Affirmations are a self-help strategy used to promote self-confidence and belief in your own abilities.
You’ve probably affirmed yourself without even realizing it by telling yourself things like:
- “All I can do is my best.”
- “I’ve got what it takes.”
- “I believe in my ability to succeed.”
These simple statements help shift your focus away from perceived failures or inadequacies and direct your focus toward your strengths — those you already have and those you want to develop.
But do they actually work? Kind of.
Affirmations generally work as a tool for shifting your mindset and achieving your goals, but they’re not a magic bullet for instant success or healing.
Neuroplasticity, or your brain’s ability to change and adapt to different circumstances throughout your life, offers a clue to help understand not only what makes affirmations work, but how to make them more effective.
Your brain sometimes gets a little mixed up on the difference between reality and imagination, which can be surprisingly useful.
Creating a mental image of yourself doing something — like acing a nerve-wracking interview or conquering your fear of heights by bungee jumping — activates many of the same brain areas that actually experiencing these situations would.
Regular repetition of affirming statements about yourself can encourage your brain to take these positive affirmations as fact. When you truly believe you can do something, your actions often follow.
For example, you might replace a negative or anxious thought, like:
- “I’m so terrible at interviews. I’m probably not even as qualified as the other candidates. There’s no way they’ll hire me, I should just leave.”
With a positive affirmation:
- “I have all the necessary skills and experience, and I’m the perfect candidate for this job.”
Using affirmations may help you feel more relaxed before your interview, and knowing you’re fully prepared can also help you avoid self-sabotaging thoughts or behaviors potentially interfering with your success.
Remember, action is key
Repeating an affirmation can help boost your motivation and confidence, but you still have to take some action yourself. Try thinking of affirmations as a step toward change, not the change itself.
Consider that nosy co-worker who always asks questions about your personal life. You don’t want to say anything to offend, but you also have no intention of answering their questions.
These tactics, combined with your affirmations, help you get through the stressful moment until you can politely make an escape.
The affirmation didn’t make the change, you did. But it did offer a starting point.
Affirmations are just one self-help tool. Like other strategies, they can offer some measure of relief, but their benefits usually depend on how you use them.
Creating your own can help ensure you’re choosing affirmations that will help you most. Try the tips below to start developing and using affirmations more effectively.
Set them in the present
While affirmations can seem similar to goals, they don’t work in quite the same way.
Remember neuroplasticity? You’re using affirmations to help change long-standing patterns and beliefs. A good way to bring this change about is to act as if you’ve already succeeded.
A goal remains something you have to work toward. An affirmation, on the other hand, strengthens your confidence by reminding you of what you can do right now.
Avoid stock affirmations
You can find affirmations pretty much everywhere: T-shirts, inspirational images on social media, internet articles, and self-help blogs, to name a few places.
It’s perfectly fine to use an affirmation you read somewhere that really stuck with you, but creating an affirmation specifically tailored to your goals may work best.
Affirmations can be about anything, so why not get creative and consider ways to make yours as specific as possible?
Many people find it helps to link affirmations to core values, such as kindness, honesty, or dedication. This can help you remain focused on the broader picture of what really matters to you.
Say you’ve felt a little down lately because your career hasn’t proven as financially rewarding as you imagined. To counter these negative feelings, you want to remind yourself of the things you do appreciate.
You might construct an affirmation along the lines of:
- “I have wonderful co-workers and a loving family. My work satisfies me, and I know I’m making a difference.”
This statement reminds you of the things a large paycheck alone can’t provide.
Keep it real
Affirmations tend to have the most benefit when they center on specific traits or realistic, achievable changes you’d like to make to those traits.
Change is always possible, but some changes happen more easily than others. Affirmations alone can’t produce change in every situation, and if your affirmation focuses on a statement you don’t accept as true, it may have little effect.
Perhaps you don’t think much of your body shape. An affirmation about desired changes might increase your motivation to work on getting fit or bulking up.
But exercise, however beneficial, can’t change every aspect of your body.
A more effective affirmation might involve a more neutral statement, such as:
- “I appreciate what my body does for me each day, and I keep myself in good health with regular activity and nutritious foods.”
Similarly, affirming your favorite traits (physical or otherwise) can help you see yourself in a new light.
Compassion, quick wit, strength, speed: Everyone has unique talents. Focusing on yours can help prevent frustration and self-criticism when affirmations don’t manifest into improbable outcomes.
Ultra-positive affirmations along the lines of “I am beautiful” and “I love myself each and every day” often fail because most people don’t truly believe those things.
More neutral or specific statements, such as “I love my smile and kind face” or “I treat myself with kindness every day,” generally prove more helpful.
Practice affirming yourself every day
To get the most benefit from affirmations, you’ll want to start a regular practice and make it a habit:
- Start with 3 to 5 minutes at least twice a day. Try saying affirmations upon waking up and getting into bed, for example.
- Repeat each affirmation about 10 times. Listen to yourself saying it, focusing on the words as they leave your mouth. As you say them, believe them to be true.
- Ask a trusted loved one to help. Listening to someone else repeat your affirmations may help reinforce your belief in them.
- Make your routine consistent. Try not to skip any days. If you meditate, affirmations can be a great addition to your daily practice.
- Be patient. It may take some time before you notice any changes, so stick with your practice!
Another benefit of a daily routine? Practicing affirmations can
Knowing you have the ability to manage stress and other life difficulties can help boost confidence and self-empowerment, further promoting faith in yourself.
The truth is, affirmations don’t work for everyone. And contrary to what some people suggest, positive thinking isn’t all-powerful.
Negative ideas about the self can certainly hold you back, but sometimes these ideas come from something that dwells a little deeper within.
Uncovering past experiences that are fueling deeply etched patterns of negative thinking is best done with help from a therapist.
Also keep in mind that low self-esteem and other negative thought patterns often relate to mental health concerns, including depression and anxiety.
A therapist can help you begin identifying potential causes of negative or unwanted thoughts and explore helpful coping strategies, which might include affirmations alongside other tools.
A daily affirmation practice can mark a solid step on the journey toward self-improvement — for some people.
If affirmations leave you in a worse mood, don’t take this as a sign of failure or resign yourself to unhappiness. It could simply mean your journey toward change uses a slightly different route. A therapist can offer guidance and help you plot a better course.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.