Do Affirmations Work?

Can a word or phrase change your emotional state? “Irritation, frustration, hatred, revenge, rage, disease, death.” How are you feeling? Now listen to this: “Love, beauty, kindness, joy, wonder, calm, happiness.” Feeling different? Probably. Words don’t just change the way we feel, they change the way we behave.

New York University psychologists exposed one group of people to words such as “rude” and “disrespectful” while another group read sentences with words like “respectful” and “polite”. They then went into a room where they had to pass on a message to someone in the middle of a conversation. More than three times as many of the people reading the impoliteness related words interrupted the speaker.

Clearly words can change our state and behaviour without as even realizing it. That’s the problem with those news bulletins filled as they are with love and cheer, when they’re over they’re not over in your head.

But does repeating an affirmation like: “I am a well loved and respected person, capable of greatness,” boost self esteem? Research published in the journal of psychological science found that when people with low self-esteem repeat these sorts of statements they often feel worse. Why? How do you think you would feel if you just had your arm blown off and then repeated an affirmation that said: “I have two beautiful, healthy arms.” You’d probably find yourself focusing even more on what you know to be the truth, that you … don’t. When you repeat a positive statement that you really don’t believe it can reinforce the opposite.

The same researchers found that these affirmations can work when the underlying self-loathing beliefs are changed through talk therapy.

But can an affirmation boost your intellectual power? A Carnegie Mellon University study found that thinking about ones top values before a test increased student’s problem solving ability by 50%. The researchers believe this is because the positive statements reduced the students stress levels. So as long as you believe the affirmation it can lift your mood, destress you and even boost your intellect.