The Science Behind Positive Statements (and How You Can Still Benefit Without Repeating Them In Front of a Mirror!)
We’re led to believe more than ever lately that positive statements and affirmations can really change our realities. Whilst it’s true that positive thinking, and optimism in general, is linked to lowering our anxieties, and improving our overall ability to cope with situations, affirmations might be considered a step too far or a bit awkward.
But contrary to what self-help books will advise, positive statements aren’t just reserved for standing in front of the mirror, repeating them over and over and wishfully thinking them into existence. This might work for some but it kind of never did for me as it felt massively corny and false. As soon as I’d step away from that mirror, I’d be back to square one with my overthinking - mostly positive - but occasionally doubtful head.
But there’s MRI evidence to suggest that positive affirmations and statements have been shown to alter neural pathways and broaden overall perspectives (I). Personally, I've always believed in the genuine theory behind positive statements, even if repeating that your life is wonderful whilst being weeks away from having your head drilled open can seem a little bizarre to some. Science has proven that little encouraging statements can actually reverse negative or unhelpful internal thoughts that often lead to anxiety, stress and depression, and affect our neuroplasticity (I).
Replacing the negative thought patterns that we’ve learnt as an immediate response to most situations overtime, does however require regular practice and consistency. Most self-help books encourage writing these chosen positive statements onto post-it notes and plastering desk spaces and walls with them. But I don’t know about you, my office isn’t really “like that” and I can’t imagine suddenly demoting high-priority bank documents, and other important finance bits, in favour of decorating with positive quotes and statements that signalled I’m awesome, would have gone down well with my boss. So I needed something that was less obvious to others, yet still meant I would be exposed to positive statements regularly throughout the day.
Inscribing my favourite phrase onto a bangle so that I could wear it daily, glance at it subtly and repeat it constantly to myself, felt way more achievable. No one was aware that I’d read that statement over and over and suddenly feel as though, actually, something good is about to happen. Immediately those few words would relax me, bring me back to the present moment and enable me to effectively deal with the challenge at hand. Because I was able to see these positive statements daily, they constantly encouraged me to adopt that optimistic mindset, excited state of being and positive world view. And it’s our state of being that powerfully influences our ability to strengthen resilience and form natural habits of feeling grateful and seeking the good in every situation, no matter how challenging it is.
All of my bangle quotes were chosen because they’re so powerful in continuing to motivate and encourage these positive changes at different stages of my journey. I switch them up based on different challenges I’m facing, whether that’s my recent frustration with the disruptions my visual impairment is causing in areas of my life, or my lack of motivation some days to do the simple things that I temporarily wasn’t able to. These particular positive statements constantly remind me to be grateful, to do the things I’m physically and mentally able to do, to look for the opportunity in every situation or hardship and to trust that I have the resources within me to handle any challenge that life throws at me. And I hope they provide that same comfort, reassurance, motivation and encouragement for you.
Maybe you’re a little skeptical about positive statements because of the situation you’re currently in. That’s ok. There was a point when my sister and I questioned whether we were doing the whole “positivity thing” right as bad things still seem to keep cropping up in our lives regardless. But that’s when I learnt that being positive and adopting a positive mindset doesn’t mean you’re going to be let off the hook with adversities, or should feel an entitlement to be exempt. Just because you do everything that the self-help books say to do, and you focus on what you’re grateful for, change your attitude towards events, buy a BITB bangle or you stand in front of a mirror shouting that you’re incredible, doesn’t mean you aren’t going to experience hardships and feel an injustice when you have to go through incredibly painful things.
Reinforcing positive statements that resonate with you simply means that when these inevitable challenges do arise, or you find yourself in moments when frustration, anxiety, worry and stress can take over, you recognise that those emotions are unhelpful in the long-term. Instead of getting caught up in the negative self-talk that you might naturally default to, positive statements challenge subconscious beliefs and allow you to replace them with optimistic and constructive thoughts.
Whilst negative emotions are a normal and healthy response to most upsetting events, science confirms that positive statements have the power to encourage a greater self-awareness of your thoughts and have a direct impact on self-esteem, resilience and interpretations of certain events (I). By replacing negative thoughts with positive and affirming ones instead, you’re able to re-wire your mind and remove the habitual, irrational and unhelpful natural responses.
What statements or affirmations do you use to stay positive? I'd love to hear your thoughts!