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Do Affirmations Work? Fluffy Self-Help or Solid Brain Science?

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Affirmations have been on the self-help scene for decades, but what exactly are they, and more importantly, do affirmations work?

My 8-year-old daughter has been scared to go to sleep lately. She says she wakes up in the middle of the night and lies in bed scared (too scared to leave the relative safety of her covers and come find me upstairs) until she finally falls asleep again.

This girl is clever, so I can never be sure if she’s milking it for a little extra snuggle time with Mom or if she’s legitimately scared, but either way, I wanted to give her some kind of TOOL she could use that night and any other. 

So last night, as we went through her bedtime routine, I had her recite three simple sentences that could comfort her as she fell asleep (and again in the middle of the night if she woke up). 

As we brushed her teeth, put on pajamas, and pulled down her comforter, we repeated these lines:

I’m safe.
I’m loved.
Everything is okay.

I’m safe.
I’m loved.
Everything is okay.

As she said these statements over and over, I heard her voice gradually shift from quivering and tearful to steady and peaceful.

Your negative thoughts (and mine) probably sound very different from my 8-year-old’s afraid-to-go-to-bed thoughts. 

You’re probably not scared of the dark anymore, but as you lie in the darkness of your room, do you worry about oversleeping and starting your day already playing catchup? 

Do you ruminate over your to-do list, certain you’re forgetting something important but unable to put a finger on it? 

Do you replay past conversations and wish you’d said something different? 

Do you ever lie in bed, wide-eyed with worry that you’re somehow letting your loved ones down? That you’re not enough for them. 

Our fears and worries have evolved since we were eight years old, but for most of us, they are just as present. 

When negative thoughts are playing in your mind like a soundtrack that just won’t quit, sometimes what you need is a hard interrupt. A 180. A switch that immediately changes the direction of travel. 

This is where I believe an affirmation can have a big impact.

Affirmations are positive, present-tense thoughts you are choosing to believe.

An Affirmation Is a Redirect for the Brain

Think of affirmations as a cure for the hiccups. (I know it sounds weird, but stay with me!)

People have all kinds of tricks for getting rid of the hiccups. From getting scared to eating a spoonful of peanut butter to drinking water upside-down. 

I could be wrong, but my understanding of hiccups is that it’s not really the action you take that cures them; it’s the sudden switch in your brain. Giving your mind something else to zone in on—like the ungraceful, near-impossibility of drinking water upside-down—IS the cure.

An affirmation is to your brain what drinking-water-upside-down is to a case of the hiccups. 

It’s a switch that can work beautifully when you’re spiraling. 

An Affirmation Gives the Brain Something Positive to Find Evidence For

On top of that, an affirmation can be the precursor to a belief. 

Imagine that for three months, you repeated “I am surrounded by love and support” to yourself more than a dozen times a day. Let’s say you posted it on your bathroom mirror and read it every day while you brushed your teeth. Let’s say you recited it every time you were driving and came to a red light. You wrote in your journal and set it as the wallpaper on your phone. 

“I am surrounded by love and support.”

At the end of those three months, how likely do you think it is that you’ll FEEL more loved and supported than you did at the beginning?

It’s very likely! 

This is because our brains look for evidence for our thoughts. It’s part of our wiring for survival. 

If you repeatedly tell yourself you are surrounded by love and support, you will begin to see it. Without you even consciously trying, your brain will get busy finding supporting evidence.  

A positive affirmation gives your mind something beautiful to validate, and with that validation, that thought—your affirmation—can become a belief. 

So let’s choose thoughts that serve us! 

How to Choose an Affirmation that Will Serve You

Think about common pain points in your life, things that you come up against over and over. Choose one of those pain points. Then write or find an affirmation that serves as a gentle, believable interrupt to that particular point of pain or struggle.

Here are nine options that might be a good fit:

1. “I am my own best friend and greatest advocate.” 

2. “When I want to shrink, I choose to expand.” 

3. “It’s okay if I don’t know the next steps.”

4. “It’s not my job to be liked; it’s my job to be myself.” 

5. “I inhale confidence and love. I exhale fear and doubt.” 

6. “Just because I’m struggling doesn’t mean I’m failing.” 

7. “I am more than what I get done.” 

8. “I’m in tune with my needs.” 

9. “I am imperfect and still ENOUGH.” 

Nine not enough? I’ve compiled a beautiful PDF of ONE HUNDRED affirmations to help you cultivate a kinder inner voice. ❤️ There’s at least one for just about every pain point. Just enter your info below, and I’ll send it right over!

I hope this list serves as a powerful tool in fighting those negative or spiraling thoughts!


More from Episode 29 of “Life On Purpose with Erica Layne”

Here’s what else you can hear in the latest episode of the podcast!

  • Off ramp: A segment where I point out something I see women doing that I’d love for you to quit! This week, a word for my fellow approval junkies.
  • What matters most: A segment to help us take our eyes off the nonessentials and refocus on the essentials. In this episode, I talk about the time I brought my elderly neighbor her last meal in bed—and what it reminded me about our priorities in life.
  • Free download! Don’t forget to grab your free list of 100 affirmations by entering your info above!

Listen to the full podcast episode in your favorite podcast app or in the audio player below!

Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | Overcast | Stitcher | Amazon

Show produced by Callie Wright

Do you have a favorite affirmation? I’d love to hear what words you’re speaking to yourself these days!

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