How A Positive Affirmation Healed My Life & Why It’s Such A Powerful Tool, According To Science
Back in 2013 when I adopted my first positive affirmation, I didn’t exactly create it on purpose. The words seemed to be already familiar to me. Perhaps something my mother said, or something I saw on a billboard. Regardless of where they came from, they were powerful enough to stick. I doodled them on paper, proclaimed them out loud during workouts, muttered them under my breath on my walk to school and used them to propel me out of a toxic relationship when my broken heart was afraid to be alone. The biggest use of them perhaps, was to motivate me to keep my eating disorder out of my life.
“Keep going.” Those two words have become a part of who I am over the last six years and I still use them to this day. It’s incredible the determination they give me. And I believe it’s stronger now because I see what they have helped me through. Of course, I can’t give the words all the credit. I have always had a strong support team praying for me and cheering me on through accomplishments. But in those heavy moments–the ones where you can’t seem to pull yourself out of bed to face the world–the tiny little cheerleader I created in my own mind inspired me to “keep going.”
What’s with positive affirmations anyway? Can they really have such a significant effect on our lives? Is what I experienced typical for everyone with a positive affirmation? Science says yes. This article discusses how certain neural pathways are strengthened when one practices self-affirmation tasks. In fact, there’s even a scientific theory in social psychology called the Self-Affirmation Theory, that “purports that when individuals are faced with information that threatens their self-integrity, the response to this information is often defensive in nature… [in] order to preserve the sense of self.”
Self-affirmation acts as a buffer against stress and defensiveness from threats. A threat can be as small as a bad thought. As most of us have experienced, a bad thought can completely overtake our minds, poisoning us and threatening our happiness. For example, I still have a thought that nags at me daily: To give up the fight, to bring back my old disordered eating patterns. In stronger moments I think, “how absurd!”. In weaker ones, no idea has ever sounded better. And the interesting thing is, for anyone who has struggled with any kind of addiction or poisonous thoughts, we know that the brain can be a powerful manipulator–BUT it is completely under our own control. It is our brain!
Critcher and Dunning tell us that self-affirmation or positive affirmation “restores our self-worth by undoing an otherwise constricted perspective under a threat.” In my brain, my constricted perspective is that there is no larger picture than the current moment, that to give in would be to welcome an old friend back into my life. My restoration of self-worth comes from the reminder that there’s a larger scheme of things. It reminds me where I came from, what I did to myself and that I am worthy of a more purposeful life than the one an eating disorder can offer. “Keep going” propels me to do just that–to not give up. “Threats without affirmations have a larger impact on people’s sense of self-worth,” and without an affirmation to stop bad ideas streaming in, it can become overwhelming and harmful.
Affirmations can be used in so many ways. They can be implemented to increase confidence, self-esteem, motivation, reduce anxiety and depression, overcome bad memories and negative thinking or to make or break a habit. There is no one-fits-all affirmation. As individuals we have different sets of values, and you must decide what means something to you. You may have to try on a few but you’ll know the right one when you say it.
“Keep going” applied to many different areas in my life. It’s pretty general, and that may be the reason it stuck for me. But you may want to personalize yours depending on what you’re going through. For confidence, I love this one: “You are beautiful and you’re going to do great today.” Someone else might be reading this and say, okay that’s great but it’s not meaningful enough. But for someone who struggles with self-image and low self-esteem, that affirmation may fit their life perfectly.
Do you have a positive affirmation that has helped to change your life?
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