The Science beneath Positive Affirmations Part 1 of 2

The power of positive thoughts is real, and many people who find triumph in life have used it to achieve their goals. In order to harness that power to assist you, you first have to understand why and how it works, what kind of mechanisms it activates in your brain, and how you can make the most of positive affirmations, avoiding the most regular pitfalls of this technique.

What Are Affirmations and What is the Science behind Them?

Affirmations are tools for empowerment. Just thinking “I can surely do this” will not get you very far, but it will put you in the right situation to tackle it. Thinking “I can’t do this” will discourage you from even trying, or will cause you to approach the job halfhearted, bringing it to an almost guaranteed letdown.

The human brain is multifaceted, but, to simplify things, it may be compared to an onion, with its many layers. You can’t access the middle layer directly – meaning that you cannot direct your subconscious, but, if you exert adequate pressure on the outer layer (the conscious one), you can generate a wave of changes in the total mechanism.

Basically, this means you have to “immerse” your brain in positive thoughts, until they penetrate to the deepest layers. Without going into the depths of neuro-linguistic programming, it has been acknowledged for quite a long time that the words you speak, the very words you say and think, have a weighty influence on your actions, and on your ways of perceiving the world and interacting with it. For instance, English is a naturally empowering language, due to its deep use of subjects and active verbs. A straightforward sentence such as “I got sick” puts the speaker, “I”, at the centre of the universe, while the sickness is an episode that happens in relation to the speaker. In a lot of other languages, this would be articulated as “The sickness has struck me”, turning the speaker into an object, at the mercy of other events. Certain African languages are mostly interesting from this point of observation, being tremendously passive in their patterns – the speaker does not do things, things are done to the speaker.

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This, of course, does not imply that you have to be a native English speaker in order to create the most of the supremacy of positive thinking, any language has phrases that can be used for empowerment. But the case in point above can be used to shed some light on the questions of “what is an affirmation?” and “how can I use it to my gain?

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What Are Positive Affirmations and How Can the Right Ones Be Found?

The difference between positive and negative affirmations is quite subtle, and not at all obvious at the first glance. This is where the majority of people who try to use the power of positive thinking fail, because they are inclined to focus on the negative aspects they want to fix in their lives. For instance, a thought such as “I exercise in order to lose weight” implies that you’re not contented with your current physical shape, and may subconsciously bring up a lot of negative implications and depressed self-esteem issues. Even “I work out to stay hale and hearty” may set off anxious reactions, since it implicates that failure to keep fit may put you in hospital.

But what are positive affirmations, and how precisely can you make a distinction between the negative and positive ones? The simple truth that the statement needs to be positive is, noticeably, not enough. The brain cannot be easily tricked; it can recognize when a statement is not true, and simply dismiss it. Try using an affirmation that you know is untrue (“I love my profession” works for most people). Then, go ahead and apply an affirmation that is true, and holds a deep significance for you (such as “I love my family”). Examine the difference in how you feel when saying these things. Ideally, you should arrive at a point when you can say “I love my profession” and sincerely mean it, but this progression will take some time to achieve, and it will take lots of little steps to get there. Very general statements like these seldom work in the beginning. It’s often best to start with something minor, for example “I love my bright office”, or “I like the aroma of fresh coffee when I arrive in the office”, and work your way up from there.

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So, to sum things up, what are positive affirmations? For a sentence to hold any real significance, it has to be:

  • in the present tense,
  • perceived as real, or at least achievable,
  • part of a long-term goal,
  • without any negative connotations,
  • individualized to meet your needs.

Watch out for Part 2 next week.

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