Affirmations are often associated with woo-woo, sage sticks, and a strange smell of…something you can’t quite put your finger on. Oh, and tea.
THERE’S ALWAYS TEA.
As soon as you hear the word affirmations there’s a strange music that starts playing in your ear, and your bullshit radar goes off a little, right?
Maybe that music IS the BS radar… hmm..
With the woo-woo world colliding with our scientific world, a lot of us skeptics are starting to grow curious about what the big deal is.
As more studies are coming out about mental psychology, it’s proving that some of this stuff isn’t necessarily all crocks of — well, you know.
For example, positive thinking isn’t simply a ‘hope-and-wish-that-your-life-improves-while-doing-nothing’ magical thinking. In fact, it’s proven (with science!) – and I want to dive into some great data in this post!
Before you click away, hear me out!
And because of the rise in popularity and science, I want to approach some of the aspects of the woo-things from a scientific perspective.
The skeptics are being forced to ask – Is it all hogwash like we’ve always thought?
Or is the science actually real and it’s pointing towards something we haven’t discovered yet?
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The Author of the Dilbert Comics (Scott Adams) Weighs in on Affirmations
Scott Adams, the guy who designed the popular Dilbert Comics, wrote a piece explaining his thoughts on affirmations. Somehow, his own skeptical mind came to question his beliefs on affirmations.
Adams called his experience with affirmations “fascinating” and also “puzzling”. This intrigued me to consider my own thoughts on the subject!
I read Scotts article,, which you can get as a resource in my resource library, The Vault, and it really got me thinking…
01 | What are affirmations, really?
Some people believe that there’s a mystic trait, or some sort of magic to affirmations.
The author of the Dilbert comics explains this perfectly:
The idea behind affirmations is that you simply write down your goals 15 times a day and somehow, as if by magic, coincidences start to build until you achieve your objective against all odds…
He goes on to explain that, “Affirmations might be nothing more than a wonderful illusion that you can control your own luck.”
If this is all an illusion – in other words, if they’re fake, why would we want to even bother seeing if it’s ‘real’?
Because, with the growth of science – it’s starting to look otherwise.
Psychology Today has another way to explain affirmations. They wrote an article on whether affirmations are a good tool to use for self-improvement:
Affirmations are positive statements. When properly formed, affirmations can counteract some of our negative thoughts and habits, resonating with the alpha brain waves and enabling us to achieve empowerment.
In other words, science says they’re sentences that help retrain the brain.
The next question is – are they real? Or total bull?
02 | Are affirmations even real?
Hint: it’s all mental!
The Jim Carrey Story
Jim Carrey has a famous story that always inspires me to consider the otherworldly idea of ‘pretend thinking,’ ‘vision boards,’ and ‘affirmations’.
Despite having very few dollars in his bank account, broke actor Jim Carrey allegedly forced his success into being using this psychological phenomenon that we know very little about.
Jim convinced himself that doing this ‘day dreaming’ made him feel better when he was struggling as an actor.
He wrote a check to himself for 10 million dollars, and gave himself 3 years to do the work and get where he wanted to be. Within that time, he got his first big break with Dumb & Dumber.
Watch this short clip of him explaining it to Oprah:
So – you could argue that it’s because he did the work, sure, that is a huge part of it. But without having an idea of what work needs done, not a clue what direction to go into – you can’t know what to work towards.
So mentally you still need to prepare yourself by pointing out the difference between where you are and where you want to be.
That – is all mental.
The Oprah Version
Oprah went from poverty to one of the wealthiest women in the world and she puts her claim to fame all on affirmations. Just take a look at her Youtube videos on the subject! It doesn’t tell us how they work, but we can say that none of us are as successful as her, so something must have!
“Affirmations are so important. ‘I am youthful and timeless.’ I tell myself that every day, a few times a day. It sounds like cliched bullshit, but it’s not. Age is all in your mind. Look at Jane Fonda.”
She believes in affirmations so much that small little affirmations are sprinkled around her house, like sculptures, pillow cases, or hanging art. That’s one way to keep it in front of you all the time!
This is also mental – the idea of keeping positive words in front of you at all times which will allow it to seep into your brain in a sort of positive brainwashing situation.
The ‘You’ve Got Mail’ Story
Recently I was perusing Instagram and came across an entrepreneur who had a post that said something like this:
I think I programmed myself to fail at my first business! I used to watch a movie called You’ve Got Mail, where Meg Ryan was failing at her business. I loved the movie so much I would watch it every day, practically wearing out the DVD. After Meg Ryan’s business fails, right after the company goes under, her life gets better. After I closed my brick and mortar store (when a bigger store moved in) my life also got better. Did I manifest my business failing?
I can see the eerie similarities – she even said her parents ended up getting a dog and naming it the same name as Meg Ryans in the movie!
So to answer the question if affirmations are real or not – it seems that with personal experiences, affirmations can actually be a sort of self-talk that can influence positively or negatively in our lives.
For the entrepreneur, it could have been something she was ‘brainwashing’ into her subconscious – that businesses are meant to fail – so perhaps this was the case for this entrepreneur. A negative example of the psychological effects that content can have.
This is similar to what JLo does in her house – or what Jim Carrey convinced himself in his youth.
These examples pose interesting questions:
Do the environment and mind influence each other in a way we haven’t discovered yet?
Is it simply the matter of our thinking, negatively or positively, that influence our environment and consequentially, change our lives?
We do know that some sort of phenomenon is happening, we simply don’t have enough information yet.
Next, let’s dive into what science we do have, so we can make the most informed decision for ourselves!
03 | Figuring out how affirmations really work
How do affirmations work according to science? Is it all luck?
It’s time to look into what is most factual about affirmations.
Read what the Dilbert author said, here:
“There’s a book called The Luck Factor, in which researcher Richard Wiseman describes studying people who considered themselves lucky, to see if they had any special powers along the lines of ESP.
It turns out that they don’t.
But he did discover that people who expect luck have a more powerful ability to notice opportunities in their environment.
Optimistic people’s field of perception is literally greater.
And the best part is he discovered that when you train people to expect luck, their field of perception increases accordingly. I think part of the mystery of affirmations has to do with the fact that it improves your ability to notice an opportunity.
And when you do, it seems like a lucky coincidence.
In my case, about half of my seemingly miraculous results with affirmations could be traced back to my noticing something important.”
If they can get Scott Adams, the fence-sitting affirmation-skeptic to say that, it’s worth discussing the possibilities!
So in that quote, The Luck Factor is a book explaining a psychological phenomenon that seems to take place in our brains, to help achieve our goals.
The possibility of our brains turning a physical phenomenon into a psychological event simply meant to solve problems reminds me of a book. The Success Principles by Jack Canfield, where Jack talks about how to get your dream life.
Jack believes that by stating your goals or affirmations out loud, your brain starts seeing the difference between your current circumstances and what you want.
In exchange, your brain starts seeing opportunities better than it used to.
In other words – it’s just psychology.
You’re simply training your brain to view your environment with a different set of eyes.
So, affirmations aren’t magic, they’re psychological!
Give Your Brain a Problem….
You give your brain a problem or an input, and it’s going to work on it until it finds the answer.
Why? Because your brains entire job is to solve problems and close gaps.
This is why you have dreams that suddenly let you see the solution to a problem.
If you give your mind a gap, such as writing something 15 times a day, or having your goals on an index card or whiteboard that you get to see every day, your brain will try to see the solution.
It’s constantly working on that problem.
Your brain will realize the gap, and it will translate that to be a problem you want solved.
This means you’ll start noticing various opportunities that you wouldn’t have seen before!
Change Your Mind and the (Gray) Matter Follows
Your mind is constantly creating new neural connections every day. Whether you are conscious of it or not, your brain is building those neural connections and strengthening the ‘habit’.
In a recent podcast I listened to, an Australian Astrophysicist challenged the idea of meditation. He was a skeptic who wanted to challenge the idea of meditation, because he didn’t believe the hype that it can ‘change your life’
The astrophysicist, Graham Phillips, decided to take a challenge to completely debunk the idea using a scientific experiment.
He did two months of serious meditation and worked with a University who measured him with a battery of tests such as EEG’s and MRI’s.
Within two weeks, his stress was being managed a lot easier by his body. After 8 weeks, he found out his brain was being more energy efficient, and was performing better.
His brain was getting faster, and he was getting smarter.
His emotional regulation was easier, and the volume of nerve cells that controls emotions had increased by 20.8%!
Quite useful when you have an angry coworker or boss yelling at you – you can calm yourself much easier!
These results are insane for only 8 weeks of mindful meditation!
For more details on this astounding experiment with Dr. Graham Phillips, click here! This one is worth the read.
He also experienced things such as better memory, faster reaction times, and the gray matter in his brain physically increased.
That’s what they mean by “Change your mind and the matter follows.”
This stuff is fascinating. It makes you wonder what other things are happening when we indulge in such positive thinking or other woo-woo activities!
Although meditation is a bit different, it’s clear that the brain is what’s being changed in both of these situations. As the mind directs, the brain responds!
To further prove the scientific validity of affirmations, MindBodyGreen has a great example.
They talk about a study showing the psychological effect on our bodies:
“A new study published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that people in low positions of power may perform better by using self-affirmations to calm their nerves…”
“The researchers conducted three role-playing experiments, splitting 282 people between them. The study found that those assigned high-power roles, such as job recruiters or salespeople, tended to succeed under pressure over their lower-power partners assigned to roles like job candidates and consumers.
The last experiment had a special twist, though: Before the competition, half the participants wrote for five minutes about their most important negotiating skill, while the other half wrote about their least important negotiating skill. The low power players who wrote highly positive self-affirmations performed significantly better in negotiating than the others. In other words, self-affirmations seemed to reduce the power gap between the two positions.”
If you believe it’s all a crock-of-you-know-what, you can actually have negative psychological effects.
You can end up feeling worse after saying “I’m a lovable person” because you genuinely don’t believe in it.
The Cut explains more in depth about how they found this out, here.
A study by Geoffrey Cohen, a graduate of psychology and business from Stanford University did a study on the effects of self-affirmation.
This study said:
Timely affirmations have been shown to improve education, health, and relationship outcomes, with benefits that sometimes persist for months and years.
Like other interventions and experiences, self-affirmations can have lasting benefits when they touch off a cycle of adaptive potential, a positive feedback loop between the self-system and the social system that propagates adaptive outcomes over time.
In other words – self-affirmations are real, have long-lasting effects, and really improve your life by providing a positive feedback loop.
04 | Okay I’ll Bite, How Do You Get Affirmations to Work for You?
So the science is there.
But how do you actually implement this idea?
My theory is that you also need to dedicate yourself to the goal you’re reaching towards.
Like any goal, you can’t just have no feeling for the goal itself, or feel luke-warm about it, otherwise it won’t work.
If you feel meh about it, you aren’t likely to be thinking about it as often.
Or, you’ll be remiss if you do run into an opportunity.
At least that’s how I see it.
You’re less likely to keep it going because you don’t care about it.
You know how everyone always says to keep your goals in front of you every single day and to say them out loud?
Isn’t that the same thing as stating an affirmation out loud?
I say this because I find it to be true!
You’re reading it, which means you’re putting it into your mind, and your mind is remembering to close that gap.
And on the other side, isn’t your affirmation on self-esteem or body positivity actually a goal to reach towards, not a ‘vision’ to look forward to?
Sounds to me like it’s reminding your brain what you want, which opens your brain to close the gap.
So how can you do this and actually get it to work for you?
01 | First, choose a daily affirmation from the list below.
02 | Then, print it out, write it out – whatever you have to do, grasshopper, and put it somewhere you’ll see it every day.
03 | Finally, review it every day, until it’s memorized, then repeat them every time you remember it. Waiting in lines, sitting at stop-lights, showering, cooking dinner, washing dishes, while you’re at the gym, etc!
05 | Choose an Affirmation to Start
Your last step to embracing affirmations as a skeptic is simply to try it!
I recommend starting with 6 months worth, as Scott Adams recommends in his PDF.
29 Daily Affirmations That Will Motivate & Inspire You (and not make you want to puke):
I am adventurous
I overcome fears by following my dreams
I will not compare myself to strangers on the internet
I refuse to give up because I haven’t tried all of the possible ways.
I don’t sweat the small stuff
I honor who I am.
I can do hard things!
I’m excellent at what I do
I’m grateful for everything I have.
I’m ready to put my hair up and handle it!
I am someone who takes action instead of sitting on the sidelines.
I get stuff done, I don’t let perfection hold me back.
I have courage to keep going.
I have a choice.
I don’t give up easily.
I like challenges, they’re fun.
I am okay asking for help from my friends and family.
The world is conspiring FOR me.
I’m a better person for the things I’ve had to go through
The choice is always mine.
I can see the good in everyone.
I trust myself to make the right decision.
I am doing work that I find fulfilling and valuable.
It’s okay not to think for the rest of the night. (for those nights your mind is racing and you can’t sleep).
I have the smarts and the ability to get through this.
I am safe and sound.
All of my problems have solutions.
So, affirmations: fact or fiction?
While I may not be sipping some tea or lighting incense sticks singing “ohm” yet, I think we can all see that the science behind positive thinking isn’t just a pile of hogwash.
Actually, it seems it’s more apt to help us over-achievers, entrepreneurs, and forward thinkers to reach our goals. And any thing we can do to help us reach our goals is a plus in my book!
The studies show that: 1. Positive thinking increases the self-talk that you tell yourself, improving your life in many areas 2. After telling yourself you’re good at something, you can improve your performance in life. 3. Positive affirmations help many areas of our lives for many weeks, even years!
So how can we use this practically?
1. Listen to your autopilot thinking, and start adjusting and correcting it. The ONE and ONLY thing we are in control of in this life is our thoughts and actions. Okay that’s two, but they’re tied together – you get it!
2. Choose an affirmation and put it next to your goals (that you have in front of you already, riiiiight? You should!) so you can read it every day. After all, it seems like it’s reallyjust a goal, formed into a sentence.
3. Consume it every day! Write it in words, 15 times per day like Scott Adams from the comics, or read it out loud!
After learning from both sides – what are your thoughts on it all? Are you still a skeptic or are you more apt to try this new thing? Put a comment down below!
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