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Emma Mudge

What are positive affirmations and how do you get started?

23 May 2022

Positive affirmations can be a powerful tool to help improve your wellbeing, with research suggesting they can decrease stress and anxiety and support you to make positive change1.

They are simple, meaningful phrases or mantras that can be repeated out loud, in your head or in writing to remind you of your self-worth, abilities and strengths. It's not about pretending that everything is ok, but instead acknowledging challenges and choosing to refocus thoughts on the positive.

Emma Mudge, Senior Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner at AXA Health, explains that over time, positive affirmations can help us see things in a more positive light which can set us on course to feeling better and behaving differently.

Why should we use positive affirmations?

What we think and how we see the world informs how we feel; especially with multiple ways to perceive a situation and ourselves. If you find yourself drawn to a negative perspective, you’re not alone.

We often have limited control over the situations that trouble us, but we can change what we say to and about ourselves. Negative self-talk makes us feel bad, but the frequent repetition of positive affirmations can have the opposite effect.

It takes intent, time and practice but we can rewire our brain to accept the positives. Affirmations are a free, relatively easy, and time-efficient tool but to see results, you need to know how to make them work for you and incorporate them effectively into your day.

Read more on How to raise self-esteem

What should we say?

Positive affirmations appear popular these days, but when choosing affirmations be wary of hollow sayings you might see online. If you find something that really resonates with you on an emotional level that’s great. If not, try and create something that is unique and personal to you:

  • Check in with yourself – What is most helpful for you to hear right now?
  • What are you finding hard?
  • Do you notice any negative self-talk? – Hear it out, then with self-compassion try to find an alternative, more reassuring mantra. One that affirms the good in you.

Writing these down often helps get clarity on what you need to hear and will help you create your own personal, positive affirmation.

When should we use them?

Whenever works for you. This is the beauty of an affirmation.

To be effective, affirmations require repetition, so finding a way to make positive affirmations a habit will help. Try using existing habits as a cue for your affirmations: maybe saying 'I am exactly where I need to be’ as you put your feet on the floor first thing in the morning will get you off to a good start? Or will a serving of ‘I am resilient and brave’ with each cup of tea give you the strength to get through difficult times?

Positive affirmations can also be there for you in the moment and when you need them most, like when your self-esteem or self-worth has been shaken in some way and you want to regain confidence. With a moment to pause and a few deep breaths, positive affirmations can be part of a discrete and powerful self-worth reset.

How should I use them?

Affirming your values and strengths in your own head might be most appropriate in the instance above. But try the following to gain a greater impact over time:

  • Try saying them out loud. Talking to yourself might feel uncomfortable at first but it will get easier with practice.
  • Speak with conviction and say it like you mean it as much as you can.
  • Use your body and your senses too: Try placing your hand on your heart or lighting a scented candle to make your affirmations part of a ritual.
  • Write them down. And leave them in places you’ll see them most often.
  • Listen to positive affirmation meditations or record your own.

Anything else I should know?

Beware of strong internal resistance to an affirmation. The aim is to be positive and optimistic but not to put pressure on yourself to be or do something that is entirely at odds with where you’re at.

If you notice resistance, don’t push it. Try and find an alternative statement that you don’t have to fully believe yet contains some truth that you can connect to.

Positive affirmations aren’t for everyone. If they’re not working for you and you’re really having a hard time finding and believing positive perspectives, be kind to yourself and get the support you need.

If you’re keen to get started, then keep it simple. Better to start with one powerful affirmation and reap the rewards than try too much. Aim for simplicity and then stick with it and notice how you feel when you start to really believe them.

Further reading

Chances, not chores! – Try a little Feelgood health

References

1. Cohen GL, Sherman DK. The psychology of change: self-affirmation and social psychological intervention. Annu Rev Psychol. 2014;65:333-71. doi: 10.1146/annurev-psych-010213-115137. PMID: 24405362. Retrieved here