How to choose and perform daily positive affirmations so they actually work

A positive affirmation is like a mantra. You might say to yourself “I believe in myself and keep myself healthy.” Even if you currently find self-belief and healthy-living challenging, the affirmation is a counterbalance to your negative thoughts and helps to move you closer to your preferred reality.

Affirmations are not just a fluffy, new age idea — it actually has some basis in science. People that say affirmations may experience less stress, have higher motivation levels, have better emotional resilience, and/or are more likely to achieve their goals.

Learn more about affirmations below.

More examples of affirmations that work:

  • I have the ability to succeed
  • I am enough
  • I am grateful to have my new job
  • I feel beautiful at my ideal weight
  • I am proud when I see my friends succeed

When and how to say your daily affirmations?

When you have chosen an affirmation for yourself you need to choose when to repeat it to yourself. Some people prefer morning affirmations, and others prefer evening affirmations.

The advantage of a morning affirmation is that the thought remains fresh in your mind as you go through your day. The advantage of an evening affirmation is that the thought can sink into your subconscious as you sleep.

Should you do a morning affirmation, evening affirmation, or both? It's really up to you to decide. You may want to experiment, trying morning affirmations for a week then evening affirmations for a week.

Now that you know when to perform your affirmations, the next question is how?
Again, you have a choice. You can either say your affirmations out loud or you can write them down.

Either way, most practitioners recommend that you repeat each affirmation (if you have more than one) ten or more times. However, if this starts to get tedious, don't feel too concerned about reducing the number of repetitions. The goal is to spend enough time with your daily affirmation that you feel the emotion connected with that reality. If you are getting bored, you will not feel the benefit. So do what feels right to you.

What is the science behind daily affirmations?

It shouldn't come as too much of a surprise that there are studies into affirmations. After all, though it is a new trend, it is only a development of existing practices of positive thinking, visualisation and goal setting, which over the decades have been proven to be effective many times over.

One of the main studies relating specifically to affirmations is the work of Cooke et al in showing that self-affirmation promotes physical activity.

Another study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology showed that brief self-affirmation writing interventions improved academic performance for those who struggled in school.

Some say that the secret to affirmations, as well as visualisation and positive thinking, is that the brain has such an effective imagination that it fires many of the same neurons when imagining a goal as when actually achieving it. In this way, an affirmation is a bit like “practice” for the real thing. Because of neuroplasticity, as you say your affirmations and visualise your goals, you become more like the person that can actually achieve those goals.

This is just a theory for now. There is much more work to be done in the areas of psychology and neuroscience before we fully understand why affirmations work or the best ways to do them. But we've already got a lot of evidence that they do work, and that's enough for us to suggest that you try them and find out for yourself.

How to write an affirmation that is right for you

You can borrow an affirmation from a book or website, but the best affirmations are unique to your challenges and circumstances. But how do you write your own?

One method is to start with a problem you have identified in your own life. This might be an area in your work, health, relationships or thinking in which you are unsatisfied or otherwise brings you discontent.

Then, write an affirmation that is the opposite of the problem.

For example, if your challenge is loneliness, the opposing affirmation might be “I am deserving of love”.

If your challenge is debt, the opposing affirmation might be “I am responsible with money”.

An affirmation should be short, and it should start with “I”, but not “I want” or “I should”. What makes an affirmation special is that it is phrased in the present tense as if it is something you already have.

Take your affirmations to the next level

Your affirmations should be infused with positivity and gratitude. When we say write the opposite of your problem, don't focus on the negative. Instead, give the positive version of the same message.

For example, “I am not socially anxious” would be less powerful than “I am socially confident”. Or replace “I will not be fearful in my driving lesson” with “I am happy when driving in my car”.

Infuse emotion into your affirmations. If you are trying to develop your competence at work, your first attempt at an affirmation might read “I am an excellent salesperson.” Help this sink in by choosing a specific emotion to focus on. For example: “I am proud of my excellent sales skill”.

Be realistic. Don't assume that affirmations on their own are a solution. They are just one method to help push you in the right direction.

The history of daily affirmations

The history of daily affirmations is connected to the history of autosuggestion and self-hypnosis. These ideas were partially developed by Émile Coué, a French pharmacist working in the early 1900s.

It is a bit like the placebo effect, where telling a patient that they have taken an effective medication can be enough for the patient to have a positive reaction — even when the substance they have ingested had no chemical effect whatsoever!

Coué realised that this indicated that reality tends towards the thoughts that exist in people's minds. And if this could happen accidentally, as with the placebo effect, it could also happen intentionally.

These observations have developed into daily affirmations and into more recent trends like “cosmic ordering” and “manifesting”.

If you're interested in these areas of study, you might want to read more about hypnotherapy.