Growing up with parents who talked a lot about the importance of positive thinking in all aspects of life including relationships, life goals and building a successful business, meant I was exposed to lots of books and tapes (yes cassette tapes – now there’s a call back from the 90’s). At 14 years old I was quoting from books with titles such as ‘Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway’, ‘The Power of Positive Thinking’ and ‘The Magic of Thinking Big.’ After going to university and not making my first £million by the age of 25, the magic of those words had dissipated as bills, mortgages and the daily routine of working life drowned them out and became all consuming. Like many people, I worked hard to achieve as much as possible of what I thought I was meant to aim for – having a partner, a home, holidays here and there and owning stuff….lots of stuff. So why was the small voice in my head still playing like a radio in the background telling me that I needed more and didn’t have enough?

With media on our phones updating us all day every day of all the negative (and occasionally lighter) news of what’s happening in the world around us, it can be difficult to to feel positive about our life, work and relationships. We can also feel guilty about wanting to try and find the positive in life when those around us are going through hardships, or we’re going through tough times ourselves. Sometimes we can convince ourselves that we’re not being negative, but that we’re ‘being practical.’ We somehow manage to convince ourselves that rather than aim for the goal we feel passionate about that there’s no point in trying as it’s ‘not the right time/would cost too much/would probably fail anyway/what makes us so special….’ (delete as appropriate).

Having spent a lot of time with people who are ill, in pain, managing chronic conditions or in palliative care, it’s a consistent reminder that life is short, that self belief and a positive mindset can create more happiness and contentment than not having it. Self-affirmations and self-statements can both be useful tools for building our confidence and self belief.

A man standing in a valley with his arms raised

Self-affirmations are positive statements that you say to yourself to reinforce your self-worth and values. They are usually short, specific, and are often used to counter negative self-talk or to build resilience in the face of challenges. For example, a self-affirmation might be “I am worthy of love and respect,” or “I am capable of achieving my goals.”

Self-statements on the other hand, are more general statements that you make to yourself about your thoughts, feelings, or behaviours. They can be positive or negative, and are often used to help you identify and change negative patterns in your thinking or behaviour. For example, a self-statement might be “I tend to procrastinate when I feel overwhelmed,” or “I am learning to be more patient with myself.”

While both self-affirmations and self-statements can be powerful tools, they serve different purposes. Self-affirmations are more focused on building positive self-talk and reinforcing your self-worth, while self-statements are more focused on identifying and changing negative patterns in your thinking or behaviour.

Self-affirmations

Self-affirmations are a popular tool in the world of personal development and mental health. They involve repeating positive statements out loud or in your thoughts, with the goal of increasing self-confidence, improving mood, and reducing stress and anxiety. It’s understandable to feel cynical about self-affirmations, especially if you’ve tried them before and didn’t experience the life-changing results you were hoping for. While self-affirmations can be effective in promoting positive thinking and boosting self-esteem it’s also true that they’re unlikely to be enough on their own to overcome deeper issues or challenges that you may be facing. At those times it’s important to seek professional help if you’re struggling with mental health issues or facing significant life stressors.

The theory behind self-affirmations is that our thoughts and beliefs have a powerful impact on our emotions and behaviour. By consciously choosing to focus on positive, uplifting messages, we can shift our mindset and improve our overall well-being. Therefore, the self-affirmations that you decide to use should be personalised to your specific needs and goals. Simply repeating generic affirmations may not be anywhere near as effective, so crafting affirmations that reflect you personally and the qualities you want to cultivate in yourself are vital.

The question remains: do self-affirmations really work? The answer is, it depends. Studies have shown that self-affirmations can be effective in certain situations. For example, one study found that participants who practised self-affirmations before a stressful event (I.e. public speaking engagement) experienced less anxiety and performed better than those who did not. Similarly, research has shown that self-affirmations can be helpful for individuals with low self-esteem or those who have experienced trauma*1. By repeating positive messages to oneself, individuals can challenge negative self-talk and build a stronger sense of self-worth.*2

A man looking to the side with his arms in front of his mouth

Obviously, self-affirmations are not a one-size-fits-all solution. They may not be effective for everyone, and they may even backfire in some cases. For example, if someone struggles with anxiety or depression, repeating positive messages to themselves may feel fake or unhelpful. Again, it’s important to note that self-affirmations are not a substitute for therapy or other forms of professional help. If you are struggling with mental health issues, it’s important to seek support from a qualified healthcare professional (for instance those registered on the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy – www.bacp.co.uk).

Here are some steps to help you effectively use self-affirmations:

  • Identify areas of your life that you would like to improve: self-esteem, confidence, your work, relationships, physical appearance, or any other area where you are struggling.
  • Write down your affirmations to help you feel more confident and capable in those areas. For example, if you’re struggling with work, you could write something like “I am capable and competent in my job.”
  • Write them in the present tense and use positive language. This will help you feel as though your affirmations are already true. For example, instead of saying “I will be successful,” say “I am successful.”
  • Repeat them daily whether you say them out loud, write them down, or listen to a recording of yourself saying them out load. The more you repeat your affirmations, the more they will become ingrained in your mind and the more effective they will be.
  • It’s important to believe in the truth of your affirmations. If you don’t believe what you’re saying, your affirmations won’t be as effective. Remember to stay positive and keep a growth mindset.
A woman with her eyes closed with smoke or mist in front of her face in an abstract pose

Repeating positive affirmations to yourself can help to reprogram your subconscious mind with positive thoughts and beliefs. Here are some powerful affirmations you may find useful:

  1. I am worthy and deserving of love, happiness, and success.
  2. I am confident, capable, and strong.
  3. I am grateful for all the good things in my life.
  4. I am healthy, happy, and full of energy.
  5. I am worthy of achieving my goals and dreams.
  6. I release all negative thoughts and emotions.
  7. I am at peace with myself and the world around me.
  8. I choose to focus on the positive.
  9. I am constantly growing and improving.

Self-Statements

Choosing effective self-statements is an important step in building positive self-talk and improving your overall mindset. Here are some tips to help you choose effective self-statements:

  • Identify negative self-talk: Start by identifying the negative self-talk that you engage in. This could be negative thoughts that you have about yourself or negative statements that you say to yourself.
  • Challenge negative self-talk: Once you have identified your negative self-talk, challenge it. Ask yourself if the negative statement is true, and if there is evidence to support it. Often, negative self-talk is based on inaccurate or distorted thinking, so challenging it can help you see things in a more balanced and positive way.
  • Reframe negative self-talk: After challenging your negative self-talk, reframe it into a positive self-statement. For example, if you tend to say to yourself, “I can’t do this,” reframe it as “I can do this if I try my best and ask for help when needed.”
  • Make self-statements specific and actionable: Self-statements should be specific and actionable, meaning that they should be focused on a specific behaviour or action that you can take. For example, “I am capable of learning new skills” is a more actionable statement than “I am a good person.”
  • Use present tense: When creating self-statements, use the present tense to reinforce the idea that you are capable of change in the present moment. For example, “I am confident and capable” is more powerful than “I will become confident and capable.”
  • Practice regularly: Finally, practice using your self-statements regularly. The more you use them, the more they will become a natural part of your thinking process, and the more effective they will be in helping you to build a positive mindset.

Remember, the key to making either affirmations or statements work is to repeat them consistently and with conviction throughout the day. The more you use them, the more powerful they become. While mindset can be changed relatively quickly, to help the change be maintained it’s like any muscle and will need work and practice.

Body and Mind

There is evidence to suggest that having a positive mindset can have a beneficial effect on physical healing times. Research has shown that individuals with a positive attitude towards their recovery tend to recover more quickly from illnesses and injuries than those with a negative attitude. One reason for this may be that a positive mindset can reduce stress levels, which in turn can have a positive effect on the immune system. Stress has been shown to have a negative impact on the body’s ability to heal, so by reducing stress, the body may be better able to focus on the healing process.

A woman behind a laptop looking like she's meditating

Having a positive mindset can help individuals to be more proactive in their recovery, by making healthier lifestyle choices, following medical advice, and engaging in physiotherapy or other forms of treatment. It’s important to note that while a positive mindset can be helpful in promoting healing, it should not be seen as a replacement for medical treatment. It can be difficult to maintain a positive attitude and feel motivated to commit to practising regular self affirmations when faced with illness, and that negative emotions such as fear, sadness, and anger are natural and valid responses. Seeking support from healthcare professionals, family, and friends can be important for managing emotions and developing coping strategies. If you are experiencing health issues, it’s important to seek medical advice and follow the recommended treatment plan.

The effectiveness of affirmations and statements depends on a variety of factors, including the individual’s mindset, the situation at hand, and any underlying mental health conditions. Ultimately, it’s up to you as to how open minded you can be in trusting that self-affirmations and/or statements are likely to be a helpful practice. You could try a few different lines to see if one resonates more with you than another. It doesn’t take a huge investment of time and could make all the difference if practised regularly for a minute or two each morning and at various points throughout the day.

Finally, keep in mind that self-affirmations are just one tool in a larger toolkit for self-improvement and personal growth. It’s important to use them in conjunction with other strategies like therapy, exercise, and healthy coping mechanisms. Can you find a few minutes each day to tune in your thoughts to help your mind and outlook feel healthier and more positive?

*Cascio. C, Brook O’Donnell. M, Tinney. F, Lieberman. M, Taylor. S, Strecher. S,. (2016). Self-affirmation activates brain systems associated with self-related processing and reward and is reinforced by future. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci.. 11(4), p.621–629

*Catherine Moore. (2019). Positive Daily Affirmations: Is There Science Behind It?. [Online]. https://positivepsychology.com. Available at: https://positivepsychology.com/daily-affirmations/ [Accessed 12 March 2023].