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The Role of Positive Affirmations in Building Confidence

Human nature can be a very odd thing. When someone feels insecure or doubts their ability to do something, they often try to mask this by acting as overconfident, sometimes even arrogant. Whilst overconfidence or arrogance is believing that, or acting as if, you are better than everyone else, confidence comes from a place of security and faith in yourself and your abilities, as well as a healthy amount of acceptance about what is outside of your realm of abilities.

Confidence is a trait that can help us face life’s experiences head-on. It is a skill that can be learned and that can be built upon. It refers to our self-belief in our ability to do things, and to succeed in whatever we choose to do, to try new things and to be confident that even if we don’t succeed, we can learn from the experience with our self-esteem intact.

It is interesting how successful people in any walk of life have a very high self-esteem and exude confidence, not overconfidence, in their abilities. Having high self-esteem and confidence means you are feeling happy and successful with yourself and where you are at in life at that moment. It begins with thinking positive thoughts about yourself, and loving yourself as you are; if you are positive about yourself and love yourself then you will naturally boost your self-esteem and confidence.

Using positive affirmations for confidence and boosting self-esteem by repeating positive and affirming words, such as “I can do this” or “I am worthy”, is enough to boost confidence when you need it the most.

Understanding Positive Affirmations

Affirmations are positive statements that can help you to challenge and overcome self-sabotaging and negative thoughts. Positive affirmations are a form of self-help and practising daily positive affirmations can help you to overcome fear and self-doubt to build your confidence.

Positive affirmations are made up of phrases that you can say aloud to yourself or in your head or you can also write them down and make sure they are always visible such as on post-it notes displayed around your PC screen. Daily positive affirmations help you to believe in yourself and what you are capable of achieving.

The purpose of positive affirmations is to help you to overcome negative thoughts that make you doubt yourself, minimising negativity and helping you to see yourself in a positive light. It is about affirming yourself and replacing negative thoughts with positive self-talk. Negative thoughts can be destructive and keep you from achieving your goals. These thoughts cause you to doubt yourself, question your abilities and second-guess your decisions. Sometimes we all develop patterns of thoughts or behaviours that are unhelpful, and because these can affect how we feel, and how we feel can in turn affect how we think and behave, it is easy to find ourselves in a vicious cycle. By practising positive affirmations, we can train our minds to focus on the good, not the bad, to eventually see positive results in our daily life.

Examples of unhelpful or negative thoughts might include:

  • Seeing things as either only good or only bad, with nothing in between – this is known as all or nothing or black and white thinking.
  • Considering yourself the sole cause of negative situations, I’m jinxed.
  • Describing yourself and/or others by making global statements based on limited evidence, such as “I am useless at everything” – this is known as labelling.
  • Quickly coming to a negative interpretation or snap judgement about something, without waiting to see how things unfold.
  • Assuming that your emotions reflect the way things really are, “I feel this way, therefore it must be true”.

The key to making a difference to the way that you are thinking is to step back and examine the evidence for your thoughts and explore other ways of looking at the situation. Catching yourself when you are in this thought pattern can be tricky, as it is often the case that you are not even aware you are thinking in an unhelpful way. Keeping the examples above in mind, next time you catch yourself having any similar type of thoughts, consider whether it is negative and unhelpful by examining the situation.

For example, you might think that a task that you have been asked to do will be too difficult as you don’t feel confident enough to tackle it and will only mess it up. Rather than immediately accepting this thought and feeling even worse, take a moment to check it, and ask yourself, is there good evidence for it, and how likely is the outcome that you are worried about?

If you decide that it is a negative and unhelpful thought, then use a positive affirmation to reframe it; for example, I have completed lots of important tasks before, this one might be demanding, but I have the experience and skills to complete it. By challenging and learning to replace these negative and unhelpful thoughts you will find that it is one of the best ways to help you to really make a difference to your self-esteem, confidence, mental health and well-being.

Challenging-negative-thorghts

The Science Behind Affirmations

The human brain’s default inclination is to be problem and pain-focused, meaning that it is naturally pessimistic, with a negativity bias developed as a survival mechanism millions of years ago, which is still an active component of the human brain today – the flight or fight response. Our brains innately think negatively over positively.

All information being processed by the brain passes through the limbic system and this forms part of the brain’s threat processing system. Although all information flows through this system, our brain does not know the difference between real threats, that is the threats that we need to take notice of, and perceived threats, that is threats that are created by our minds which trigger anxiety or thinking negatively about ourselves.

The limbic system is always monitoring, to ascertain whether the threat is real or perceived. However, this can work against us when our minds think up negative situations, and rather than feeling calm as our minds dismiss these internal perceived threats, instead we have unhelpful thoughts such as:

  • “I’m not good enough”
  • “If I do… then something bad will happen”
  • “I can’t do it”
  • “I’m useless”
  • “I don’t deserve this”
  • “It’s hopeless”
  • “I’ll fail so I won’t bother”

This thinking can interfere with or stop us from achieving our goals. However, it is possible to alter or reshape these unhelpful thoughts through engaging in positive affirmations on a regular basis. This process is known as neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganise and form new neural connections in response to experience and learning. This process is central to understanding how positive affirmations work. Studies using neuroimaging techniques, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), have demonstrated that engaging in positive self-affirmations can activate brain regions associated with positive emotion regulation and reward processing.

There are many benefits of brain neuroplasticity. Allowing the brain to adapt and change helps to promote the ability to learn new things such as positive affirmations, and to enhance existing cognitive capabilities. These are brain-based skills needed in the acquisition of knowledge, manipulation of information and reasoning.

Cascio et al. used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology to measure two parts of the brain associated with (1) self-related processing and (2) rewards following self-affirmation activities. They found a measurable significant increase in brain activity in both of these regions, concluding that self-affirmations affect brain activity.

Self-affirmation theory was first proposed by Claude Steele in 1988, in his paper ‘The Psychology of Self-Affirmation: Sustaining the Integrity of the Self’. Self-affirmation theory assumes the following:

  • In times of threat, we maintain the self by defending it from outside conflicting information.
  • We respond to threats in one domain by affirming self-worth in other domains.
  • Our core values play an essential role in maintaining the self.

Social psychologists began serious academic research on self-affirmations in the 1980s and have continued for more than 40 years. There is a wealth of research related to the effectiveness of positive affirmations.

In one small study, participants who affirmed their values had “significantly lower cortisol responses to stress” compared with the control group, researchers wrote, referring to the body’s primary stress hormone. Another small study of college students found that those who did two value-affirming writing exercises ahead of a mid-term exam had lower stress levels the day before the test. Self-affirmation can also help improve problem-solving under stress, according to a 2013 study.

Epton and Harris found that self-affirmation promotes health behaviour changes. They designed an experiment to see if self-affirmation would increase a health-promoting behaviour (eating more fruits and vegetables). A seven-day diary record of fruit and vegetable consumption showed that self-affirmed participants ate significantly more portions of fruit and vegetables.

Interestingly, Xu et al. found that just-in-time self-affirmations helped smartphone over-users reduce phone use by 57.2 per cent.

Self-affirmation alters the brain systems, making it a powerful self-help strategy. There is a growing body of research evidence showing that the use of self-affirmations is a valuable tool for physical and mental health and well-being.

Creating Effective Affirmations

Self-affirmation is a psychological technique that requires thinking or writing about our core values. When we repeat positive statements about ourselves, we are programming our minds to believe them. For this reason, our self-affirmations need to be meaningful, personal and impactful.

The most important aspect of your affirmation will be that it feels authentic and meaningful to you. If it doesn’t ring true, then it will have little or no effect.

Start by choosing one negative thought that you have about yourself and write down the positive opposite that counteracts that belief. For example, “I’m not as good as my colleagues”. In this case, you would write an affirmation such as, “I am a capable and experienced employee”. It helps to make your affirmations short so that they are easier for you to remember. Even statements as short as four or five words can be powerful, for example “I can do it!”

Because you are making a statement about yourself, it is most effective if it starts with I ……., for example:

  • I can ……
  • I am ……
  • I feel ……
  • I see ……

Ensure that you keep your affirmations in the present tense rather than the future tense; as with the examples above, “I can do it”, is far more impactful than “I will do it”, which prompts the question of when, and limits you time to make it happen.

You need to make sure that all of your affirmations are positive statements. Focusing on negative feelings or behaviours even if you are discarding them, puts the emphasis on the negative rather than on what you are aiming at, for example, it is better to affirm “I feel positive about the future” rather than “I can stop feeling negative”. When crafting your affirmations avoid words such as:

  • Not
  • Don’t
  • Can’t
  • Won’t
  • Am not
  • Am stopping
  • Doesn’t
  • Should
  • Must

Adding emotion to your affirmations will make them meaningful and impactful, for example, “I am happy to expand my experience”, “I feel good today”, “I am proud of what I have achieved”.

When saying your affirmation, make sure that you place the intonation on to the verb and adjective, for example, “I feel good today”, “I am proud of what I have achieved”, “I can do this” to add real meaning.

Your affirmations must be personal to you to be able to create meaning. If you don’t believe your statement, then it is meaningless and you probably won’t take steps to succeed.

Some people say their affirmations in their head, others say them out loud, some people write them down to read to remind themselves of their worth, whilst others have them printed and framed to use as home decoration so that they are in sight to read at all times. Try and use whatever works for you. Just like your affirmations themselves, how you say them needs to be personal too.

Young-girl-practicing-positive-affirmations

Incorporating Affirmations into Daily Practice

Now you know how to create meaningful, impactful, specific and personal positive affirmations, start small and simple. Whenever we start something new, it can be daunting to begin a new habit, but taking the first step is the most difficult part. Even if you feel silly saying your affirmation(s) at first, keep going.

You don’t need to set aside a specific time or place to start your affirmations, you can start doing them anytime, anywhere; for example, you could start your morning with affirmations, say them whilst waiting for the kettle to boil, or when brushing your teeth, whilst you are waiting at the bus stop, or in a traffic jam. There are always opportunities, just pick the ones that suit you. Starting the day with affirmations can help to set you and your brain up for a positive day.

But don’t stop there. The key to positive affirmations working and making a difference is to regularly practise them so that they become habit forming. So, once you make a start, find other opportunities throughout the day to practise them. If you use a diary and/or a to-do list, write or type an affirmation at the top of the page to affirm that you have the skill / experience / knowledge / personal traits to successfully achieve whatever is written below. Throughout the day, queuing at the shops, during lunch, out walking, on your commute home, when you reflect on your day, these are all opportunities to add to your affirmations; the more that you practise them the more effective they become.

There are many techniques that you can use to help to reinforce your affirmations. Repetition is a popular technique which helps to solidify the positive statements in the mind. Repeating them out loud will have more impact than saying or reading them in your head. It makes the experience more real and evokes your hearing sense too. Hearing something can make it more real and believable. Repeating them in front of the mirror, and looking yourself in the eye as you repeatedly say them, helps to reflect a strong but relaxed posture that will give you confidence.

Some people find it helpful to record their affirmations and to play them back to themselves. In much the same way that you use a music playlist, you could use headphones to hear your affirmations whilst you are out walking or when you are relaxing. Hearing your own voice, again, and again makes it more real for your mind, and it is an excellent way to trick the subconscious into believing that these thoughts are already real.

Another popular technique that many successful people use is visualisation. Take a pause after repeating each affirming phrase and really visualise the experience of the affirmation. Visualisation is the process of creating a vivid mental image of your desired outcome as if it has already happened. For example, if you affirm “I can get this job”, visualise what that will look and feel like, and see yourself in the role. Visualisations together with affirmations are simple ways of harnessing positive thinking.

Some people find that journaling or diary keeping is a useful tool to use to reinforce their affirmations. This involves taking a few minutes at the end of the day to document around three affirmations a day that you can give yourself credit for. For example, “I really aced that presentation this afternoon”, “I am a caring person giving my colleague a hand with their work today”, “Today was a good day as I achieved everything on my to-do list”. You can use these diary entries to re-affirm your qualities, skills and achievements to boost your confidence.

Affirmations for Confidence-Building

As we have seen, positive affirmations tackle negativity head-on, offering a positive to counteract your automatic negative thoughts. Making these positive statements a daily habit reinforces them and creates lasting positive change. One of the important changes that most people seek through positive affirmation is building their self-esteem and confidence, and it is a valuable tool to use to achieve this.

There are many positive affirmations that are specifically designed to boost self-esteem and confidence. Here is a selection of them for you to personalise and use:

  • I am capable of achieving my dreams
  • I am resilient, strong and brave
  • Positive thoughts drive my daily routine
  • Every day, I become wiser and more experienced
  • I am stronger than any challenge I face
  • I deserve happiness, success and love
  • I celebrate both my small and big achievements
  • I inspire others through my actions and words
  • I have the courage to pursue my dreams
  • I am the creator of my own destiny
  • I am in charge of my own happiness and success
  • I deserve emotional well-being and happiness
  • I determine my own self-worth
  • I believe in my decision-making ability
  • Every step I take is leading me to greater success
  • I embrace challenges
  • I am deserving of love, compassion and empathy
  • I am worthy of love, just as I am
  • I am loved for who I am
  • I am building the version of myself I want to become
  • I am constantly inspired by the world around me
  • I face every situation with determination

You can choose to use any or all of the above positive affirmations, or personalise them or create your own, whatever works for you. The important thing is to remember that regularly and repeatedly using affirmations maintains a positive mindset, developing a more confident self.

Overcoming Resistance and Self-Doubt

Think of any new skill or habit that you have tried to perfect. There are times when you feel that they don’t work, and you ask yourself “Why did I start this?”, or you may have gone into it half-heartedly, or been sceptical. It may for some people, be the same experience with learning to incorporate positive affirmations into their lives. Successfully adopting positive affirmation requires a change of mindset, and this takes time and practice to perfect. Starting and committing to something new can be an overwhelming or daunting task, and some of the common challenges that people face include:

They feel silly – talking to yourself can seem silly at first, so start slowly with self-talk in your mind if easier, and then progress to stating the affirmations out loud. Most people say their affirmations in private so that no one else hears. Ask yourself, “Do I feel silly when I berate myself for doing something wrong?” Well, all you are doing is praising yourself and affirming your positives.

They are just going through the motions – some people start out reciting positive affirmations having never thought about what the actual words mean to them. If the affirmation means nothing then you will just be going through the motions. To be able to believe the affirmation you need to create affirmations that are personal and meaningful.

They have difficulty committing to action – practising positive affirmations means that you are committing to taking action against your negative and unhelpful thought processes. If you feel that an affirmation is insincere it may not be actually what you want to do and you will have trouble committing to it. Start by being clear about what you actually want to change and what you are seeking to achieve.

They are not saying them right – with positive affirmations, the key is believability; do you believe in what you are saying? Keep practising until they become natural; imagine that you are saying them to someone else to reassure them. How would you say it to make it meaningful to them? You would say it sincerely, so that is how to say it to yourself.

Man-practicing-positive-affirmations

Affirmations in Action – Success Stories

Many successful and famous people use positive affirmations to build a positive mindset; here are some examples:

A-list Hollywood star Denzel Washington credits positive affirmations not only for his success but also for helping him to get over his drinking problem and all other problems that were holding back his mind and body from achieving greater things. He started believing in his own abilities and made it to the top.

Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama, two incredibly successful women, acknowledge positive affirmations had very positive impacts on their lives. Oprah went from poverty to becoming one of the world’s wealthiest women. Her success story is inspiring and she has stated that without affirmations, she would not have accomplished all that she has.

Positive affirmations are renowned for their use in sport. Top footballer star Marcus Rashford stated: “For the fans, sometimes the only time they get to see it is on match day. You know as well as us that some match days they don’t go your way. It can look like there’s no progression, but 100% this team has been progressing since the start of the season. Where we are now, it’s getting closer to what we picture but there’s still a lot more work to do to be back challenging for the Premier League.”

Integrating Affirmations with Other Confidence-Building Practices

We all have times when we lack confidence and do not feel good about ourselves. Positive affirmation is just one, but an effective one, of many tools that you can have in your confidence-building toolbox. Other practices that you can combine with your positive self-affirmations to build your self-esteem and confidence include, but are not limited to:

Recognise what you’re good at – we are all good at something, whether it is cooking, singing, doing puzzles or being a friend. We also tend to enjoy doing the things we are good at, which can help boost your mood. List these and re-read the list to remind yourself that you have skills and qualities.

Build positive relationships – if you find certain people tend to bring you down, try to spend less time with them, or tell them how you feel about their words or actions. Try to build relationships with people who are positive and who appreciate you.

Learn to be assertive and start saying no – people with low self-esteem often feel they have to say yes to other people, even when they do not really want to. The risk is that you become overburdened, resentful, angry and depressed. For the most part, saying no does not upset relationships. It can be helpful to keep saying no, using different ways, until they get the message. Being assertive is about respecting other people’s opinions and needs, and expecting the same from them. One trick is to look at other people who act assertively and copy what they do.

Give yourself a challenge – we all feel nervous or afraid to do things at times. But people with healthy self-esteem do not let these feelings stop them from trying new things or taking on challenges. Set yourself a goal, and self-affirm, achieving your goals will help to increase your self-esteem.

Be kind to yourself – being kind to yourself means being gentle to yourself at times when you feel like being self-critical. Think what you would say to a friend in a similar situation, as we often give far better advice to others than we do to ourselves.

Conclusion

As we have seen from the examples of well-known successful people who use positive affirmations regularly in their lives, positive affirmations have a transformative power in building confidence and enabling people to achieve their full potential.

Confidence so often gets undermined by negative self-talk and limiting beliefs. Positive affirmations counteract these by replacing them with empowering messages that change your mindset from pessimistic to optimistic. Self-belief and confidence are building blocks to success in whatever you set out to achieve. Remember “I am the creator of my own destiny”.

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About the author

Liz Wright

Liz has worked with CPD Online College since August 2020, she manages content production, as well as planning and delegating tasks. Liz works closely with Freelance Writers - Voice Artists - Companies and individuals to create the most appropriate and relevant content as well as also using and managing SEO. Outside of work Liz loves art, painting and spending time with family and friends.



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