If you’ve come across this article, you’re probably familiar with positive affirmations.
Maybe you’re skeptical as to whether or not they actually work, or maybe you’re just curious about what the real benefits of affirmations are.
If you’re skeptical as to whether or not affirmations work, then hopefully the information presented in this article will challenge that belief at the very least.
If you believe that affirmations work and simply want to understand the benefits of improved self-talk, then you’re in the right place too.
So without further ado, let’s dive into the benefits of affirmations and how practicing them can improve your life.
7 Scientific Benefits Of Affirmations
The body of research on self-affirmation is expansive and thorough. At present, we know a great deal about how affirmations work in the brain, and the benefits that accompany them.
The rest of this article will bring some of this research into the fold and explain the benefits of positive affirmations.
#1: Affirmations Promote Positive Behavior Change
I decided to put this benefit first because it’s probably the one that you care about the most.
Self-talk, self-affirmation, positive affirmations. These all sound like great buzzwords, but at the end of the day only one question matters — does reciting affirmations actually help you change your behavior?
Well, the answer is yes.
Consider this study from the National Library Of Medicine. In the study, 93 women were put into one of two groups: a self-affirmation group or a control group.
For one week, all of the women were required to keep a diary of how many servings of fruits and vegetables they ate. The women in the self-affirmation group practiced positive affirmations throughout the week, and the women in the control group didn’t.
In the end, the women in the self-affirmation group ate an average of 5.5 more servings of fruits and vegetables per week than the control group.
Several other studies have come to the same conclusion — positive self-talk makes positive behavior more likely.
I understand that affirmations can seem like one of those ra-ra, feel good self-improvement tips, but there’s strong research to back up the assumption that they can alter behavior for the better.
#2: Reduced Stress
No matter what you do in life, you’re going to contend with stress. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as some of this stress is necessary for your personal growth.
However, there are other forms of stress that don’t serve you whatsoever — worrying about the future, ruminating about the past, focusing on our flaws, etc.
This is the kind of self-inflicted stress that doesn’t do you any good. And while it’s impossible for you to prevent these internal stressors from popping up, you can control how you respond to them.
When unhelpful thoughts attack your self-image, positive affirmations act as a line of defense. Here’s research from Cascio et al., which explains the benefits of affirmations in more detail.
“A large body of literature demonstrates self-affirmations have benefits across threatening situations; affirmations can decrease stress, increase well-being, improve and make people more open to behavior change.
He goes on to say that, “Self-affirmations are acts that affirm one’s self worth, often by having individuals reflect on core values, which may give individuals a broader view of the self. This in turn can allow individuals to move beyond specific threats to self-integrity or self-competence.”
When you’re experiencing stress, your focus is narrow. Positive affirmations help you zoom out and shift your focus to the positive aspects of your character, making it easier to buffer stress.
#3: It’s Easier To Take Action
Another one of the primary benefits of affirmations is their ability to motivate you to push back against internal resistance.
You’re always going to feel resistance towards positive actions that move your life forward.
Your brain wants to keep you safe and comfortable. It doesn’t want you to get out of your comfort zone or exert self-discipline, which is why you’re always going to feel the urge to take the easy path in life.
In my experience, positive affirmations are incredibly helpful for these kinds of decisive moments throughout the day:
- The moment when you’re feeling tired and don’t want to go to the gym.
- The moment when your alarm goes off at 5:30 and you don’t want to get up.
- The moment when you’re feeling the urge to binge-watch Netflix and instead of working.
These are the decisive moments that determine the trajectory of your life.
Implementing positive self-talk in these moments can give you the subtle nudge that pushes you over the action threshold.
“I don’t need to be motivated to workout because I’m a disciplined person.”
I can’t tell you how many times this single phrase has helped me hit the gym on days where it’s the last thing that I feel like doing.
Reminding myself of my core values and long-term goals provides me with that subtle burst of motivation to do what needs to be done. And while it doesn’t get rid of the resistance completely, it does provide a little self-motivation to counter it.
#4: Improved Problem Solving Under Pressure
It’s also been shown that one of the benefits of affirmations is improved performance on cognitively demanding tasks.
In one study, college students were given a problem set involving remote association — a creativity test used to measure one’s ability to form associations between related and unrelated words.
The students who practiced self-affirmations ended up performing significantly better on this test than those in the control group.
This finding points to the benefit of using positive affirmations to push through challenging tasks that require significant mental energy.
Feel free to check out these affirmations for creativity or these focus affirmations if you’re looking for some more ways to improve productivity.
#5: Positive Affirmations Bolster Your Self-Image
Improved self-image is another one of the key benefits of affirmations due to the specific brain areas that are activated during self-affirmation.
In this neuroimaging study, researchers wanted to gain a better understanding of the underlying neural mechanisms of positive affirmations.
To accomplish this, they used an fMRI machine to scan the brains of participants who were told to reflect on future-oriented values and personal successes.
The researchers found that self-affirmation significantly increased activity in the brain regions responsible for self-processing, positive valuation, and reward.
Put simply, practicing affirmations activates the parts of the brain that help you counter threats to your self-image.
We all try our best to maintain a positive self-image, but usually our primitive brain has other plans for us. How many of you have experienced fear, stress, or pain, and then caught your brain piling on with thoughts like this?
- “I’m not good enough.”
- “I can’t do this.”
- “How the hell do I get out of this situation? I can’t handle it.”
Yep, we’ve all been there. And these thoughts do nothing except amplify the pain or discomfort we’re already experiencing.
Luckily, the above research shows that positive affirmations can turn your brain into an asset instead of a liability in these moments.
#6: Affirmations Help You Stay Present
This is one of my favorite benefits of affirmations because I’m someone who struggles mightily to shut off my brain.
I’m always thinking about ideas for this blog, character flaws that I’ve yet to address, or goals that I want to achieve (basically anything except the present moment).
Repeating positive affirmations keeps me focused on what’s right in front of me. It helps me slow down, accept the thoughts I’m having, and take back control of my attention.
And at the end of the day, your attention is one of the only things you have control over. You’re never going to be able to stop your mind from wandering, but you can limit how much attention you give to unhelpful thoughts.
#7: Affirmations Help You Let Go Of The Past
If you have a normal human brain, you probably think about negative past experiences quite often. Sometimes you may find yourself deeply entrenched in these thoughts — reliving past trauma as if it were happening right now.
Positive affirmations can help you cultivate an attitude of acceptance towards the past while looking forward to the future.
A couple of years ago, I was at a breaking point with my social anxiety. Years and years of choices were beginning to take a severe toll on me.
As you can imagine, I thought about my past quite often during this time:
- I thought about all of the missed opportunities with girls that I liked in high school and college.
- I thought about all of the social invites that I had rejected because I was scared to be judged by people I didn’t know.
- I thought about all of the friends that I’d lost touch with.
All day long, I was tormented by past social trauma, and I felt pretty helpless because of it.
Now I’m not gonna sit here and say that affirmations alone helped me overcome my social anxiety.
It took a massive amount of private, pain-staking work that required me to get out of my social comfort zone every single day.
Yet, I’d be a fool to deny the impact that one simple phrase had on my mindset:
“It’s true that I’m a collection of my past experiences, but it’s also true that I can create a new future by taking action in this very moment.”
Every time I felt afraid to get out of the house and attempt whatever ridiculous social challenge I had conjured up for that day, I would say those words to myself. Over, and over, and over again.
And slowly but surely, taking action became easier. So if you’re looking to overcome your own past demons, then you may find affirmations helpful.
Simply saying the words isn’t equivalent to taking action, but the words make you more likely to act on your intuition.
If you’re skeptical, I’ll just pose one simple question — what do you have to lose by finding out?
- Here’s some positive affirmations for letting go if you’re looking to free yourself from the past.
Are Affirmations Really Effective?
We’ve talked a lot about the benefits of affirmations in this article, so you probably know my stance on this question.
Yes, affirmations are effective, but there is a catch.
The catch is that you need to supplement them with positive action, or else they lose much of their value.
The purpose of repeating positive affirmations is to form new beliefs about who you are. In order for those new beliefs to take hold inside of your brain, you need two things: new thoughts and new actions.
Here’s what this looks like in practice
- Unhelpful Neurological Feedback Loop: “I don’t want to workout” → Positive affirmation about discipline → Stay home and skip workout → Reinforce the belief that you’re undisciplined.
- Helpful Neurological Feedback Loop: “I don’t want to workout” → Positive affirmation about discipline → Complete workout → Reinforce the belief that you’re a disciplined person.
Action is the bridge between positive affirmations and the new beliefs that you want to form.
So while the benefits of affirmations have been thoroughly described in this article, keep this in mind — affirmations are a nudge in the right direction, but action creates the changes that you want to see.
Final Thoughts On The Benefits Of Affirmations
I hope you enjoyed this article on the benefits of affirmations!
While positive affirmations are not the magic pill many people claim them to be, they still have tremendous value.
Reduced stress, better problem solving, improved self-image, etc. All of these benefits are important for your sense of well-being, but here’s the most powerful one:
When your self-talk becomes more positive, you improve your chances of taking the action that helps you live up to your full potential.
Everything else is just gravy:)
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