Do these little self-help pep-talks really do any good? I was skeptical…
“I will be successful with everything today.”
“I am the most beautiful woman on the face of the planet.”
“Everyone adores and admires me.”
There. Done. And it’s all going to come true, just because I said it while gazing earnestly into the mirror every morning and really believed. Right?
Some people see affirmations as woo-woo phrases that guarantee beauty, success, wealth, and popularity if you say them to yourself often enough. Most of us know that’s nonsense. If we could all be gorgeous just by telling ourselves we are, WalMart would be a very different-looking place at 2 a.m. and I would look exactly like Daryl Hannah in Splash. (Or maybe Lupita Nyongo. Or Olivia Wilde … but I digress.) Affirmations just don’t have that kind of power. Yet scientists tell us that affirmations actually can make a difference. Here’s how.
Young children don’t say them, but they hear them.
When you were small, your affirmations came from someone else. Young children don’t have enough experience to be able to make judgements about their own personalities, but they are able to internalize others’ judgements. So, when your parents told two-year-old you that you were good, hardworking, clever, and perseverant, you were likely to believe it.
So … what if they told you you’re evil, lazy, stupid, and a quitter? (Anthor’s note: you’re not!)
These statements are woven into our subconscious, becoming our truth. Whether we receive them directly from our parents and peers, or indirectly from advertisements and media, these truths have the power to shape our behavior and potential throughout life.(1)
But are these deeply-held images of ourselves immutable? Can we change them? Turns out we can, and that’s where affirmations come in.
Serotonin and Dopamine, a Dynamic Duo
Turns out affirmations aren’t the woo-woo pseudo-psychology many of us (including me!) have long suspected they are. There’s some actual science behind them. Who knew?
As far back as the 1920s, scientists explored the idea that thinking positive thoughts could produce positive outcomes. Researchers wanted to know if thinking positively could influence our body chemistry and health. And it can.
The neurotransmitter serotonin “flows when you feel significant or important,” while lack of serotonin is associated with feelings of depression and loneliness. “Our brain has trouble telling the difference between what’s real and imagined, so it produces serotonin in both cases.” (2)
A Precious Circle
In other words, telling yourself you’re important and wonderful produces a feel-good chemical. And that feel-good chemical can give you a confidence and motivation boost that can actually result in making those affirmations true. That’s not a vicious circle; it’s what I like to call a precious circle.
But…back in the 1980s, some people took this idea a little too far. A whole raft of popular books tried to convince us that if we believed we would become rich and happy, we would—and that if it didn’t happen, it was our fault. If we were poor and unhappy, obviously, we didn’t really believe. We weren’t in on the secret.
Fortunately, affirmations aren’t about believing. They’re about motivating. And, ultimately, they’re about doing.
The Verdict is In
Want to learn ore about using affirmations effectively? (The ones at the top of this article are not effective!). Join our Essential Tools #3: Affirmations project.