I am motivated.
I am strong and powerful.
I am beautiful and wise.
I am destined to be successful.
I am committed to being the best that I can be.
I am at peace with myself.
All of us have probably watched countless movies where the protagonists are seen repeating such affirmative statements, trying to trick their mind into feeling good about themselves. Not to mention, there are several audiobooks and YouTube videos today, that provide hours and hours of ‘I Am’ affirmations which you can listen to, and use to validate the perception of yourself, whenever you are feeling a little low on self-esteem. But self-affirmation isn’t just a pick-me-up technique for people who doubt their self-worth, it is also an incredibly powerful tool that even immensely successful people use.
If you have never used the self-affirmation technique before, this will all sound like a whole load of BS to you. And that’s okay, because it is not for everyone. On the other hand, if you are the kind of person that can draw positive energy from your surroundings, and the people around you, then affirmations could work for you. Self-affirmation is not some spiritual mumbo jumbo, and there is some actual science behind its efficacy.
The mind is a complex neural network that holds many mysteries about why us humans, act the way we do, and think the way we think. Science hasn’t even scratched the surface yet, when it comes to unravelling those mysteries. But thanks to advancements in Neuroscience, today we understand more about the human brain and its cognitive abilities, than what was once deemed possible. Several studies around cognitive psychology have leveraged techniques such as neuroimaging, to link activity in certain neural substrates of the brain to behavioral changes. One such study discovered that neural activity inside the brain can be triggered by self-affirmation. The study found that exposure to positive affirmations can activate the VMPFC (Ventral Medial Prefrontal Cortex), MPFC (Medial Prefrontal Cortex) and PCC (Posterior Cingulate Cortex) regions of the brain, which increases self-worth in an individual and allows them to form an optimistic outlook.
Science has, somewhat conclusively, proved that there is merit to the idea of affirmations enabling positive behavioural changes. So now let’s talk a little bit about why we need to practice self-affirmation.
In this rat race called life, we are always in pursuit of something – happiness, money, love, fame, or something else along those lines. Unfortunately, not all of us are wired to think in the same way. For some of us, it is easier to take failure and defeat in our stride and dust ourselves off. But for others, falling behind in the rat race is not an option. When their life begins to deviate from the plan that they had drawn up, and their illusion of success begins to fade, they start to question their self-worth. In such cases, optimism and happiness is replaced by grief, despair, anger, and hostility. These are all signs that one is falling into depression. The trigger for this could be anything ranging from a life-altering incident, emotional stress, peer pressure, bullying, illnesses, to a heightened sense of inadequacy exacerbated by social media.
While self-affirmation cannot treat or cure depression on its own, it can be one of the tools used for self-healing, in addition to the ones prescribed by a therapist. A research by Arizona University has found empirical evidence that suggests positive affirmations can help clinically diagnosed patients suffering from depression, to make a full recovery over a period of time. There are several accounts on the internet of people who have gone through depression, who firmly believe that mindfulness and self-affirmation has helped them in their healing process. Here is one such story from Jake Cole, a drummer and emotional wellbeing advisor from the United Kingdom.
Self-affirmation is an enabler for positive thoughts, that will help combat negative thinking and allow you to find meaning in the face of adversity. If you believe in your affirmations, your mind will too, and it will make them come true.
Advocates of self-affirmation say that in order for affirmations to work, it needs to be practiced as often as possible. In fact, it is suggested that one builds a daily affirmation plan to reap the maximum benefits. Most people who practice self-affirmation reveal that it will feel very weird and awkward at first, until it doesn’t. It will gradually begin to feel as natural as practicing yoga, or meditation. The key however, is self-integrity. Unless you are true to yourself about who you really are and what you are really capable of, affirmations will fail to have any effect on your mind. The ‘Law of attraction’ is a similar philosophical concept that suggests, positivity begets positivity, and negativity begets negativity. Essentially, both ideas theorize the same thing. One’s actions are a manifestation of their thoughts, which in turn is influenced by the mind, and self-affirmation is a way of convincing your mind to believe what it already knows. You cannot trick your mind into trusting what it knows is a lie. Hence, your affirmations need to remain true to the kind of person you are, and what your heart really desires. For instance, you cannot conjure up the skills required to play a ukulele just because you practice affirming “I am confident I can play a ukulele”. Instead, you can choose to affirm that “I will learn to play a ukulele and get really good at it”. Similarly, if you have trouble speaking in public, but you know what you have to say is really powerful, you should try building an affirmation like – “My thoughts and ideas are valued, and my audience wants to hear what I have to say”.
My go-to affirmation when the chips are down and the future looks bleak, is “This too shall pass”. I don’t recall where I heard it first, but it’s something that has stuck with me for many years. Whenever I feel like I have been dealt a blow, I repeat this adage in my mind over and over again until I start feeling better. It always works for me; probably because at a subconscious level I know that my current adversity is just a temporary setback, and things will eventually sort itself out. It always does.
Please know that it is not my intention to make light of serious mental health issues by claiming that self-affirmation is a cure for all mental illnesses. It’s not; not even close. But I hope to impress upon you that it is a powerful tool that can help you or a loved one ‘cope’ with stress, anxiety, low self-esteem or depression. We are often too quick to dismiss new ideas and concepts because we don’t fully understand it yet. I hope this post would have piqued your curiosity enough, to make you want to do your own research about the merits of self-affirmation, and decide for yourself.