I wanted to share something that I’ve been trialling for the last two weeks, and that’s affirmations or self-affirmations.
I’m pretty sure most of us have heard people talking about affirmations or at least seen it in films or on TV – perhaps we conjure up images of a person staring into a mirror repeating how much they love themselves, or post-it notes stuck in strategic places around the living space to remind people that they are worthy. Honestly, I never wanted to try it – making myself repeat positive things aloud, it sounded forced and not something that would feel natural for me.
However, the last few months have been weird, let’s be honest! I feel like I’m having to start my business again from scratch, and I’m having to find a routine again now that we are slowly starting to emerge from lockdown. So, I figured that it couldn’t hurt to try it.
I also bought a fancy new journal which includes space for them so that was an added incentive (I love new journals and planners!).
What should my affirmations be?
I had no idea where to start, so naturally I turned to Google: “examples of positive affirmations”
For some people I imagine it might take a lot of thought and construction to form the perfect affirmations for them, however, I had no idea where to start so I basically scrolled through the lists in the search results and jotted down any which sounded good! I knew what I didn’t want – declarations of love for myself, telling myself I can do anything, they just didn’t feel like me.
I won’t share them all, but here are some examples of the ones I did choose:
I know, accept and am true to myself.(literally the first one that appeared in Google…)
I forgive myself for not being perfect, because I know I’m human.(As someone who is a perfectionist, I figured this would be a good one!)
You are more capable than you give yourself credit for.(Again, I just felt more comfortable with this, rather than “You can do anything!”)
I have other, much more personal affirmations, and I’ve also added to them (more on that later), but I have about 8 in total now.
So how do I do this?
Those images of the mirror returned to my mind as I thought about how to put these affirmations into practice, it really didn’t feel like me. So, I started by sitting on my sofa, opening my planner first thing in the morning and just reading them silently to myself. I let this happen for a few days, I noticed that they made me feel good, I liked hearing these statements.
As I got more comfortable, I started to say them aloud – only quietly, I’m not shouting them or using a ‘special voice’. For me, reading them aloud was different, it felt much more like I was ‘telling myself’ rather than just thinking them.
I kept this up every day and enjoyed it – I found that I missed it if I didn’t do it. I also got into the habit of jotting down new affirmations as they came to me – whether this was seeing something on social media, something that felt missing after I’d read them, or a quote from a book that I found. This quote from Michael Stone is one of my favourites:
“I” am an endless possibility, a million characters coming to being.Michael Stone
Does this actually work?
I’d heard so much about the benefits of affirmations, but realised I’d never really looked into the science behind them – are the benefits backed up by scientific evidence? Does the science give any advice as to how they should be practiced?
Well, I was pleased to find that there is evidence out there and it’s easy to find with a quick Google search. I wanted to share this one study as it involves an MRI scan of the brain. I’ve read a bit about how meditation affects the brain and the studies carried out with MRI scans, so this was particularly fascinating to me.
Self-affirmation theory posits that people are motivated to maintain a positive self-view and that threats to perceived self-competence are met with resistance. When threatened, self-affirmations can restore self-competence by allowing individuals to reflect on sources of self-worth, such as core values. Many questions exist, however, about the underlying mechanisms associated with self-affirmation. We examined the neural mechanisms of self-affirmation with a task developed for use in a functional magnetic resonance imaging environment. Results of a region of interest analysis demonstrated that participants who were affirmed (compared with unaffirmed participants) showed increased activity in key regions of the brain’s self-processing (medial prefrontal cortex + posterior cingulate cortex) and valuation (ventral striatum + ventral medial prefrontal cortex) systems when reflecting on future-oriented core values (compared with everyday activities). Furthermore, this neural activity went on to predict changes in sedentary behavior consistent with successful affirmation in response to a separate physical activity intervention. These results highlight neural processes associated with successful self-affirmation, and further suggest that key pathways may be amplified in conjunction with prospection.Christopher N. Cascio, Matthew Brook O’Donnell, Francis J. Tinney, Matthew D. Lieberman, Shelley E. Taylor, Victor J. Strecher, Emily B. Falk, Self-affirmation activates brain systems associated with self-related processing and reward and is reinforced by future orientation, Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, Volume 11, Issue 4, April 2016, Pages 621–629, https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsv136
To sum up!
I’ve been really enjoying including my affirmations into my morning routine and it’s a practice I’ll definitely continue with. I’m curious – do you use positive affirmations? What has your experience of them been? If not, are you tempted or curious? Let me know in the comments!