When I asked a friend if she’d ever tried self-affirmation, she told me, “Well, it’s not like I look in the mirror and say, ‘I’m amazing.'” I don’t blame her. Looking at our reflections and cheering ourselves up—even posing—may work for some, but not for everyone.
But she did use self-affirmation—just in a more specific way. Instead of making a blanket statement, she thought of a time when she was truly proud of herself. It was as simple as remembering to throw a home-cooked meal for some of her friends in the area, which helped her cement her love of intimate social gatherings.
Another told me that it would even make a “to-do” list of things they’ve done that day, instead of looking at a list of everything they haven’t checked off, to make them feel positive about their work ethic and feel good about everything. Be grateful for the things they do.
So what is it Yes Self-affirmations and how do they work?
What do you value?
Rather than viewing self-affirmation as a quick positive statement like the mirror example, think of it in terms of “value affirmation,” said Dr. David Cresswell, Carnegie professor of neuroscience and psychology. May be more effective, Mellon University and self-affirmation researcher tells wealth.
“It’s about really upholding the values you care about and thinking about why they’re important to you,” he says, including activities that help you live up to those values.
For Creswell, his life as a tennis player, father and professor is valuable. Use these activities and passions to affirm the things you already love, the way they make you feel, and even the goals you hope to achieve through them in the future.
“Value is definitely an opportunity to think about why tennis is important to me and how I see my identity,” he said.
Be specific about the things you do well, or even the things you want to achieve, no matter how small, says Lauren Alexander, Ph.D., a psychologist at Akron General at the Cleveland Clinic. She says it can be as simple as valuing kindness and reminding yourself that something you do affirms that value, such as connecting with old friends or thinking about ways you can show kindness in the future.
How does self-affirmation work in the brain?
When you confirm a value, you activate your brain’s reward systemCresswell studied this using brain scans of people involved in self-affirmation, especially when affirming a person’s most important values.
“These brain reward responses appear to be a powerful tool for turning off the brain’s stress alert system,” Creswell said.
The more often you affirm a value, the more you will exercise the part of your brain that makes that connection so you can trust yourself when you’re challenged. The practice also helps reduce rumination about upcoming challenges, Creswell said.
In one study, Creswell found that students who practiced self-affirmation through a writing activity two weeks before their exam had lower stress responses measured by stress-inducing hormones than those who did not engage in the brief activity.
“We showed that we could change their stress biology the night before the exam with these two writing sessions,” he said. “This affirmative activity does trigger a completely different mode of response.”
When we’re anxious or stressed about something, “our view of ourselves shrinks,” says organic chemist, kindness expert, and Science author, Dr. David Hamilton. The Power of Thought: How Your Thoughts Affect the World. Self-affirmation can help improve this perception, which is a potentially more tangible way to boost confidence.Self-affirmation looking to the future was previously associated with improvement Self-treatment, including positive valuationsor see yourself in a more positive light.
Much like building muscle at the gym, improving the thought patterns associated with self-awareness takes time. Neuroscientists believe that the brain has the ability to adapt to neuroplasticity.
“To exercise a certain area of the brain, all you really need to do is do something or think about something repeatedly,” Hamilton said.
So how do I get started?
Start small. Consider using writing as a tool to reflect on your values by spending 10 minutes a day writing down what you are grateful for. Even practicing talking to yourself can help. Rather than being overly general, it can feel less personal and think about things that relate to your day or week.
In addition to writing and talking to yourself, putting these affirmations into action may help. If you’re writing about positive thoughts about social interactions to affirm your values, consider talking to someone new at work or introducing yourself at a local coffee shop.
While certainly not the answer to more complex mental health struggles, they can help flex the brain and change our thinking patterns, making it easier for us to take on challenges and believe in our own abilities — no matter what that might seem like journaling alone time, “Done” list and even remember the warm moments of that group dinner.