From books such as Napoleon Hill’s classic Think and the Grow Rich and the numerous self-help guides, the principle of positive affirmation and its relation to the subconscious mind. In its simplest most seductive version, this principle is sold as the single solution to every problem humanity is facing as far as growth in any area is concerned. This simplistic take on the idea of positive affirmations is what makes many people skeptic about whether positive affirmations work.
This article is going to offer a comprehensive look at positive affirmation from its essence, how it works and its benefits.
What are positive affirmations?
To start, you need to understand what positive affirmations are. Positive affirmations are positive phrases or statements which are repeatedly said with confidence to overcome negative thoughts. In most ways, positive affirmations are like the repeated physical exercises you engage in to improve your physical strength; only this time it is your mind especially your subconscious mind you will be exercising.
Affirmations and the Subconscious Mind – How Affirmations Work
Most of the time you will be told positive affirmation is about reprogramming your mind. Our thoughts and actions have a cause and effect relationship. Our actions are the result of our thoughts. For example, when the fear of failure can make you create obstacles on your path to success. Such acts could include overestimating the risks you face, avoiding success opportunities and a lack of self-confidence all which lead to the failure further driving in our minds that we cannot succeed and this becomes our affirmation.
Positive affirmations seek to change this programming which means they have to focus on the most powerful section of our mind, the subconscious mind.
The subconscious mind makes up 90% of your brain and most our experiences early in life, our beliefs and fears and even thoughts and guiding elements we may not be aware of but influence our lives, stem from here. The idea of positive of affirmations is to fill our subconscious with positive thoughts and beliefs, which would then guide the thought pattern of our conscious mind and help override the negative declarations.
This result gives us the mindset we need to reach for our desires and success. There are several challenges to programming our subconscious mind with positive affirmations. The first major obstacle is getting the declarations past the conscious mind. While the conscious mind only makes up 10% of the brain, unlike the subconscious mind which is sublime and accepts everything directed to it, the conscious mind intercepts and vets everything directed to it. What it does not agree with, it rejects, and this explains why affirmations may feel like they are not working for most people.
There are three options to bypass the conscious mind and get to the unconscious mind. First, you repeat the affirmation or expose yourself to it so many times the conscious mind cannot intercept all of them much like the effect of advertisements. You can do this by using written affirmations on notes and placing them all around you. The other option is to use the statements when the conscious mind is less active thus unlikely to intercept them like when you are almost sleeping or just as you wake up. Finally, the other option is to use affirmations in ways the mind will not realize what they are.
The other challenge of getting affirmations to work for you is the need to have belief in what you are affirming and matching your feelings to them. Without this, the statements are just wishful thinking.
Tips for constructing effective affirmations
- Gratitude: ground your statements in gratitude because having a grateful attitude creates a powerful positive emotion around your affirmation which increases its effectiveness in countering negative thoughts. Being thankful for what you already have, also keeps your mind in the present, away from what you do not have and allows you to be more alert to current opportunities to better yourself.
- Recognition and belief: Your affirmations have to convey the understanding and acknowledgment you have that what you are affirming, is possible and actual. Your whole being has to believe that what you are stating exists for you in the realms of possibility. Recognition and belief enable your affirmations to become the dominant thoughts in your subconscious mind which helps dictate how you act and even changes your outlook.
- Think about the areas of your life you would want to change. It could be behavioral or career-related or even social. Whatever you want to change to has to be in line with your core values and be around things that matter most to you. Base your affirmations on the changes you want to make.
- Change the negatives you have into positives. Should you be struggling with negative thoughts and being judgmental about yourself, turn this around to positive affirmations. Let your affirmations be the opposite of negative thoughts.
- Write your affirmation in the present tense. Your affirmation needs to portray your realization of what you are affirming. For this reason, it needs to be in the present. Structuring your affirmation in the present makes it easy to believe that you are realizing it already.
- Your affirmations need to carry emotional weight for them to be effective. The words you use should be meaningful to you and convey your feelings.
(Related reading: Simple Process of Creating Powerful Affirmations to Change your Life)
To further make the affirmations more powerful you can;
- Add your name in them
- Attach a reward to the affirmation
- Balance the reward and affirmation so that they are realistic, meaningful and achievable
- Write in the first person
- Write in the positive without using negative words even if they convey the same meaning
There are criteria to determine whether you have designed effective affirmations. All your affirmations should have the following attributes;
- Repeatability: For you to have the best results with affirmations, they have to be said several times of the day including in the morning when you wake and when you are headed for sleep. You can also use them when you feel yourself losing self-confidence. For this to be possible, the affirmations should be things you can easily remember and repeat with no need for prompts.
- Clarity: Your affirmations should be clear about what you want and how you intend to achieve them. Making clear affirmations makes them actionable and practical.
- Appropriateness: Affirmations have to relate to specific aspects of your behavior. Your behavior is under your control and therefore can be affected by your positive affirmation which in turn sets you in a position to achieve whatever else that is not in your control.
- Conviction: the tone of your voice, when saying the affirmations, is essential. The words and inflection used should fill you with confidence and leave you with the conviction that the affirmations are effective and they are working.
Is there Science behind Affirmations?
The whole conversation and discussion about the power of affirmation have been around for ages, and it is tied to other meditation and wellbeing practices like the Law of Attraction as well as the positive vibration and the law of correspondence.
However, it is not until 1988 when Claude Steele published the theory of self-affirmation that positive affirmation got into the academic world. In his work, Claude Steele’s major premise was that individuals use positive self-affirmation to protect and maintain their sense of self-integrity and their perceptions of global adequacy.
Several empirical studies have been published on the subject, and all agree that positive self-affirmation has significant impacts on the various aspects of our lives. Further proof that self-affirmation has an effect on your mind is provided by MRI evidence. A neuroscientific study found that when individuals engage in positive affirmations, there is an increase in neural pathways. These are specifically observed in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. It is the part of the brain that is involved in the processing of self-related information and positive valuation. When practicing self-affirmation, this section in the mind becomes more active.
The different research on the matter suggests that with self-affirmation we establish our self-identity and integrity which in turn determines how we process different information regarding ourselves even when the information is threatening. The studies available have shown self-affirmation can influence performance, behavioral change, health and general wellbeing of an individual. (More information at Psychologytoday.com)
Even with the proof affirmations, there are other schools of thought who believe that affirmations on their own as structured are either less effective or not effective at all unless combined with other techniques. One school of thought suggests that affirmations need the help of presuppositions especially those used in Neuro Language Programming.
Presuppositions are assumptions made beforehand and act as a foundation or guide that enable the development of an argument or a system. When used with affirmations, presuppositions help frame the statements in a way that the conscious brain will not flag off from getting to the subconscious mind.
For example, one of the presuppositions of NLP states that “People already have all the resources they need.” This presupposition gives everyone the power and means to change his or her situation. It is empowering and jolts the brain to search for these resources. If you are looking to become good say at presentations to either make sales or convince the board or team of your ideas, a typical affirmation would be like, “I have the confidence and skill to make compelling presentations.”
Unless you already believe that it will be a challenge to make the affirmation effective. On the other hand, you can embed the earlier presupposition in the affirmation to have something like, “I have all I need to be confident and skillful to make compelling presentations.” This statement puts the power in you, and your mind is easily convinced about it because it presupposes that you have all you need to realize your affirmation.
The idea of presuppositions is closely related to another technique which encourages the use of questions instead of statement affirmations. This school of thought suggests that questions cause energy to move and leverage of presupposition. By asking yourself questions, your brain is forced to process the question both consciously and subconsciously and more importantly, depending on the quality of your question your mind already assumes the presupposition to be true.
For example, if you are having a self-esteem issue regarding whether people like you, the affirmation statement you will be using would be something like, “I am amazing, and everybody loves me.” Depending on your circumstances, it may be hard to be convinced by the statement no matter the number of times you repeat and getting it to the subconscious mind may be a problem. It is because affirmations rely on you already believing something to be true. If you do not believe it, then you cannot affirm it, and hence the statement will be ineffective.
On the other hand when framed in a question to yourself like, “why do many people love me?” The brain gets this to be the real state and has to work out answers as to why you are loved by everyone unlocking attributes that you should be manifesting. By leaving no room for doubt and quickly bypassing your skeptical conscious mind, the questions prove more effective.
Positive affirmations offer the following benefits;
- They help you combat stress by countering the negative thoughts that could lead to further health complications.
- Positive affirmations can lead to a change in harmful behavior to better practices and thought patterns.
- It has been shown that positive affirmations can lead to better academic and sports performance.
- They can act as an influential motivation factor because they encourage, challenge and guide you to actions that make you better.
- They provide a better focus on life. By having affirmations that speak to most aspects about your life, you get a sharpened focus, and these positive perspectives dominate your subconscious, and this offers more clarity in your life since your whole body is working towards the same goals. Writing affirmations also requires you to be specific in what you want to achieve in various areas.
- Affirmations improve your quality of life. You have developed self-confidence, you have clarity and a purpose, you are not bogged down by stress and its health complications, and you can overcome your negative habits.
All these are things which improve your overall quality of life.
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