The Science Behind Positive Affirmations

After reading last week’s post, you may be thinking that while daily affirmations sound good in theory, isn’t this just new-age, mambo-jumbo?

The answer is an emphatic: No.

There are numerous scholarly articles out there on Self-affirmation Theory and the Science of Well-being. This theory was originally popularized in the late 1980s by Claude Steele, a social psychologist, and former executive vice chancellor and provost at the University of California, Berkeley.

Now the science part…

Dr. Steele broke the theory down into four main principles:

1. People try to protect their self-integrity. This is your concept of yourself as a good, moral person, who acts in ways that are in tune with cultural and social norms.
2. When individuals are faced with information that threatens their self-integrity, the response to this information is often defensive in nature.
3. Self-integrity is flexible. In other words: It’s OK to change your mind.
4. Actions that promote one’s values can reduce the perceived threat. Put simply: Reminding yourself of the broad, principal values by which you define yourself and your life puts you at ease.

Added together, all this means that we as human beings are motivated to protect ourselves from threats by maintaining our self-integrity. Daily affirmations, allow us to keep up a global narrative about ourselves. In this narrative, we are flexible, moral, and capable of adapting to different circumstances. In so doing, Dr. Steele maintains, we perceive ourselves as competent and adequate in different areas that we personally value in order to be moral, flexible, and good. Lastly, we maintain self-integrity by acting in ways that merit acknowledgment and praise. In other words: We want to do things that will make us appear to be good people in the eyes of others.

This isn’t just scientific theory. There is MRI evidence suggesting that certain neural pathways are increased when people practice self-affirmation. Meaning you can LITERALLY change your mind for the better this way.

Your viewpoint on life can affect your physical and mental health as well as your emotions. It can also either raise or lower your blood pressure, cholesterol, and stress levels. If you feel negative about everything, then things usually become more difficult. You can get sick easily, find it difficult to face adversities and hardships in life.

Thinking in a negative light makes it harder for you to enjoy the little things in life. Whether it’s by focusing only on the negative, or by blaming everything that goes wrong only on yourself, making things seem even worse than they actually are, or seeing things in only black and white. If you do one or any of the above, then you’re setting yourself up for failure even before you start.

But anyone can infuse positivity into their lives. The power of positive thinking may seem a bit cliché, but it really does wonders for your self-esteem, overall mood and reduces the risk of chronic diseases.


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