How Do Positive Affirmations Work?


“I’m just not smart enough to do this job.” “I’m a bad person, I don’t deserve to have friends.”

Imagine yourself saying that every day, every hour. Heck, say it only once, and you won’t be feeling very happy. Now, imagine your subconscious repeating that all the time… The scenario could go something like this:

When you were a little boy, your father would beat you for every mistake, big or small, that you made, saying things like: “What have you done now? You just never get it, do you? You’re worthless, I can’t trust you to do one simple thing right” and so on.

What self-statements you might have said to yourself then: “He’s right, I’m worthless, I’ll never get it right.” And this kind of thinking rarely stops there, it usually leads to establishing an overall image of ourselves as defect, broken, and not good enough.

Fast forward to today: your boss gave you a task that you’ve completed, but he’d just like to see one little thing done differently: “Could you please change this, it’s not quite like I’ve imagined it.” And bang! “I’m just not smart enough to do it right.” – comes screaming from your subconscious.

Any of this sound familiar? This was an example of negative statements repeated over and over, consciously and/or unconsciously, that created a path in our mind exactly because of the repetition – a path that eventually became so deeply engraved that it’s now a part of who we are. Or, to be precise, a part of who we believe we are. But to our brain, it’s all the same.

Well, guess what? The same way that particular path was created, we can create another one, and engrave it even deeper, to undo the belief that makes us feel bad about ourselves, and to form another one, that won’t be sabotaging us and keeping us from enjoying our life, path that will let us be happy with who we are.

Positive Affirmations and Our Subconscious

Dr. Phil Shapiro, a psychiatrist, says in his article dedicated to positive affirmations:

The science of affirmations teaches us how to send powerful positive thoughts to our conscious and subconscious minds and to the cells in our body as chemical, electrical, and magnetic waves. Through a simple maneuver involving free will and choice, we learn how to deploy our own thoughts to break through limitations, transform bad habits, turn failure into success, and activate our healing powers.

The scenario above, in which you may recognize yourself or someone close to you, is to illustrate how our subconscious is an immense storehouse of our thoughts, emotions, beliefs – everything that we experienced during our lives. Some of them are just being there, doing no harm, but some have a life of their own, and are making our life miserable.

For a thought or emotion to establish a path in our mind, it has to be repeated, and we have to believe in it. A little boy trusts his father, and it’s natural to him not to question the father’s perception of him – it’s the truth, and the boy sees no alternative than to accept it. His subconscious stores that “truth”, and as the boy grows, this negative self-image grows with him, locking him into destructive ways of responding to the world that emerge in response to some negative events – or to the events that can be associated to those that originally caused the path to be formed.

We wrote about this in the articles that explain how hypnosis and subliminal messages work – you can read these articles as well, to get a better grasp on how our subconscious affects us, and how we can change that. Both techniques use the power of positive affirmations to override the negative patterns that undermine every change we want to make to feel better about ourselves; some things are so deeply rooted in our mind, that we need to work very hard to eliminate, or neutralize them. Sometimes it just requires more help than we alone can provide – and it all starts with positive affirmations.

Why Positive Affirmations Should Be Repeated Daily

It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen. (Claude M. Bristol)

If the boy from our story, a grown up man now, would stop and say to himself: “Wait, I can do this, I am smart enough”, the effects that this statement would have on his subconscious would be the same as if he wrote it with chalk on a board, and erased what he wrote. His subconscious “knows” that it’s not true: “The truth, my dear, is that you can’t – you’re worthless, remember?” Our subconscious is huge, several times more powerful than our conscious, and it can easily sabotage our conscious efforts to create a new positive identity.

Besides, the boy’s low self-esteem wasn’t formed the first time his father told him he wasn’t good enough. It had to be repeated over and over again to create such a mark.

So, if he wants to neutralize this self belief, he has to work hard on establishing a new, better one. As we have mentioned when we were explaining what positive affirmations are, there are two segments of an affirmation: the meaning of the words in it, and its repetition. The words that you’ll choose for your affirmations should be structured so that they trigger an emotion in you, to resonate with your individual condition and circumstances; but it’s the repetition that will eventually bring to formation of new paths in your subconscious.

That’s why you should repeat your positive affirmation every day, several times; with repetition, they will start sounding more true, and the more they sound true, the stronger your belief in what you’re stating will be.

You can speak them out loud, or you can write them down – just be sure to repeat them throughout the day. Start your day, for example, with this affirmation: “I love myself and I love my job”, and repeat it. Put it on a post-it to use it as a reminder to say the affirmation as you go through your morning routine, or make it your desktop background.

We have a separate article dedicated to how you should use positive affirmations, check it out as well.

The more time you are willing to invest in yourself to create positive change, the more you will gain from the work you have done – try to keep that in mind, and stay positive!

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