You will be a failure, until you impress the subconscious with the conviction you are a success. This is done by making an affirmation which ‘clicks.’
-Florence Scovel Shinn
Research on Self Affirmations
Self-Affirmations, like meditation has been studied to a good degree. Self-Affirmations, also like meditation are one of the things I feel that many people neglect to do – Probably more so than meditation. Screaming positive things about yourself in your house can seem like a one way trip to the psychiatric ward. In reality it could be a great way to boost brain activity and perhaps even boost self-esteem.
Self-Affirmations on Performance
In a recent study published in Psychological Science found that self-affirmations can help us deal with threats to our self-integrity.
Researchers measured the effects on attention and emotion in the form of a brain response called the error-related negativity or ERN. The ERN is an electrical activity that occurs in the brain almost instantaneously after making an error.
Researchers randomly selected 38 undergraduates to either a non-affirmation or a self-affirmation study. In the self-affirmation study, participants were given 6 values; aesthetic, social, political, religious, economic and theoretical values and were asked to rank them from most to least important. Afterwards, they were given 5 minutes to write about why their highest-ranked value was most important to them.
In the non self-affirmation group, they were given the same task but they were required to write why their highest-ranked value was not very important to them. This was done to test the effectiveness of a negative self-affirmation.
After the rankings, participants performed a self-control test. Participants were told to press a button when the letter ‘M’ appeared on the screen. If the letter ‘W’ appeared on the screen and they pressed the button they were given a ‘Wrong!’ on the screen. This was to give participants a sense of threat and provide negative feedback.
It was found that participants in the self-affirmation group made fewer errors than participants in the non self-affirmation group on the button task.
During this task participant’s brain activity was also measured. This is the interesting part. It was found that both groups had the same brain activity when they pressed the button at the right time but the group that did the self-affirmation showed a higher ERN when they made an error. This explains why the self-affirmation group was able to perform better than the non self-affirmation group. With a higher ERN level the self-affirmation group was more aware of their mistakes and was able to correct them than the non self-affirmation group.
These findings show that self-affirmations make us more aware of our errors so that we may correct them better. This can help improve performance and help us learn. So it appears that self-affirmation can also boost performance and learning.
Positive Affirmations on Self-Esteem
We know positive affirmations appear to boost performance and learning but how about self-esteem? Do studies show that positive affirmations boost self-esteem? The answer is, it depends.
Dr. Joanne Wood with her colleagues published a research paper in the Journal of Psychological Science. During this study they had two groups. One group was a group of participants with low self-esteem, the other group was one with high self-esteem. They asked both groups to repeat “I am a lovable person”. They then measured the participant’s moods and feelings about themselves.
It was found that the low self-esteem group – The group which needs positive affirmations the most, actually felt worse afterwards compared to others. People with high self-esteem felt slightly better after repeating the positive affirmation.
Participants were then asked to list negative and positive thoughts about themselves. They found that those with low self-esteem actually felt better when they were allowed to have negative thoughts. This suggests that positive affirmations actually backfire on those with low self-esteem. Ironically these are the individuals that need it most.
Does this mean that positive affirmations are useless? I personally think not. As long as you truly believe in what you are saying to yourself it can boost self-esteem. But if you do the positive affirmation and you find negative thoughts begin to appear it may be doing more harm than good. This is why it’s important to scream it and really put your energy behind these affirmations and not just stand there and say it because you ‘have to’.
This same idea is talked about in The Confidence Gap by Russ Harris. The problem is if you truly believe you are not confident and then you try to force this new reality of ‘I’m confident’ your brain will come up with reasons of why you are not confident because it tends to cling to your current self-image. Sometimes our self-image says “I am confident” but sometimes we just have a bad day, nobody is confident all the time. In this situation positive affirmations will help. But it does not help when you try to force this new self-image onto your psyche.
It’s like me running into your house telling you aliens exist. If you were a skeptic, the first thing you would do is tell me all the reasons why aliens don’t exist. Because in your reality aliens don’t exist and you will need to be convinced in order to change that reality. Maybe you’re not a skeptic or maybe you’re just kind of on the fence about it. If this is your reality maybe me just telling you aliens exist is enough to persuade you into this new reality of mine.
I think the best time to do positive affirmations is before a daunting task. If you are feeling nervous before a speech or interview, screaming positive affirmations at yourself can really pump you up and calm the nerves. It has been shown to boost performance as well. You have to take a personal perspective on this and look at yourself critically and ask yourself if positive affirmations are actually helping you.
Do you do self affirmations? What kind of self affirmations do you do? Do you believe that they help? Let me know in the comments below!
Have a great day!
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