I pose this journal entry as a question, because I am really not sure if they do or not. Affirmations have been a mainstay of the personal development and self help fields for years, you know the sort of thing:

“In every day in every way, I am getting better and better.”

“This is the first day of the rest of my life.”

And so on…

But do they actually do anything useful? I know some people who swear by them and others that think it is a load of old nonsense. So, which is it?

Now, I understand that the language we use to describe our reality to ourselves and others effects our perception of reality. So our ability to create vivid linguistic representations of our experiences can change those experiences and if we describe them in a more useful way, it should change the way we perceive them. So, by writing and repeatedly saying a simple affirmation about what how we want to experience reality should, by that theory help change our perception of that experience (and, since perception is all we get, change our very reality).

In fact, one could argue that the lauded “therapy du jour” of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) at it’s most basic level gets you to recognise your own negative “affirmations” (what is the opposite of affirmation? Negamation?!) and replace them with more positive ones.

However there is scant research into the area of affirmations and what there is seems contradictory. One study found that “…people who view themselves as unlovable, for example, find that saying that are so unbelievable that it strengthens their own negative view rather than reversing it” and found that “paradoxically, those with low self-esteem were in a better mood when they were allowed to have negative thoughts than when they were asked to focus exclusively on affirmative thoughts”.

Another study suggests that “self-affirmation improved problem-solving performance in under-performing chronically stressed individuals”.

So, evidence suggests that affirmations may work in specific situations for people who are already generally confident and positive but falls short, on their own, with helping people with more enduring problems.

It seems that the most powerful affirmations are very specific and doable, rather the more well know general phrases such as “every day in every way, I am feeling better and better”.

Do you use affirmations with yourself or with your clients? How successful do you find them?