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The Science Behind Self-Affirmations - Why They Work

Updated on March 8, 2011

What Are Affirmations?

A simple definition from Wikipedia states:

An affirmation is a form of autosuggestion in which a statement of a desirable intention or condition of the world or the mind is deliberately meditated on and/or repeated in order to implant it in the mind.

While often associated with New Age religions, affirmations are anything but touchy-feely. They are based in hard, solid fact; the science of neural operation in your brain. While not a magic incantation, and definitely never a substitute for medical treatment, there is nothing more scientific than the process of self-affirmation to positively affect your mental health.

The Structure of a Neuron

The synapse is where the message is transmitted between two neurons.
The synapse is where the message is transmitted between two neurons.

How Do Affirmations Work?

Affirmations, when practiced deliberately and regularly, reinforce a chemical pathway in the brain, making the connection between two neurons stronger, and therefore more likely to conduct the same message again.

Think of a dry piece of flat land. When it rains, the water has no place to go, until it cuts a path through the land. At first, it is simply a small rivulet -- but as more water runs through it, it cuts a deeper and deeper indentation into the earth, and the deeper the indentation, the more water will ultimately run through it.

Affirmations work similarly. In neurology, this concept is summed up in the phrase, Neurons that fire together, wire together. Neural synapses that are seldom or never used get efficiently eliminated by the brain's cleaning crews, made up of glial cells. Neurons that are routinely fired in a specific pattern will strengthen their bond, "wiring together" in a complex network that will be automatically set off whenever a trigger is presented in one's everyday life.

How Do You Use Affirmations Effectively?

Most of the proponents of self-affirmation agree that effective power statements adhere to three key conditions, summed up by Jeff Staniforth, the respected metaphysical scientist behind the Sculptor 3 Affirmation Software, thus:

1) They're stated in the present tense.

An affirmation is more effective when stated in the present tense. For example; "I now have a wonderful job." Avoid affirming something in the future tense, e.g. "I am going to have a wonderful job" or the results will always be waiting to happen.

2) They express a positive statement.

Affirmations need to be stated in the most positive terms possible. Avoid negative statements. Affirm what you do want, rather than what you don't want. For example: "I am no longer sick." This is a negative statement. Instead, affirm: "I am now perfectly healthy in body, mind and spirit." This statement is much more powerful as it is positive and reinforces your desired goal and doesn't confuse your subconscious mind with the mention of the undesirable condition.

3) They're short and specific.

Short affirmations are easy to say, and have a far greater impact at the subconscious level than those which are long and wordy. Keeping them specific and to the point adds power as the idea is uncluttered by extraneous elements.

In addition, affirmations must be practiced regularly to have and keep their full effect on your thinking. As with your body, you must exercise your mind to see positive results.


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    • louromano profile image

      louromano 5 years ago

      Excellent, concise article on affirmations. Well done! Great hub.

    • tshoaele profile image

      tshoaele 6 years ago from Soweto, South Africa

      Present. Positive. Precise.

      Thank you for these "mental weights."

      I look forward to lifting them on the daily for my personal improvement ^_^

    • Ania L profile image

      Ania L 6 years ago from United Kingdom

      I have heard that many people find it difficult to state the affirmation in present tense as they cannot persuade themselves to believe in them so there is always a hidden voice in the background saying "it's a lie".

      In such a case, when present tense is too much, some suggest is a good idea to take yourself mentally to the comfortable future first and then use the present tense, e.g It's July, 20xx. I now have a wonderful job.

      By doing it in such a way, we still keep present tense but it's also congruent with our emotions, as we believe in what we say.

    • profile image

      Daniel Peebles 6 years ago

      Excellent, concise article on affirmations. Well done!

    • profile image

      Multiman 6 years ago

      Good article on affirmations

    • akuigla profile image

      akuigla 7 years ago

      As a doctor I can confirm that your hub is correct.Nice work

    • jacobkuttyta profile image

      jacobkuttyta 7 years ago from Delhi, India

      Thanks for the information, I enjoyed it.

    • treasuresyw profile image

      treasuresyw 7 years ago from Savannah, GA

      I enjoyed this hub. Very good information. Thanks for sharing. Peace. "I am a world-renowned author, speaker & life consultant." Ah! That feels good!

    • profile image

      scheng1 8 years ago

      haha, put it simply, it's a way to trick our brain to think different, and then take action to bring success to us.

    • kartika damon profile image

      kartika damon 8 years ago from Fairfield, Iowa

      I liked this - you are right on - if we use affirmations in this way they work - the question is why so many of us who know this do not use the strategy! Thanks for the reminder!

    • metaphysician profile image

      metaphysician 8 years ago

      The way you explained how affirmations work is brief but straight to the point. Every success guru teach this because it is the essence of any self help process.

    • johnr54 profile image

      Joanie Ruppel 9 years ago from Texas

      Good hub with specfic actionable suggestion on both the why and how of making the power of positive thinking work for you.

    • joblot profile image

      joblot 9 years ago from Ringwood

      Hi Maddie - nice Hub. I like your 3 tips - the third, being short and specific is useful also because they are easier to remember. I find that if I use a longer than normal affirmation, it soon changes and becomes more succinct. This can be useful as the short version can carry with it all the information that you had in the longer one.

    • hypnosis-review profile image

      hypnosis-review 9 years ago

      Great information as always. Thank you.

    • Evelyn Lim profile image

      Evelyn Lim 9 years ago from Singapore

      Saying positive affirmations have certainly helped me! Your analogy of a dry piece of land is great!

    • Ateegarden profile image

      Ateegarden 9 years ago

      Great informatioin. Perfect for both the left and right brain personalities. I like the science behind and the real world applications shared.

      Thank you!

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 10 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      affirmations work. I know because it helped me a lot overcome low self-esteem. Thanks for this hub. great work

    • delrond profile image

      delrond 10 years ago

      Really great hub.. "I have some great hubs" i wonder if that affirmation will work lol. Will check out your other hubs!

    • livelonger profile image

      Jason Menayan 10 years ago from San Francisco

      It's great to read this sort of stuff. I read something similar in "Now, Your Strengths" - that the nervous system changes to reflect mental patterns.