We have all grown accustomed to rolling our eyes at the cliche affirmations that burden the pages of self-help books, the words of motivational speakers, and the designs of ever-so-popular cat posters. To look at yourself in the mirror and repeat positive phrases like “I am beautiful” or “I love myself” is regarded as an embarrassing and purposeless practice to many. Yet, positive affirmations yield many scientifically proven benefits.
Surprisingly, thinking is a cognitively costly activity. To think effectively requires one to ignore all stimuli around them, and in the Stone Age, this left humans vulnerable to dangers like animal attacks. Thus, to avoid thinking, the brain has evolved to constantly look for shortcuts. Such evolutions have also contributed to the formation of cognitive biases, or beliefs we hold without justification or rationality. For instance, the Dunning-Kruger Effect is the tendency of novices to overestimate their skills and experts to underestimate their skills. Or, consider the Observational Selection Bias, in which one is inclined to see more of something once it has been noticed. (For example, after buying a new car, many report seeing that specific model of car everywhere.) In this way, our thoughts create our reality.
Positive affirmations have the potential to challenge these negative cognitive biases. Self-affirming activates the reward centers in the brain, thus dampening pain and helping us maintain emotional balance in the face of hardships. With a more positive mindset, your overall emotional wellbeing—alongside enhanced feelings of self-compassion, confidence, motivation, and success—will improve. Consider the affirmation “I have perfect grades.” You are most likely inclined to view yourself as less intelligent and therefore undeserving of high grades. This negativity will only inhibit your motivation to listen in class, complete your homework, and study for tests, resulting in lower grades. However, in repeating the phrase “I have perfect grades,” you will be more inclined to put effort into your academics. Moreover, just as the new car owner sees their green Honda Civic everywhere, your brain will start to subconsciously search for signs that align with your goal. It will tune into positive proofs of your academic success—such as a small smile from your teacher or your ability to easily solve a math problem—and therefore allow you to manifest your goal into your reality.
As a rule of thumb, replace negative phrases like “I don’t” with positive ones like “I have.” For instance, say, “I have good grades” rather than “I don’t have bad grades.” The distinction is subtle yet significant. Additionally, remember to choose affirmations in the present tense. Common affirmations begin with the present tense phrases “I am…,” “I have…,” or “I am so happy and grateful that…” Most importantly, say such positive affirmations constantly, especially directly after you wake up and just before you sleep.
There are also a plethora of resources for examples of positive affirmations. Affirmations can take the form of YouTube meditations, podcasts like Think Positive: Daily Affirmations and Habits of a Goddess, songs such as Ariana Grande’s “7 rings” and Yung Baby Tate’s “I Am,” and more.
Curate a list of affirmations that address all aspects of your life: academic, spiritual, social, romantic, etc. Such a list may include:
I am enough.
I am worthy of love.
I am open to healing.
I have everything I need to succeed.
I am a magnet for abundance.
I am attuned to the universe and its flow.
Today is an opportunity to grow and learn.