Positive Affirmations can be powerful if you know Why they work so well and How you should use them to your advantage. And that’s precisely the topic of this article. We are going to explore why positive affirmations work so well, and in what situations they don’t work. And we are going to dive into a step-by-step plan how you can leverage the power of positive affirmations for your own goals and benefits.
So, let’s dive:
The concept of positive affirmations already exists for ages. Positive affirmations were first popularized by French psychologist Emile Coué back in the 1920s. Also in that period, 1925, an actress, artist, and writer with the name Florence Scovel-Shinn published a famous book on success and affirmations. One of her affirmations were: "I have wonderful work in a wonderful way. I work very few hours for lots of pay."
Also, Napoleon Hill in his famous book Think and Grow Rich speaks about positive affirmations. When Louise Hayes had written a book about positive affirmations in the 1970’s, they became popular. And nowadays you can see positive affirmations all over the internet on Facebook, Instagram or Twiter posts. As everyone says, you need to repeat those positive affirmations, and they will change your life.
But do they?
I have read Hayes' book already in the early 1980’s and used them a lot.
But have I seen the difference?
Has the use of positive affirmations had a positive impact on my life?
Let’s find out:
What are Positive Affirmations?
Forty plus years or something after Hayes’ book, there is a lot of scientifical research done which is backup up the power of positive affirmations. General conclusion about positive affirmations is that it can improve your mind and body. So, let’s have a look at what exactly positive affirmations are, how positive affirmations work and what the best practices are for you to leverage the power of positive affirmations in your way.
If you only have seen positive affirmations but never have used them yourself, you might think that positive affirmations are just feel good quotes or positive statements. But they are so much more than that.
Positive affirmations are statements stated in a positive way that is repeatedly spoken to encourage the person speaking them and uplift him or her.
Positive affirmations are like the language of your brain, and they follow a particular formula:
The three elements of positive affirmations:
Our brain, especially our subconscious mind, follow specific rules when it comes to positive affirmations. This is why you cannot blindly use a positive affirmation you find somewhere on the internet. Your subconscious mind will not recognize the thought accurately if you don’t follow these 3 rules:
1) State positive affirmations in the present tense
Your brain only responds to statements in the present tense.
So, instead of saying “I will be slim,” say: “I am slim.”
Do you see the difference? And by the way: do you Feel the difference?
Let’s try it again.
Say to yourself while looking in the mirror: “I will be slim.” How does that feel? Does that motivate you?
Now say, while looking into the mirror: “I am slim.” How does that feel? Does that motivate you?
If a statement is in the future tense, then it will not appeal to you as much as if the statement would be in the present tense.
2) Positive affirmations should only include positive words and no negative words
Your subconscious mind is not able to process negatives.
You can try it for yourself.
Observe what will happen in your head, when you read the following: “Do not think, I repeat, do not think of a pink elephant!”
So, what happened in your mind right now? Did you see a picture of a pink elephant coming by? Exactly! That’s because your subconscious mind has to grasp the meaning of a pink elephant first before it can say: “Oh oh, I shall not think about that!”.
But then what? If your subconscious mind is not allowed to think about a pink elephant, what should it think about? It does not know!! So, chances are that it will automatically be pulled back to the picture of the pink elephant thus strengthening all the neural pathways in your brain connected with it.
So, do yourself a favor and be very direct and specific about what it is that you want your subconscious mind to think about. For example: “Think of a blue elephant.”
3) Speak your positive affirmations out loud as if they are already a fact or the truth
This means two things. First of all, you need to develop powerful statements which sound like a fact.
So, instead of saying “Maybe I am slim," say: “I am slim.”
Secondly, use appropriate body language and tone of voice to state this positive affirmation as truth.
So, speak the affirmation out loud as if you are entirely convinced of what you are saying.
Why do Positive Affirmations work?
To understand why positive affirmations work, let’s first have a look at how your brain works. Like any tool, the same applies to your brain: the better you understand the tool, the better you can work with it.
Your brain consists literally of trillions of synapses, and every little piece of information is stored by making neural connections between those synapses. Your brain is active 24/7 always sending and receiving instructions and thoughts at the speed of light.
As soon as you want to lift a finger, a complicated and complex construct of neural pathways are triggered through your nervous system to give your finger-muscles exactly the right instructions. I don’t know how, but scientists have calculated that our brain processes millions of bits of information every second of the day. And this is done all in a very literal way.
An instruction is an instruction. Nothing more and nothing less.
But our conscious mind is only capable of processing 7 plus or minus 2 chunks of information at the same time. That’s why our subconscious mind works for 95% of the time on autopilot, processing all those millions of bits of information.
This is a good thing because this frees up mental capacity for your conscious mind to do the executive thinking. But it can also become a problem when your subconscious mind processes information in a way which doesn’t suit your goals anymore.
This process is called mental filtering, and it is done by your reticular activating system (RAS). The enormous amount of information to be processed is filtered by your subconscious mind. Only a minimal residue will ever reach your conscious mind. Most of the time in a distorted way.
If you don’t consciously decide, your subconscious mind will do it for you.
How many objects do you have in your living room? If you have a living room like most people, then you probably can easily count a hundred different objects. But when was the last time you really observed and experienced every single object? Probably a long time ago, because while all those objects are already for so long in your living room, you take them for granted. You don’t really see them anymore, consciously. That’s because your subconscious mind filters out all those unnecessary information. If you would consciously observe every of the 100 objects every time you enter your living room, then you would not have much time left for more important things.
But what if one of those objects in your living room needs your attention? It might be that it needs to be dusted, or that it needs to be repaired. It will never get to your attention because your subconscious mind is continuously filtering it out for you. This is when your autopilot brain is hindering you instead of helping you.
This was just a simple example of course, but it works the same for when you are achieving your goals.
See your subconscious mind as millions of employees in your company. You are the CEO of course. You give department A with 10,000 employees the target to get you in shape. But now you as the CEO are going to do something else. Your attention moves to other parts of your company. What will happen with department A, do you think? Sure they will work very hard for you, and they will do their utmost to get you in shape. On your path to achieving that goal, tens or hundreds of decisions need to be taken. And they will take these decisions without asking you. Where do you think that will end? Exactly on the same spot, you intended? Of course not! Every decision your subconscious mind takes on autopilot will probably deviate from your goal and your expectations. That’s why good CEO’s always keep communicating the overall goals and company values to all of their employees. And that’s precisely the power of positive affirmations!
Positive affirmations will get you focused on your goals
Positive affirmations will program your subconscious mind to do exactly what you want it to do because it is continuously reminded of your goals and what’s important to you. Furthermore, positive affirmations will align all departments of your subconscious mind to work together towards your goals. As a span of horses, your subconscious mind will be much more effective when all forces are pointed into the right direction instead of being scattered around all over the place. That’s the difference between a focused mind and a distracted mind. When you meet challenges on your path to your goal, and they will come(!), then you need the resilience to push through this resistance, so that you will be successful in achieving your goal. Strengthening the neural pathways necessary for your goal will help you get that resilience.
Repeating positive affirmations every day acts as you being put in charge as the CEO of your brain!
By repeating your well crafted positive affirmations every day, your subconscious mind will constantly be reminded of your important goals and of what’s important to you. This will make it easier for you subconscious mind to take better decisions. Instead of deleting something from your attention, it will present something to your attention, so that you will be able to consider it and take a good decision. Furthermore, every time you repeat your positive affirmations the right neural pathways are being triggered to set you up for success. The more you trigger them, the easier it will be for your subconscious mind to access them and process them, because these pathways get more ingrained with each repetition. Until the moment that it has become a new habit and that you don’t have to pay attention to it anymore.
Driving a car for the first time in your life is an incredibly complex task. It probably felt very awkward when you performed your first driver’s lesson. The reason is that your brain has to explore and make neural connections for the first time. But after a lot of practice, the neural connections needed to drive a car are in place and well ingrained. And now you have the ability to drive your car without even thinking about it.
Your brain needs repetition to ingrain new neural pathways. Using positive affirmations every day is an easy tool to create that repetition for your goals.
The Banana Eater
You have to be very precise about the way you give your brain instructions. So, for example, if you say to yourself “I want something to eat” then your brain doesn’t know what to do with it. What is “something”? Where is something stored in your neural network? Well, nowhere! So, your brain will not respond to that instruction. But if you would have said “I want a banana,” then immediately an image of a banana pops into your head. Why? The word banana triggers a system of neural pathways where also the picture of a banana is stored. This picture is then presented to your conscious mind. The next big question is: will you pay attention? Will you pay attention to what your subconscious mind presents you, or is your brain already occupied with other stuff?
Every action in your life and every result in your life always begins with a thought. You think about something. Your subconscious mind immediately processes that thought resulting in an action. You stand up and get the banana from the kitchen and eat it. If you would have this thought of a banana very often, then this action is repeated very often, and very soon you have created yourself a habit of eating bananas. If you keep on repeating this thought, then very soon you will be known as “the banana eater.”
So, be careful with what you are thinking! Because instead maybe your goal is to become “the apple eater.” Ok, just kidding of course, but you get the point.
Do you see, by the way, how your thoughts also have an impact on your body? I can imagine that the body of a “banana eater” will look different from the body of an “apple eater.”
So, the real magic of positive affirmations lies in the fact that every thought you have, has an impact on you. And that repeated thoughts have a long lasting impact on you and will ultimately define who you are.
The illusion of time for your brain
My dog Bella does not know what the difference is between now and the past or the future. If I say to her “No Bella, you don’t get your food right now; you will get your food in an hour,” then she is all waggling with her tail and enthusiastically spinning around me because she thinks that she gets food immediately.
This is exactly how our brain also operates. As soon as you use the word “food,” a series of neural pathways are fired off in your brain. And you cannot stop that. As well as the brain cannot process negatives, it also cannot process time.
So, the following sentences:
- I am slim
- I was slim
- I will be slim
- I am not slim
will all trigger neural pathways connected with the word slim. However … with the latter 3 sentences, your brain will be confused and will burn its mental energy for nothing. Only with the first sentence, your brain knows exactly what to do.
So, be aware of what you are saying and how you are saying it. Each word you use will trigger an internal representation in your brain.
Let’s take another example.
You have to give an important presentation next week. But as soon as you think about it, right now, you get nervous. Why is that? The thought of this presentation fires off all kinds of neural pathways right now. And apparently, these neural pathways in your brain are attached to other pathways with the feeling of nervousness. So, although you are sitting on your couch in a very comfortable and safe situation, your heart is pounding because you feel nervous! That’s because your brain cannot distinguish the now from the future. There is only now. So, when you think about something which will happen in the future, you will experience it right now.
So, do yourself a favor and state your positive affirmations in the present tense, since this is the only form your brain can process. And the less mental energy it will cost your brain to process your instructions, the more chance that the right and only the right neural pathways are being triggered. It’s all a matter of precision. If you want to become slimmer, then you need to exactly trigger those neural pathways which are associated with you being slim. And the best way to fire off these exact neural pathways is to give exact instructions to your brain: “I am slim.”
Use Positive Affirmations to create a Paradigm Shift
When using positive affirmations, you might find yourself an imposter.
Let’s say that your positive affirmation is:
“I weigh 120 pounds”.
But your actual weight is 140 pounds.
Every time you are delivering the positive affirmation to yourself, you might find it awkward and uncomfortable. You will feel the tension between your Current Self and your Future Self. And this is exactly one of the purposes of using positive affirmations.
Only if you feel the tension of the discrepancy of your Current Self with regards to your Future Self, you will have a motivation to come into action and take action towards your goal.
So, instead of quitting with positive affirmations, this is the time you need to pursue and to break through your internal resistance. So, pursue with delivering your positive affirmations at least once or twice a day and use the tension to get motivated to do the work which will get you towards your goals.
You become what you believe.
The way you think about things dictate how you will feel about it. And the way you will feel dictate which actions you will take and which actions you will not take. And the result of all your actions and in-actions determine whether or not you will be successful in achieving your goals. So, if you want other results in your life, you need to change the way you think about things. This is called our paradigm or belief system. So, changing that means a paradigm shift.
A paradigm or belief system within a given context determines our perceptions and the way we think about things. If your paradigm is that you are too old because you are older than 50 years and that this means that you cannot change jobs or start a new career, then you will never change careers, even if you get fired in your current job. You will desperately try to get the same job back with another company. There are thousands of types of jobs, so why limit yourself to this one particular job? What if you pick another job, you can be successful and get a new job very quickly?
Paradigms may serve us well for a period, but as soon as they are not applicable anymore, you have to change your paradigms. And positive affirmations are one of the ways you can do that.
Areas where Positive Affirmations can benefit you
Rule of thumb is that positive affirmations can help you with nearly every goal you want to accomplish in your life, even if the goal seems imaginable.
Elon Musk started his company, Space X, a few years ago. Goal: to organize commercial flights from our planet to Mars and vice versa. For possibly everyone on earth, this is a goal which is imaginable. Probably for Elon Musk as well because he doesn’t know yet how he can achieve his goal. But this does not stop him. He will pursue his goal until he has achieved it or he is dead. I don’t know, of course, how Mr. Musk is motivating himself to follow through on this mission each day, but I do know that for every person positive affirmations will certainly help to get focused and to stay focused on the goal until successful.
So, assuming that you are not in the intergalactic travel business, what can you use positive affirmations for?
Well, one of the significant areas where positive affirmations can have a big impact is to shift the way you look at yourself and the way you feel about yourself. This is the foundation of every change, and every pursue to achieve your goals. Because let’s face it. If you look at yourself as someone who is not capable of running long distances, but your goal is to run the next Marathon of New York, how will that ever work? You can put as much energy in your running project as you have, but there will be a moment that you will give up. “It’s no use! I will never run the Marathon! I’m not a long-distance runner!”
But if you would have created a positive affirmation as soon as you decided to aim for the Marathon of New York, then you would possibly say to yourself: “Okay, my progress might be not as good as I want to, but that’s no problem. I will finally get there. Because I am a Marathon runner and I will run the Marathon of New York effortlessly within 4 hours.” And that will motivate you to pursue your Marathon career as planned instead of giving up! Do you see what the power is of positive affirmations? They will inspire you to stay focused on your goal. At the end of the day, there is only one person on earth who can really inspire you: YOU!
Your goal doesn’t have to be to run a Marathon of course or to organize commercial flights to Mars, for you to use positive affirmations for your success. You can use positive affirmations for every goal you have. Just be aware that whenever you set yourself a goal, short-term and long-term, also to create a few positive affirmations which will support you in achieving that goal.
Besides using positive affirmations for your goals, you can use them to develop certain qualities in yourself which will support your goals. For example, if your goal is to give a great speech at the wedding of your brother, then it would help if you are very confident in standing for a group of people and giving a speech. But what if you are not that confident? Well, in that case, you can use a positive affirmation to get you confident! Say “I am confident before a group” over and over again to yourself. So, you can use positive affirmations also to develop the qualities you need.
10 Rules for crafting the best possible positive affirmations that actually work for you
On the internet, you can find lots of lists with positive affirmations. But will they work for you?
In my opinion, it is best to craft a positive affirmation for yourself, tailor made for the occasion you want the positive affirmation to use for.
But how do you craft the best possible positive affirmations that will work the best for you?
Well, just follow these rules:
The Secret sauce to make your positive affirmations even more powerful
Your brain and nervous systems are all interconnected. This means that if you clap your hands, for example, all kinds of neurological triggers are fired off in your brain as well. This process is called anchoring. Many people study, for example, with their thumb and middle finger pushed together. As soon as they have their exam, they can activate the mood they were in, while studying, by only pushing their thumb and middle finger together. And if you are in the mood you were when studying; you are much better in recalling the information you have learned. Your subconscious mind will associate this mood with the neural pathways created while you were in that mood.
You can apply the same technique when delivering positive affirmations. Just touch your body somewhere. Maybe you also push your thumb and middle finger together. Maybe you touch your knee. It doesn’t really matter what you choose. What is very important though, is that you always use the exact same spot. Pushing your thumb and middle finger of your right hand together triggers a very specific neural pathway. This pathway is different than when you would push your thumb and middle finger of your left hand together. So, choose one unique spot on your body and always use that same spot.
This specific neural pathway, connected with the unique spot on your body, will be associated with your positive affirmation. This means that as soon as you “push the button,” pushing your thumb and middle finger together in this example, the neural pathway gets fired off, connected with this unique spot on your body. And as soon as this neural pathway is being fired off it automatically fires off the neural pathway connected with your positive affirmation.
You can use this technique to your advantage. Every time you fire off the spot on your body, the neural pathways connected with your affirmation will get fired off. If you then also say your positive affirmation out loud, this neural network will become even stronger and stronger.
So, using anchoring together with positive affirmations is a very precise technique, which helps you ingrain your new beliefs quicker.
Examples of positive affirmations
I am a little hesitant to give you examples of positive affirmations because if you don’t personalize them, they will not work for you. But, to give you a feeling of how positive affirmations look like, I will present here a few examples of positive affirmations. But be careful! Don’t just copy them. Instead use them as an example and apply all the rules for crafting powerful positive affirmations, I explained above.
“I am happy and successful."
"My work will be received very positively by all my stakeholders."
"I have more than enough creativity for this project."
“I can do this!”
“My opinion is always valued and respected by all of my stakeholders."
“I am successful in everything I do."
“I am great at completing projects and tasks on time.”
“I have fantastic work in a fantastic environment."
“I am having a positive influence on others.”
“I am a leader in my organization."
Again, these are just a few examples to give you a taste of how positive affirmations look like, and you need to adapt them to your situation and liking before using them. And don’t forget to apply the rules for crafting positive affirmations above.
Taking positive affirmations to the next level
There is an interesting experiment where participants were asked to solve anagrams. The group of participants was divided into four different groups. The researchers told every group that they were interested in handwriting practices. They asked the participants to write a few words 20 times on a piece of paper. Every group got his assignment. One group had to write “I will,” another group had to write “Will I,” the third group “I” and the fourth group “Will.” After this short handwriting assignment, the real task of solving the anagram started.
It turned out that the participants who wrote “Will I,” solved twice as many anagrams as any of the other groups. The researchers concluded that asking yourself questions, is much more powerful than telling yourself that you are successful.
If you are a parent, you know this probably already. Instead of telling your daughter at what time she should be home, it is better to ask her what time she will be home. By asking her a question, you force her to make a picture of her coming home and to think about it. And if it is much later than you want, you can always negotiate. But after that, you have a deal in which she can find herself too. Asking questions makes the subconscious mind more receptive. After that you can use a positive affirmation like “Okay, so you will be home at midnight, right?” And when she also confirms with her body language, then you know that the message has come across.
Back to the example that you want to lose weight. The positive affirmation there was: “I weigh 120 pounds”. If you would turn that into a question, then it would be: “Will I weigh 120 pounds?”
What will happen next, is that your subconscious mind will immediately seek for an answer. But it will also take the 120 pounds as a given fact. See, how this works? And now your subconscious mind will either positively confirm your question with a yes, or come up with some negative beliefs. Either way is good because in the latter case you know that you have some work to do to transform those negative beliefs into positive ones.
Conclusion about positive affirmations
If you only use positive affirmations as a standalone tool, then chances are that they will not work for you. The reason is that positive affirmations only scratch the surface of your subconscious mind. Studies of the University of Pennsylvania showed that in every communication, the power of words is only 7% whereas the power of your tone of voice has an impact of 38% and the power of your body language has an impact of 55%. In every communication. So, also in the communication between your conscious mind and your subconscious mind, it is important also to use body language and tone of voice.
Positive affirmations can help you with nearly every goal you want to accomplish in your life, even if the goal seems imaginable.
So, if you only use positive affirmations, this means that you leave out the most powerful tools you have in your communication which is your tone of voice and your body language. The best way to engage the latter two is to use also visualization and anchoring. If you use visualization together with positive affirmations, then you have a very powerful combination at your disposal.Furthermore, you need to pay attention to negative thoughts and beliefs when delivering your positive affirmations together with your visualization. Jane Fonda was held to be one of the most gorgeous women in the world. Yet, she herself thought otherwise, as her autobiography reveals. She struggled with eating disorders for decades due to her inadequate judgment of her physical appearance. What would have happened when Mrs. Fonda would have said in front of the mirror to herself: “I am beautiful.” Well, probably she would feel disgusted about herself.
This has everything to do with a belief conflict. This should have been a strong signal for her to turn her negative belief into a positive one.
So, if a positive affirmation is in conflict with a deep belief, then it will not work. Unless … you are going to work to change that belief. This is how positive affirmations can help you too. By using positive affirmations, you can detect negative beliefs in yourself which will hinder you from achieving your goals and being successful. To be consciously aware of your negative beliefs, is the first and most important step towards change. After that, you can work on yourself to turn the negative beliefs into positive ones.
Over to you
Please leave a comment below by telling us how you are using positive affirmations in your life.
Thank you already in advance for sharing your thoughts and insights!