The idea behind positive affirmations is that you can develop strong and pragmatic beliefs by reciting specific words over and over again. If you say something enough times to yourself, you’ll start believing it. But does science support these claims? In this chapter, we’re going to show you the scientific evidence behind affirmations.
Scientific investigations of positive affirmations
To investigate the several testimonies on positive affirmations, researchers set out to test their effects on the brain. Interesting stuff, right? In a study published in the journal of Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, researchers Christopher Cascio and Emily Falk made an intriguing discovery. This is what they found: Positive affirmations stimulate key reward centers in the brain. These areas, particularly the ventral striatum and ventromedial prefrontal cortex, are the same centers activated by pleasure and satisfaction. Positive affirmation works on our brains’ reward circuits to control how we respond to situations and experiences. That way, we can respond better to defeatist or threatening information that comes our way. With time, we build a thought pattern of positivity that eventually influences our behavior and life in general. Now, let’s take a look at the psychological theory behind positive affirmations.
The psychological theory behind positive affirmations: self-affirmation theory
Claude Steele developed the self- affirmation theory in 1988. It’s the result of evidence-based studies that affirm that we can maintain our self-integrity by continually telling ourselves positive things. This theory posits that our sense of self-integrity helps us protect ourselves from threatening situations. And this self-integrity or self-identity we so naturally want to preserve allows us to adapt to unforeseen circumstances. In fact, we can adopt a variety of identities and roles, meaning we can define success in many ways. According to a study by Elliot Aronson, self-identity allows you to see every aspect of your person positively. This way, you can adapt better to a variety of situations. The theory also states that maintaining self-identity doesn’t mean you have to see yourself as perfect. No, it means that you value yourself as competent in different ways. Positive affirmations help us maintain our crucial self-identity by helping us act in ways that deserve the words we say to ourselves.
Other scientific studies on affirmations
So far, we’ve seen scientific investigations of the effects of positive affirmations on different areas of the brain. We’ve also seen the psychological theory behind this life-transforming practice. If there’s any doubt left in your mind about how scientific positive affirmations are, take a look at studies that have investigated the effects of positive statements on different behavioral patterns:
1. Positive affirmation and self-control/willpower
Do you desire to improve your willpower? Do you desire to exercise more self-control? If yes, then positive affirmation is your go-to option. Researchers have found that positive affirmations have a direct effect on our self-control and willpower. In a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers found beneficial effects of affirmations on low self-control. The research suggests that affirmations improve self-control by promoting higher levels of mental self-construal (self-definition). Construals are the ways we perceive and interpret ourselves and the world around us. With a high-level construal, you develop greater physical endurance and a stronger intention to show self-control. You also get to evaluate objectively negative temptations that undermine self-control. Therefore, we can conclude that positive affirmations are an effective mental strategy for strengthening self-control and willpower.
2. Positive affirmations and problem-solving skills
In another study published in PLOS ONE, researchers discovered that positive affirmations can be used to improve creativity and problem-solving skills. Here’s what they found: We all know that stress leads to poor concentration and cognitive and problem-solving disabilities. You know how you get nothing done when you’re tired and stressed out, yes? So the researchers wanted to know whether affirmations could reduce stress levels and improve problem-solving skills. They selected individuals with chronic stress for their study, and some were given self-affirmation exercises. Then, the participants carried out difficult problem-solving tasks for short durations. In the end, those who did the affirmations exercise performed better than those who didn’t. The result of the study therefore shows that affirmations can control our stress levels and improve cognition. So next time when you’re tired and can’t find your way around a task, don’t give in. Instead, affirm your ability and skills. Say to yourself: “These obstacles are only a stepping stone to my success.” Now let’s see the third study.
3. Positive affirmations and confidence
Research has also linked positive affirmations to self-confidence. In a study published in Psychological Science, researchers established that the use of affirmations can improve confidence. They found out that positive self-talks help individuals get better at social interactions. They selected insecure individuals who had a chronic fear of social rejection. The participants made positive affirmations for fifteen minutes, and the result was shocking. There was a significant improvement in their self-confidence level. Not only that, but the effects also lasted up to 8 weeks after the study. Isn’t that incredible? Positive affirmations put us in control of the script in our heads, helping us rewrite it to approach our daily relationships more positively. Instead of feeling that you’re not likable, for instance, you start seeing yourself as one amazingly and attractive person. This thought pattern will change your life forever.
Rewire your brain
Another interesting scientific evidence for positive affirmation is brain plasticity. Neuroplasticity – or brain plasticity – is the ability of the brain to change throughout an individual’s life, and learning can trigger these changes. In the next chapter, we’ll take a cursory look at how positive affirmations can reprogram the brain.