As the conversation about mental health is starting to see an upsurge, one topic is of great interest among teens, adults and older people unanimously: positivity.
Today people go around holding blow horns, singing the praises of being positive and holding a positive attitude every single day.
At some point all of us have come across the phrase positive affirmations. What does this mean? And what does it mean to be positively affirmative?
Positive affirmations are statements or phrases which are pronounced out loud or told within the self repeatedly to challenge negative thoughts or self-sabotaging (Self-sabotage refers to behaviors or thought patterns that hold you back and prevent you from doing what you want to do.) beliefs. Practicing positive affirmations isn’t rocket science. It’s a simple process in which a person repeats a positive statement quite many time.
Norman Vincent Peale, in his book “The power of positive thinking”, narrates an interesting incident with a person struggling with confidence and self-esteem. The author asks him to repeat an affirmative statement as many times as he wished and like magic it helps the person gain a healthy amount of confidence in his abilities.
It’s not the statement in itself which is powerful; it is what the person takes out of it that makes these statements influential.
For example, if I were to say “I can achieve my goals”, this particular statement holds no power in itself. But it is my belief in the matter of the statement that truly makes me achieve my goals.
Is It Magic Or Science?
Positive affirmations are not magic. It is strongly backed up by scientific evidence which explains why it is so widely accepted by people all across the globe. It has theoretical and research-based evidence to support its validity.
The self-affirmation theory states that humans always try to protect their self-worth. When they are exposed to situations which threaten their self-integrity, they tend to restore it by affirming the positive things they believe about themselves. (Self-integrity is about being true to your values and what you stand for in life.)
Biological Base To Affirmations:
A study conducted by David K. Sherman reveals that self-affirmations help attenuate or buffer the response of the sympathetic nervous system during naturalistic stressors.
Another brain study results show us that there is MRI evidence suggesting an increase in the neural pathways as a result of positive affirmations. Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) also works based on a similar finding. NLP believes that our beliefs strengthen those neural connections which are related to it.
Heal Your Life:
Louise Hay is a world-renowned person who is the founder of the “heal your life” approach. She led a difficult life and at some point in her life, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Instead of taking the medical journey towards healing her illness, she sought a psychological remedy.
She constantly practiced a positive thinking attitude and a positive outlook towards life in itself and successfully battled against the fatal disease.
Benefits Of Positive Affirmations
- Affirmations have been proven to reduce self-handicapping (Self-handicapping is a cognitive strategy by which people avoid effort in the hopes of keeping potential failure from hurting self-esteem.) and increase women’s performance on math tests.
- They have been shown to improve education, interpersonal relationships, health etc.
- Self-affirmations boost confidence and increase overall self-esteem.
- It works at an unconscious level to bring positive changes within the self.
- It helps in altering negative thought patterns into positive ones.
- It improves productivity.
- It helps respond less defensively to threats.
- It serves as an effective coping mechanism.
- It is said to improve the quality of romantic relationships.
- Affirmations have been shown to reduce intense levels of stress.
- It has also been used as an intervention strategy during psychological therapy.
Some Examples Of Positive Affirmations That Can Be Used Every Day
- I am enough.
- I am capable of achieving my goals.
- I accept things as they flow into my life.
- I am worthy of what I desire.
- I take charge of my life.
- Nobody but me takes decisions in my life.
- I am strong, brave and resilient. I can face any difficulties coming my way.
- I accept and love myself thoroughly.
Are Positive Affirmations Always Effective?
Although affirmations are a great self-hack to achieve that boost of confidence and feel on top of the world, studies reveal that they may not work for everyone. While some people are very receptive to the beliefs they take out of affirmations, some people are resistant to them.
An extensive study conducted by Joanne Wood who is a psychological researcher, tells us that positive self-statements work only with those who already possess a healthy amount of confidence (which is also to a limited extent). And for those with low self-esteem, it does more harm than good; especially if these statements are too grandiose.
Such a case happens because when these self-statements are uttered, the brain turns resistant to them and has trouble conceding with it. As the brain has been wired to think negatively over years, this sudden shift in thoughts would lead to heightened escalation of negativity. When this would be the case, using positive affirmations may not be the best option to espouse.
For example, Lara has been failing her math exams consistently and she believes that she is a failure. One day when she tried uttering statements such as “I am the best at what I am doing”, her mind couldn’t accept it and she ended up thinking about all the negative incidents she’d faced where people called her a ‘loser’ for failing the math test.
Sometimes, the issue of a person lies much deeper within, which cannot be solved by just repeating a few statements. A lot of inner work has to be done to surface the issue and work with them.
For example, a person having low self-esteem could be a result of past experiences where they had critical parents who abused them verbally and physically. In this case, the traumatic experience has to be addressed and the internalized beliefs have to be worked upon with the help of a therapist.
Mark Manson, the author of “The subtle art of not giving a f*ck” claims that affirmations aren’t effective because when someone repeats a positive statement repeatedly, it means that deep down they don’t believe in that statement.
For example, if I repeat the affirmation “I am brave” it means that I want to make myself believe that I am brave and this implies that somewhere I don’t hold this belief. He says that a negative attitude does little to make affirmations work.
This new term “Toxic positivity” that has received global attention refers to constantly maintaining a stance of happiness, optimism and a “happy-go-lucky” attitude. It is to address one’s own or other’s emotions with a lack of empathy.
Statements like “always be happy”, and “smile through your storms” have a discounting nature towards accepting emotions as they occur. People have started to call this out because humans are made up of diverse emotions and to reduce all of that to just one “appropriate” emotion is considered downright injustice.
To maintain a positive attitude always, one must forgo every other emotion experienced. Such positivity is likely to do more harm than good as it teaches one to restrain any kind of emotions other than happiness and to dismiss them rather than accepting them.
People tend to put up a façade of happiness for social media and gatherings and this is also a form of toxic positivity. When such a stance is pulled, people learn to suppress their unresolved negative emotions including humiliation, revenge, or unrevealed rage.
These conflicted emotions, just like an untreated wound would fester and get pent up and will later surface in much uglier ways and turn relationships, work life, mental health, and everything else into a disaster. Emotions should be addressed as and when they appear. Rather than pushing them down, they should be acknowledged and dealt with to save future issues.
Positive Affirmations For Teens
- My feelings matter.
- I am worthy of love and acceptance.
- It is okay to change my mind and make mistakes.
- I am competent.
- I am confident about myself.
Positive Affirmations For Working People
- I am capable of managing my workload efficiently.
- I am independent.
- It is alright to take some off to relax and de-stress.
- I am doing the best of my abilities.
- I am working towards building a successful future.
Positive Affirmations For Stress Relief And Anxiety
- With every air that I exhale, I release tension.
- I deserve time for myself to unwind.
- My body and soul are comfortable now.
- I choose to feel calm and positive.
- I am where I am supposed to be.
Positive Affirmation For Depression
- This world is kind to me.
- I am strong and competent.
- I can survive this storm.
- I am worthy whether or not I’m productive.
- I am not my depression.
- I am not any less of a person than others.
What To Do When Positive Affirmations Aren’t Working?
For the most part, Positive self-statements don’t work because they can sometimes become too opposing to reality or what the brain strongly believes in. When you find yourself realizing that positive affirmations aren’t working, you can:
- Never doubt your self-esteem. Be confident and have a high level of self-acceptance.
- Create your affirmations based on your evaluations of yourself.
- Always try to make your affirmations relatable to your situations.
- Have strong faith in the statements you utter.
- Try to find evidence to support the affirmations. This helps in making your belief in them stronger.
- When you find some statements are too extreme, avoid them and instead choose ones that are gentler and settle well with you.
- Make your positive self-statements realistic and believable. For example, if your statement goes like “I am a fierce lion”, your brain can detect that you’re playing around as you’re not a lion.
Impact Of The Affirmations On Our Mental Health
Positive affirmations show innumerable health benefits along with many proven psychological benefits. It is said to:
- Reduce levels of stress and anxiety.
- Increase the level of physical activity.
- Have a positive impact on cognition and memory.
- Reduce symptoms of depression.
- Encourage them to adopt healthy lifestyle practices.
How To Implement Affirmation Practices In Day-To-Day Life?
- Start your day by saying a few affirmative statements.
- Repeat your statements at least a minimum of 3 times.
- Look at the mirror, give a big smile to yourself and say statements like “I accept myself”.
- It can also be done by hanging affirmations around the house, so as you come across them, you can chant them.
- Have an affirmation card in your pocket and read them as you go through your day.
- Prepare an affirmation jar that contains many positive statements. Pick one each day and make that your affirmation for the day.
- Incorporate affirmations in your movements such as walking, exercising, cleaning the house etc.