The Science of Self-Affirmations


Self-affirmations are a popular tool in self improvement. The basic idea is that we can adopt healthy, positive, and productive beliefs if we recite a belief enough times to ourselves.

For example, if we repeat a thought like “I’m a smart and happy person” 20 times every morning, then we may begin to actually believe that about ourselves, and thus act in ways that could make that belief a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Reciting these beliefs is said to work because increased repetition of certain thought patterns (and neural pathways) is said to condition our brains to begin thinking in these new ways. It’s kind of like working a muscle: the more repetitions you do, the stronger the thought will become.

This article is going to recap scientific evidence for the different ways self-affirmations have been shown to improve our lives.

Self-affirmations improve willpower and self-control

In one study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers found that self-affirmations can improve willpower and self-control.

There is a concept known as “ego depletion” which is the idea that we only have a limited amount of willpower at anytime. Therefore, when we use that willpower in one task (such as doing really difficult math problems), then we are less likely to exercise willpower in a later task (such as not eating a piece of cake).

However, using positive self-affirmations can help us push ourselves just a bit further. It doesn’t give us infinite willpower, but it can help us exercise willpower and self-control when normally we would be fatigued and tired, which provides us with an extra boost of motivation.

This is also one proven way athletes use self-talk to improve practice and performance.

Suggested affirmations for willpower:

  • “I can do it!”
  • “I have the power in me to make good things happen.”
  • “If I believe in myself, I will succeed.”

Self-affirmations improve social confidence

In another study published in Psychological Science, researchers found that the use of self-affirmations can improve confidence and make individuals more welcoming to positive social interactions.

They tested individuals who were chronically insecure and strongly feared social rejection, then found that just 15 minutes of self-affirmations improved their social confidence up to 8 weeks after the intervention.

The use of self-affirmations helps us to take control of the social script we play out inside our heads, and thereby rewrite how we think and approach our daily relationships.

Suggested affirmations for social confidence:

  • “People genuinely like me once they get to know me.”
  • “I deserve positive relationships in my life.”
  • “I have a rich and supportive social circle.”

Self-affirmations improve problem-solving and creativity

In a third study published in PLOS ONE, researchers found that self-affirmations can also be used to improve problem-solving and creativity.

Stress has often been associated with poorer focus, cognition, and problem-solving skills, so researchers tested whether self-affirmations could minimize stress and thereby improve these cognitive abilities.

Participants with chronic stress were given a self-affirmations exercise and then had to complete 30 difficult problem-solving tasks under time pressure in front of an evaluator. It was discovered that individuals who received the self-affirmations exercise outperformed individuals in the control group.

Suggested affirmations for problem-solving:

  • “I take small steps everyday to improve.”
  • “I view my obstacles as a guide showing me where to go next.”
  • “Stepping outside of my comfort zone is often necessary for growth.”

Take 10 minutes a day to repeat positive affirmations

Self-affirmations are a tool that anyone can use to benefit various domains of their life, whether it’s improving your goals, relationships, work, or just overall happiness.

For this week, I want you to practice affirmations just 10 minutes each day:

  • Choose a specific area in your life you want to work on. The more specific, the better.
  • Choose 10 affirmations that motivate you or inspire you in this area of your life. Check out 75 affirmations for self-improvement for some ideas, but it’s even better if you make up your own.
  • Choose a time of the day to practice – such as in the morning, night, or as a mid-day break.
  • Set a timer on your phone or computer to remind you when it’s time to do your affirmations exercise.
  • Try your best to practice to practice this exercise everyday for a whole week.

If you want to learn more about how to use beliefs and affirmations to improve your life, check out my free e-book The Science of Self-Affirmations.

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