Positive affirmations aren’t just good for selling posters and branding coffee mugs. There are scientific benefits behind getting the brain to focus on the upside of things, and positive affirmations are a way to train yourself to get there.
Various studies have shown a link between positive thinking, physical health, mental health, and life satisfaction. Lisa Yanek, MPH, and her team at John Hopkins Medicine found that, for people at high risk for heart disease, having a positive outlook decreases the chances of experiencing a cardiovascular event. On an everyday basis, positive emotions also carry an important function during the process of responding to stressful events, helping people to cope and regulate more easily. Because positive thinking is so important to overall health and general resiliency, it’s worth exploring how to build that skill, as well as why positive thinking doesn’t always come naturally.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a treatment modality that focuses on the connection between thoughts, feelings and actions. For example, feelings of sadness might be accompanied by self-defeating thoughts like, “no one likes me,” or “things will never get better,” and actions like staying in bed or isolating. On the flip side, feelings of happiness might be accompanied by motivation, positive thoughts, and actions like smiling and going out to see a friend. CBT works by taking a realistic, process driven approach. It’s possible to directly influence your thoughts (think of a pink elephant), or to directly influence your actions (get up and jump around), but it’s less possible to directly influence your emotions (feel happy – now). Taking steps to positively influence thoughts and actions, however, can be a successful method for positively influencing emotions.
CBT calls for intentionality. Especially when negative emotions and low energy are in the way, it means making a choice and an effort to go for a walk, go see a friend, laugh, think about something you value, or think about something you’re grateful for. It also takes practice, as the more the brain and body get used to something, the better they get at it.
This is where positive affirmations come in. Positive affirmations are repeated statements that build self-confidence, focus on hope and belief, and recognize your strength and value. They are little mental exercises that retrain you to think, and act, differently.
Here are some guidelines for building positive affirmations:
- Use “I” statements. This helps your brain believe them.
- Create affirmations that are meaningful and believable. This makes the process feel realistic and worthwhile.
- Say it out loud and with feeling. This helps the brain to truly “hear” the message and lock it in memory.
- Stay present. This adds a bit of accountability to the exercise, helping you to think positively now rather than wait on positivity in the future.
- Practice. It’s all about practice.
Below are some examples of positive affirmations for kids and for adults. Adults and kids can practice positive affirmations together by decorating cards, creating new cards, saying affirmations out loud, and even acting out what’s on the cards. Use ours, or make up your own!
- I am loved
- I am a good friend
- I can do this!
- I can do whatever I put my mind to!
- I am resilient
- I am kind
- I can keep moving forward
- I can….
Folkman S. The case for positive emotions in the stress process. Anxiety Stress Coping. 2008 Jan;21(1):3-14. doi: 10.1080/10615800701740457. PMID: 18027121.
Yanek, L. R., Kral, B. G., Moy, T. F., Vaidya, D., Lazo, M., Becker, L. C., & Becker, D. M. (2013). Effect of positive well-being on incidence of symptomatic coronary artery disease. The American journal of cardiology, 112(8), 1120–1125. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjcard.2013.05.055