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Positive Affirmations: Self-Help or Self-Deception?

If you have Instagram or Pinterest, then you will have probably heard of positive affirmations. Affirmations are a self-help strategy that involves positive self-talk and affirming a belief in one’s own abilities. They typically contain re-affirming sentences which are repeated to one’s self, with the aim to change negative thought cycles and improve self-confidence and motivation. Such sentences may include phrases like “I am loved”, “I believe in myself”, or “I can accomplish anything I set my mind to”.  This self-help strategy is incredibly popular on social media apps including Instagram and are a common technique used by a variety of celebrities and wellness influencers. But do they actually work? We may hope that repeating these affirmations to ourselves will change our lives and serve as a magical cure-all, but the logic behind affirmations can be confusing and it leads many to question if they are really worth it…


How do affirmations work?

The logic behind affirmations may seem blurry, but there is actually a good level of science there! According to Healthline.com, affirmations rely on neuroplasticity, which refers to “your brain’s ability to change and adapt to different circumstances throughout your life”. Our minds are programmed to perceive reality, however, this can become murky at times as our imagination can often get in the way. Affirmations use this to our advantage as they create a positive mental image of ourselves, perhaps achieving a high mark in an essay or doing well at the gym, and this activates the same areas of the brain that would be active if we were actually experiencing those things. Thus, by repeating these statements over time, we can encourage our brains to actually believe them. Moreover, when we believe something to be true, our actions frequently follow suit. 


What are the benefits of affirmations?

  • Affirmations can reduce anxiety and stress levels in individuals. Moreover, they have been proven to decrease health-deteriorating stress
  • Affirmations can make us more resilient to uncomfortable or new situations. Positive thinking can allow you to overcome barriers as they arise such as feeling overwhelmed in a new job or taking a difficult exam. 
  • Affirmations are motivating; they encourage you to act on your hopes and dreams and turn them into a reality. It has been observed that students who practised using positive affirmations in college, improved their GPA
  • They allow us to acknowledge our own thoughts and feelings. By recognising when we may feel anxious, or insecure, affirmations acknowledge our emotions and don’t just sweep them under the carpet. However, whilst they recognise the way that we feel, they also help to reduce the overpowering properties of these emotions. 


Are affirmations as effective as we say they are?

Whilst there are clearly some very real benefits to using positive affirmations, there are also some grey areas that need to be discussed. Affirmations are not a magical cure-all and oftentimes they may overlook deeper psychological problems such as depression or anxiety. Whilst they may help to alleviate some of the symptoms associated with these mental health issues, they won’t just make them disappear. Part of the importance of using affirmations is that it inspires individuals to take action in their lives. However, they won’t work on their own as they need to be paired with productive action and thought.


How to improve your affirmations:

  • Avoid stock affirmations that you might find on social media. The beauty of self-affirmations is that they are personal and bespoke to you! Make your affirmations specific to you and your life goals, this endows them with personal meaning.
  • Be realistic; change is always possible, but affirmations can’t produce success out of thin air. They have to be compatible with the actions you are taking and so try to keep your affirmations relevant. 
  • Practice affirming yourself on a daily basis. Practice makes perfect and for affirmations to really take effect, then you have to implement them consistently and repeatedly into your routine! Try repeating a few affirmations every day when you wake up and before bed 10 times each. Be consistent in your routine and be patient with yourself.


There is clearly a level of logic behind positive affirmations and if you are curious, then I would suggest giving them a go! Whether or not they are 100% effective, the beauty of affirmations is that they encourage positive self-talk and inspire individuals to be kind and loving towards themselves. However, if they don’t work for you, then don’t beat yourself up over it and maybe try something else such as therapy with a professional.

Lucy Tombs

Nottingham '21

I am a final year English & American Studies student at the University of Nottingham. I am a blogger for Her Campus, specialising in Wellbeing and Lifestyle!
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