- Toronto Psychotherapy Space
How to use affirmations effectively
Updated: Feb 4
Building Successful Affirmations in 3 Steps
A Simple Guide to Self-Affirmations
Effective Affirmations Promote Psychological Well-being
Self-affirmation is the act of affirming or supporting something about oneself. This can be done verbally (by repeating positive statements about oneself), mentally (by thinking positive thoughts about oneself), or behaviorally (by engaging in positive actions). The practice of affirmation is similar to the way that planting a seed requires ongoing care in order to help it grow and thrive. Just as the seed needs to be nurtured, positive thinking must also be given encouragement and repeated in order to take root and grow.
There are lots of self-help books out there that promise personal change through affirmation. But, it may not be that simple. Anything that offers a quick fix to all your problems is probably unreliable. Although positive affirmations can help to boost self-confidence and motivation, they don't address the underlying issues that may be causing low self-esteem or a lack of motivation. Much like a band-aid - they provide temporary relief and are helpful in certain circumstances, but they should not be used as a long-term solution for more serious issues.
How do affirmations work?
Affirmations work to maintain one's self-esteem by expanding a person's overall perspective and minimizing negative emotions (Sherman, 2013; Cohen and Sherman, 2014). As we get lost in our day-to-day activities, we can often forget to zoom out and focus on what really matters. This is why affirmations are best suited as reminders, rather than therapies. Reminding oneself of a goal, value, or trait can bring that thought to the forefront of our minds and help direct our intentions. Researchers have found that self-affirmations may assist a person in focusing on the positive aspects of their self-worth that extend beyond a particular threat by reminding them of their psychosocial resources. Self-affirmations can allow us to take charge of our own positive self-development and help us build on existing strengths and resources. Therefore, using effective affirmations promotes psychological well-being and reduces reactivity to threats (Koole et al., 1999; Cohen et al., 2009; Cook et al., 2012; Sherman et al., 2013).
How do I create an effective affirmation?
We have outlined three steps that we believe will be helpful in creating the right affirmation for each individual.
Be True to Yourself
If you are struggling, an affirmation that is overly forceful, like “I am powerful” or “I am confident”, might feel intimidating and invalidating. A more gentle and realistic affirmation is often more effective in this situation; one that resonates with your current state of mind and encourages subtle shifts in the right direction.
Some days we will need a little more love than others, so make sure to adjust your affirmation accordingly. For example, if you know you are feeling sad, an affirmation such as "I am happy" will not feel true and therefore probably won't be effective. Try something like, "I'm not happy YET, but I'm getting there!" instead. Allowing yourself to be honest with your emotions is key to finding the right affirmation.
The goal is to affirm a statement that acknowledges the state/situation one is in, and find ways to turn it around. Research states that although we can acknowledge a threat, an affirmation serves to remind us of our own psychological resources. An important part of this process is focusing on what one can do rather than what one cannot do, as this can offer a sense of control and boost morale.
Make It Fun!
Don’t copy-paste affirmations that have been found on Google. We are all unique and different, and Google won’t know what personalized affirmation is right for you. Plus, it's much more fun to make your own affirmations by mixing up some of your favorite inspirational quotes! It’s like painting a picture. Taking bits and pieces of your favorite colours to create something that is uniquely yours.
While it may take a bit of effort to create your personalized affirmations, the end result is worth it. Creating your own affirmations allows you to have control over the message you are sending to yourself. You can choose words and phrases that have special meaning to you, or that you can relate to, to create a more powerful and effective affirmation. Additionally, by having control over the words you choose, you can ensure that your affirmations are positive and uplifting, rather than negative and draining.
Practice Makes Perfect
The right time to practice an affirmation is when you intuitively recognize that the affirmation is needed. We don't have to put it on our to-do list, as that could reduce its enjoyment and effectiveness. The mornings you wake up feeling great, you might find affirmations to be unnecessary or bothersome. That’s ok. Studies show that repeating an affirmation 3 to 5 times a day, for a total of about 10 repetitions, is the most effective. It’s up to you to decide when and where throughout your day. Perhaps when you encounter a challenge it might yield the most effective results. If a parent, partner, relative or co-worker causes you to feel uncomfortable or poses a threat, this might be when that inner reminder of all the amazing qualities that you have is needed.
At the end of the day, we are all responsible for affirming the inner qualities that we believe we possess, but sometimes fail to acknowledge or remember. An affirmation will only be effective if it resonates within, providing a little boost to self-esteem at the moment it’s most required. When we are presented with difficult situations or feel overwhelmed by life, recognizing and validating our own qualities can give us a sense of control and power over our circumstances. This can help re-establish a sense of self-worth and purpose, even if only temporarily.
Choose an affirmation that you agree with about yourself and repeat it whenever you like! Through repetition, it will become more and more ingrained in your mind and you will start to believe in it more fully. Which in the end will help you to stay more grounded and confident in the face of challenging situations, build better relationships with those around you, and be a happier you!