try saying it in the mirror to help you really take in what you’re saying or write it down in a journal

To make it a habit, try anchoring it with an existing habit in your daily routine. For example, you could repeat your affirmation every morning after you brush your teeth. Attaching new habits to existing ones helps you keep up the practice. 

You may also find it helpful to leave visual prompts around. Write your affirmation on a post-it note and stick it somewhere you’ll see it every day. To take things a step further with this, you could also consider creating your own vision board

If you’re looking for support to help you with your personal development journey, working with a coach can be a great way to access professional guidance.  

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Written by Kat Nicholls
Kat is a Senior Writer for Life Coach Directory and Happiful magazine.
Written by Kat Nicholls
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