Do Affirmations Work?
August 11, 2005 10:45 AM   Subscribe

Do self-help affirmations work?

Is there any evidence (scientific or anecdotal) that self-help affirmations can help a person change and/or feel better about certain aspects of life? I'm speaking of positive, present-tense,first person statements commonly advocated by self-help literature.
posted by dugnorth to Human Relations (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
From personal experience, ruby slippers never work.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 10:54 AM on August 11, 2005

Scott Adams, in The Dilbert Future, went into detail about affirmations and claims that they do indeed work. While a lot of that book is to be taken lightly, he took pains to explain that he was serious about affirmations and that they had worked for him. You might want to check that section of the book (it's all the way in the back) for yourself.
posted by tommasz at 10:59 AM on August 11, 2005

Anecdotally, I can tell you that learning to say "whatever happens, I can handle it" to myself in moments of stress/panic/fear has made a noticeable difference for me in the past year or two. It short-circuits my old habit of envisioning worst-case scenarios (and then emotionally reacting to that same hypothetical worst-case scenario), and it also reminds me concretely that I am capable, resilient, etc. In other words, it helps me to think realisitically and feel calm/confident, even in unfamiliar or worrisome situations.
posted by scody at 11:29 AM on August 11, 2005 [2 favorites]

They certainly seem to work for some people, though they've never seemed to work for me.
posted by box at 11:50 AM on August 11, 2005

They work for me when I'm having an anxiety attack in an airplane. They get me to focus on the words, the meaning of the words, and anything OTHER than the fact that I'm going to die in a tin can. I think the best part about the affirmation is the distraction, especially when you repeat it over and over.
posted by Moral Animal at 12:01 PM on August 11, 2005

I deserve good things. I am entitled to my share of happiness. I refuse to beat myself up. I am an attractive person. I am fun to be with. . . I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and, doggonit, people like me! They work for Stuart Smalley why shouldn't they work for you.

Thinking positively works, and this just seems like another way to stay on the positive side.
posted by caddis at 12:09 PM on August 11, 2005

Empirical research has demonstrated that positive visualization (mentally practising an act with a positive outcome) is associated with higher levels of performance. Self-affirmations are kind of a part of cognitive therapy as well (which works). Of course, there are limitations and it's not magic.
posted by trey at 12:20 PM on August 11, 2005 [1 favorite]

What trey said. I've found that self-help affirmations don't generally work that well unless you talk about them. Getting other people to help you help yourself is usually a surefire way to change a behaviour, if you really want to change it.
posted by SpecialK at 12:43 PM on August 11, 2005

I have personally found affirmations to be very helpful in changing behaviors like smoking and forgetting names, as well as working with feelings of inadequacy or self-judgment.

An important point: An internal response along the lines of "shhhyeahhhRIGHT" does NOT mean that the affirmation is pointless. On the contrary: for me, a strong internal response of bitter incredulity means that I've gotten hold of a juicy one -- a strong and deeply held negative self-thought.

So I say the affirmation, allowing the resistance to arise and dissipate, and repeating it nine times in the morning and nine times at night.

Try it and see how it works for you! Can't hurt, might help, as my Chinese healer friends are always saying.
posted by ottereroticist at 12:44 PM on August 11, 2005 [2 favorites]

Worked for me after an ego-destroying relationship breakup, and contrary to what people said above, no one else knew about them. They certainly weren't the only thing I did to help myself, but I think that helped me get far enough rebuilding my self-worth that I could pursue other avenues.
posted by Kickstart70 at 1:13 PM on August 11, 2005

They definitely help with my anxiety disorder. Also, I'm going through Julia Cameron's Artist's Way course right now, and affirmations are a big deal. You might look into her book.
posted by sugarfish at 2:32 PM on August 11, 2005

Data point: my memory for names became much better when I stopped telling people "I'm terrible with names" and started telling them "I'm very good at remembering names" instead.

There's probably more than affirmation going on here.
posted by ikkyu2 at 2:44 PM on August 11, 2005 [3 favorites]

Another vote for "it works".
posted by ruelle at 5:03 PM on August 11, 2005

Hmm. I love the "telling people I'm good at remembering names" idea. I think I'm going to try it.
posted by Badmichelle at 6:47 PM on August 11, 2005

Yes it works. The results are not quantifiable; nor am I aware if it's scientifically proven in black and white. But the idea is entirely logical and common sense.

For example, we've all had episodes of depression, being moody, angry, sad... the bad days.

What happens during those times, is that our mind is being inhibited by a lot of negativity. Even though the causes may be external (eg death, getting a scolding, losing something, etc), it's our own thoughts that make us feel the way we do.

On the other hand... when good things happen, our mind, body and soul feels lights and positive. However, instead of relying on external events to make us feel good, there are many ways to do it internally.

Self-affirmation is just one of those methods. It's like developing a habit - once you get used to it, it will be part of you. Like smoking, or waking up early, or drinking coffee for breakfast, etc. You live your habits.

Other methods of changing your moods and feelings include body posture (smile, sit and walk straight when depressed - you will automatically feel better) and shifting your environment (music, lighting, etc).
posted by arrowhead at 12:47 AM on August 12, 2005

This is the basis of cognitive therapy, which was a critical step in breaking my negative thinking and deepest levels of depression.

In cognitive therapy, you develop an inner dialog that replaces negative thoughts with positive ones, half-empty to half-full. Instead of saying to yourself There's no way I can do that you can simply replace it with a positive I know I can do it. You could also formally recognize what type of cognitive dysfunction your inner dialog represents, for instance, black and white thinking. Then you can devise a response to yourself such as You're just looking at the downside, there's every chance you can win.

These techniques may seem unremarkable to the average well-balanced person, but to a depressive they're a hammer of gold.
posted by dhartung at 1:46 AM on August 12, 2005 [2 favorites]

Affirmations worked for me on an anxiety disorder. Like others in this thread, I was on cb/bc/cognitive therapy.

As you really can't trick yourself into believing something you would otherwise reject, I think it's important to compose an affirmation that you already believe or find credible. Don't necessarily replace "I can't" with "I can" - maybe go with "I'm becoming better able" at first. When "I'm becoming better able" becomes internalized, "Hell, yeah" then becomes easier accept.

I was raised in the Catholic tradition and found affirmations similar in practice to prayer. The technique of combining positive thought with repetition has been used for centuries in praying the rosary or singing chants. The technique can be found similarly deployed in religions (and cults, clubs, schools) worldwide. [I do not make a dogmatic or theistic endorsement. I mention this only because it may indicate historical evidence for the effectiveness of affirmation as a technique...for whatever end]
posted by klarck at 4:46 AM on August 12, 2005

Underwent some serious stress recently that led to a lot of hopeless self-spiraling worry and anxiety. Though this may not be exactly what you were asking about, I found the words to "Let It Be", (and yes hearing Paul's voice in my head) really helped a lot.
posted by marsha56 at 1:36 AM on August 13, 2005

For more on this and CBT, see the book I have to keep buying because borrowers don't return it (hmm...maybe i should look into that), the cornily-named but very helpful Feeling Good.
posted by softlord at 6:42 AM on August 19, 2005

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