The science of affirmations

Unlocking the Power of Affirmations

Have you ever wondered if words have the power to change your life? We can assure you that yes, they do! But it’s not magic; it’s all about science.

February 5, 2024
7 min

The Power of Affirmations

The words you speak to yourself regularly can change not only your thought patterns, but also your whole life. And positive affirmations are proof of this. 

And this isn’t mere speculation or guesswork. 

The power of affirmations has been scientifically proven, time and again. Multiple studies have shown that practicing affirmations consistently can change not just your thought patterns, but your whole life.

But how do positive affirmations affect your brain? 

What’s the science behind this life-transforming practice? 

What are positive affirmations? 

Before we uncover the power of affirmations, let’s delve a little deeper into affirmations in general. 

Positive affirmations are inspiring statements that help you replace your negative thought patterns with positive ones. 

They generally begin with the words “I am,” followed by an empowering positive statements that reflect the qualities you wish to embody and the life you want to live. 

Here are some examples of positive affirmations: 

  • I am filled with peace and positivity. 
  • I am surrounded by love. 
  • I attract life-changing career opportunities.
  • I am on the path to becoming the person I dream of being. 
  • I choose calm, faith, and positivity.
  • I am unstoppable.
  • I am a magnet for abundance and prosperity.

You can use positive affirmations to find inner peace, to improve your relationships, to free yourself from negative self-talk, or to boost your self-confidence. Whatever you need, there is an affirmation for it. 

And your affirmations can be as wonderfully unique as you are. 

The key is to choose affirmations that are meaningful to you and what you want to accomplish. Try writing your own affirmations or use the I am app to find the affirmations that resonate with you. 

However, it is important to do your affirmations work consistently over a longer period of time to achieve lasting, long-term changes. 

But what is the science behind positive affirmations? 

What are the effects of positive affirmations on different behavioral patterns?

What is the true power of positive affirmations? 

The psychology behind positive affirmations

Claude Steele, one of the most renowned psychologists of the past century, first proposed the theory of self-affirmation in 1988. 

Steele's theory addressed the internal conflict that many people experience when their deepest beliefs clash with their reality. The inconsistency between your behavior and your thoughts  can lead to cognitive dissonance. 

Sound complicated? It’s not!

Here are a couple of common example of cognitive dissonance:  

  • You want to be fit and healthy. But you’re constantly eating junk food and candy, and don’t work out. Your actions don’t support your desires, leading to feelings of guilt and frustration. 
  • You want to save money for a down payment on a home. But every time you have extra money in your savings, you spend it on new electronics, expensive dinners out, or fancy trips. Again, this can lead to feelings of guilt and regret. 

Cognitive dissonance results in negative self-talk and a negative self-image, along with emotions that are usually perceived as negative (stress, shame, guilt, etc.). As such, it poses a serious threat to your self-image. 

In Steele’s theory of self-affirmation, he suggested three strategies for overcoming cognitive dissonance. 

  1. Modifying your behavior
  2. Modifying your beliefs
  3. Modifying the way you view the threat to your self-image by framing it in a positive light. 

When it comes to affirmations, it’s the third method that interests us the most. 

Let’s return to the examples above, the ones that resulted in cognitive dissonance. 

For the first, focusing on your health, positive affirmations might look like this. 

  • I am making healthy choices. 
  • I am focused on my physical health. 
  • I choose foods that nourish my body. 
  • I am strong, fit, and healthy. 

As you repeat and internalize these affirmations, you’ll be able to restore your self-image and self-worth, reframe the way you perceive yourself, and create positive self-talk. 

The power of affirmations on psychological health

To understand how positive affirmations impact your emotional and mental well-being, let's explore the self-affirmation theory even further. 

First, positive affirmations help us keep an overall self-image that is flexible, joyful, and capable of dealing with different situations.

It’s important to underline that self-identity is not a strictly defined self-concept like “daughter” or “student”. It’s more flexible, enabling you to take on various roles and define success in diverse ways. 

Why is it a good thing? Because it helps you view various sides of yourself positively and enhances your ability to adapt to diverse situations more effectively. 

Secondly, the self-affirmation theory suggests that self-identity does not require perfection or exceptionality. Instead, it is important to be good at the things that matter to you personally, whatever they may be. 

Focusing on your uniqueness and your personal goals empowers you to develop the qualities and behaviors that you desire, 

And finally, your self-integrity is upheld when your actions genuinely earn recognition and praise. Your success comes not because you seek compliments or rewards, but because you truly deserve them by aligning with your core values.

The neuroscientific research behind affirmations

Now, let us dive into the world of neuroscience, and how it supports the power of affirmations. 

Has scientific research confirmed the effectiveness of doing daily affirmations work as well? 

Yes, it has. 

The emergence of self-affirmation theory has inspired neuroscience research to investigate changes in the brain related to regular affirmation work. 

A study published in the Journal of Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience confirmed that positive affirmations trigger essential reward centers in the brain. These are the same brain centers that are activated by pleasure and satisfaction, such as winning a race or spending time with someone you love. 

Because your brain wants to continue these feelings of pleasure, affirmations have been shown to make you more receptive to changing your patterns of behavior and adopting more positive self-talk. 

In addition, multiple MRI studies have revealed that positive affirmations enhance specific neural pathways, particularly the ventromedial prefrontal cortex associated with positive valuation and self-related information processing. 

The benefits of daily affirmations work

Having explored both the psychological and neuroscientific explanations supporting the power of affirmations, let’s take a look at some of their proven benefits

Affirmations can: 

  • Decrease stress
  • Improve academic performance
  • Increase well-being
  • Increase feelings of self-worth
  • Reduce negative emotions
  • Improve goal planning
  • Help you cope with challenges

In addition to all these remarkable benefits, positive affirmations have a significant impact on brain plasticity, which is your brain's ability to adapt and evolve over your lifetime.

Furthermore, by reducing your stress levels and therefore improving your cognition, positive affirmations improve your problem-solving and social skills and help you start seeing yourself as the amazing person you are. 

This new and positive thought pattern may change your life forever! 

Tying it all together

It's exciting to know that there is a profound connection between psychology, neuroscience, and affirmations.

Practicing positive affirmations consistently can help your brain to develop new connections and thought patterns. 

And that's a big deal because it helps you to develop new habits, attitudes, and even personality traits. By doing your affirmation work you feed your brain with new information and almost literally rewire it.

Final thoughts

Complimenting yourself might make you feel strange at first, but the power of positive affirmations is undeniable.

Regularly practicing affirmations not only affects your self-perception. It also influences the very structure of your brain. From enhancing self-control to fostering a resilient mindset, positive affirmations are a remarkable tool for your personal growth and empowerment.

To make affirmations part of your daily routine, download the I am app. You’ll find affirmations that will help you reframe your thoughts and improve any area of your life. Set up a home screen widget, and you’ll be reminded of your worth and value every time you look at your phone! 

View all