Neuroscience of Affirmations


The human body is in a constant state of fluctuation. Your thoughts cause your body to make physical changes. When you think about something, your brain sends out a signal that releases neurotransmitters. These body chemicals manage every one of your body’s functions. This includes your emotions and mood. In time and because of repetition, researchers have found that a person’s thoughts modify the body’s brain, cells and even its genes. 

How Thoughts Change Body Functions 

Feelings of gratitude create a rush of pleasant neurotransmitters such as dopamine or norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters result in an overall positive boost in the mind. 

Norman Doidge wrote the book “The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science.” In the book, he speaks about an experiment involving finger exercises. One group of participants exercised a muscle in their finger for one month. That group increased the strength of the muscle by 30%. A second group visualized exercising the same finger muscle. Without moving a finger, they increased the strength of the muscle by 22%. 

Thoughts, visualizations and self-talk have the ability to modify a person’s brain, body and life. One way to take advantage of the brain’s power is by using affirmations. According to studies, when people practice positive affirmations, they respond in less negative ways when challenges arise. 

What is an affirmation? An affirmation is one of the principles of success. It is an intentional thought that you say to yourself for encouragement, support or a sense of calm. Most affirmations are positive phrases that people say to themselves to push back against thoughts that are unhappy, depressing or anxious. 

Affirmations are a mental health tool, one that you can use to form a healthy self-image and develop a hardy brain. 

Why You Should Start Using Affirmations 

Humans have an inner dialogue that they listen to during the day. Some of this self-talk is helpful while some of it isn’t. When our thoughts include fear statements, it is counterproductive. Hearing yourself worry about things like never healing or what you missed out on is not good for you. 

Start using simple positive affirmations. They can help you offset or subdue the negative thoughts that may overwhelm your thinking. 

The Science of Affirmations 

While an affirmation may seem like a magic power, it isn’t. There is scientific evidence showing that affirmations change a person’s body and brain. 

For you to experience the benefits of affirmations, you’ll need to establish a regular practice of using them. This type of mind body work is widely accepted. It is also a theory welcomed by the psychological community. 

One of the main theories that support positive affirmations is called the self-affirmation theory. In this theory, researchers determined that people could practice positive self-talk to hold onto their self-integrity. 

Self-integrity connects to our universal self-efficacy. This is our supposed ability to influence moral outcomes and react in positive ways when someone or something challenges our idea of who we are. To protect ourselves from these kinds of threats, we develop defense techniques. 

Affirmations Engage Your Brain’s Reward Areas 

According to one study, affirmations engage the reward areas of your brain. To determine this, researchers took an fMRI while a study participant was using affirmations. 

The areas of the brain that send happy signals to your body when you use affirmations are the same ones that activate when you’re doing other pleasurable things like eating something tasty or laughing. The brain’s reward network is powerful. Research confirms that the brain’s reward areas may decrease pain and help you stay positive when stressful situations occur. 

The study found that when the participants used affirmations, the medial prefrontal cortex and the posterior cingulate areas of the brain lit up. These parts of the brain connect to how you relate to yourself. Research shows that when you’re able to increase your self-related processing, you’ll be better able to handle painful or negative information. 

Affirmation Examples 

If you’re not sure what affirmations to say to yourself, here are a few examples. 

• I’m happy that I’m now creating a healthy sense of self that I use for strength. 
• I’m grateful that I’m now welcoming my unique talents and personal resources. 
• I’m excited that I’m now providing valuable perspectives and ideas that are useful to my field. 
• I’m joyful that I’m now willing to use my failures as a chance to learn and develop my strengths. 

Additional Benefits of Using Affirmations 

Additional benefits of using affirmations include: 

• Decreased stress levels 
• More interest in physical activities 
• Better able to handle everyday challenges 
• Increased feelings of hopefulness
• Improved self esteem 
• Better work performance 

When Should You Use Affirmations? 

Use affirmations when you’re facing a situation in which you want a positive change to happen. For instance, consider thinking one to increase your confidence before attending an important meeting or event. 

If you’re experiencing negative emotions like frustration, anger or anxiety, then this is a good time to use an affirmation as well. When you feel like giving up, consider thinking an affirmation to keep going. You can also use one to quit a harmful or bad habit. 

Often, affirmations work better when you combine them with other positive mind techniques. For instance, many people experience success when they pair an affirmation with a positive visual image. 

Try to create a consistent daily habit of saying affirmations regularly throughout each day. Also practice writing them in a daily journal for an even more powerful affect. That way, when you’re facing an especially stressful or anxious moment, you’ll have an affirmation at the ready. 

Embrace a Positive Mind Body Connection 

Affirmations are one of the principles of success. When you embrace these principles, you can change your body, brain and life for the better. If you need help getting started, reach out to me at the Productivity Intelligence Institute.