It might sound far-fetched, but the science is unequivocal. Say it loud and make it happen
Affirmations are positive statements that can help you to challenge and overcome self-sabotaging and negative thoughts. To many this will sound like self-help waft – and it kind of is, but that doesn’t mean it’s not effective. Here’s the proof.
A study published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience (1) used MRI to reveal that practising self-affirmation activates the reward centres in your brain. Simply say to yourself “I will earn that promotion” and it’ll light up the same reward centres that respond to other pleasurable experiences, such as eating great food. or winning a prize. It fires up your neural pathways and makes changes to those areas of the brain that makes you happy and positive.
Various studies also confirm affirmations: decrease health-deteriorating stress, increase the amount of exercise people do, help you to eat more fruit and vegetables and achieve more academically.
So you now know that it works, but the really interesting question is, how?
It’s all about taking advantage of your brain’s innate laziness. The brain evolved for the purposes of keeping you alive. It therefore evolved to make quick, snap decisions about food and safety, not to make rigorous analytical assessments about everything. That means your brain is forever creating shortcuts and that leads to cognitive biases, which are beliefs that we all have without justification. You might recognise some of these yourself:
The Dunning-Krueger Effect: the tendency for novices to overestimate their skill and experts to underestimate their skill.
Observational Selection Bias: The tendency to notice more of something once it has been noticed, like when we buy a new car and suddenly see that car everywhere.
Confirmation Bias: The tendency to see more of and believe more of what already confirms your beliefs. It’s why we think everyone else must believe the news stories the Facebook algorithm throws into our own feeds.
As mentioned, in reality these are shortcuts the brain takes to avoid thinking. Thinking is costly, you must ignore everything else around you, and that could prove pretty costly back in the days of the sabre-tooth tiger.
This magic of affirmations is that they hijack these cognitive biases for your own benefit. They teach your brain a new way to think about the world. If you repeat phrases to convince your brain that you’ll get the job or achieve that target healthy weight, then your brain starts to subconsciously search for signs that will make this true. When it does, the brain will then present the sign to the conscious mind. All of a sudden you’ll begin noticing points and proofs that’ll help you to achieve your goals. The affirmations just need time to help your brain tune into the good stuff.
The best affirmations are specific because it gives your brain a very clear set of guidelines on what to process for you. So set your goals, stand in front of the mirror, say it loud and say it proud. You’ll get there.