It’s easy to make fun of affirmations – they’re often overused, as seen here in the opening of the trailer for Rare Beasts.
Yet self-affirmations do work. There’s MRI evidence that neural pathways associated with personal values are strengthened when we practice them. Studies also show they make you happier by activating the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which responds to pleasurable experiences.
But there’s a certain group of people that don’t need a scientific study to prove affirmations work – actors. Anyone who has ever performed on stage – or actually, anyone who has ever played pretend with any semblance of commitment, knows that language is powerful.
To say something out loud – to commit to it – is like casting a spell. When you’re a kid, you simply need to say “I’m the king of the castle,” or “that tree is a boat taking us across the Atlantic” to believe it. That’s why the voice is such a powerful thing. As renowned acting coach Kristin Linklater said, “to free the voice is to free the person.”
To speak something out loud and give into it is a very powerful experience. It’s the same with movement. We can trick our brains and hearts into believing things by saying them out loud and moving our bodies.
Michael Chekhov, another acting coach, describes this when explaining the “Psychological Gesture” in his book in the early 20th century, before he had the science to prove it.
“Is there such a key to our will power? Yes, and we find it in the movement. You can easily prove it to yourself by trying to make a strong, well-shaped but simple gesture. Repeat it several times and you will see that after a while your will power grows stronger and stronger under the influence of such a gesture.
Further, you will discover that the kind of movement you make will give your will power a certain direction or inclination; that is, it will awaken and animate in you a definite desire, want or wish. So we may say that the strength of the movement stirs our will power in general; the kind of movement awakens in us a definite corresponding desire, and the quality of the same movement conjures up our feelings.”
It’s pretty simple really. The same principle applies to smiling when you’re sad, or doing some jumping jacks to feel more energized. And it’s a beautiful part of being human. You can work on yourself from the outside in and the inside out at the same time.
But that doesn’t mean finding the right affirmation is easy. There’s plenty of advice out there on how to find the right ones for you – but artist Julia Cameron put it best:
“It takes a certain amount of daring to try working with affirmations. We must be willing to stand firm in the face of our subconscious’ bluster and bile. Listen to the ugly objections as they roar to the surface of your mind.
"Ignore their vicious content, and again insist on the positive. Affirmations work like an ejector razor blade. We insert the positive as we eject the negative. As we write our affirmations, our negative thoughts lose the power to tyrannize our thinking and our behavior.”
There will be negative thoughts – that’s part of the work. But before you start your next work day, why not take a deep breath, plant your feet on the ground, hold your arms above your head in victory and say one of the below:
I've done good work today
So often, we disparage our own work – this one is simple, but effective because it forces you to stop and praise yourself – which isn’t easy. Saying this shows yourself compassion, and remembering to do it a few times a day will give you a dopamine boost and increase productivity.
I know what I'm doing
It’s not a coincidence that two of the most highly-recommended affirmations for work fight imposter syndrome, which so many of us face. Repeating this affirmation four to five times at the beginning of the day or before starting a difficult task increases confidence.
I do not need to rely on others’ judgment for acceptance.
A great one for battling the constant need for approval. Saying this before sending that frantic slack message or email making sure someone isn’t mad at you or your work is a great way to recenter yourself.
My work has purpose and transforms people’s lives
We’re all searching for meaning here. And although it can be hard to recognize sometimes, many of our jobs are in the service of others. Finding yours and making sure you believe it will benefit your work and your health, as science proves that having a purpose keeps your brain healthy & functioning.
I am resilient and can handle problems with expertise
This is a very popular affirmation, since handling conflict brings up anxiety, fear, and pain for so many of us. But as Carl Jung says “Conflict exists strictly as an opportunity to raise our consciousness.”
Affirming we handle problems with a word like expertise generates confidence and calm, which is exactly what most of us strive for in stressful situations.
I’m attracting new opportunities
When you’re open to new opportunities, they come to you. It’s not just a woo-woo statement about the universe rewarding you when you’re ready, there’s science behind it. Perspective is everything. Keeping your mind open is a genuine practice that fights confirmation bias. Use this affirmation to do just that.
I am successful in everything I do
Although this one might be hard to say at first because we all, of course, experience failure, repeating this one over and over will show you a new side of the phrase. What does it mean to be successful at something? Using this affirmation will broaden your mind and show you that success is a multi-faceted, ongoing process.
I am exactly where I need to be
This is one of the most common (and popular) affirmations for both work and personal life. A reminder that we are, at all times, exactly where we need to be, because we are there.
More powerful than the idea that “everything happens for a reason,” this simple phrase reminds us that we are, therefore we belong. This affirmation also brings you into the present moment.
I’m capable of overcoming any hurdles that come at me.
Another affirmation for confidence and preparedness. This is a valuable tool to use on a particularly trying day! You’re essentially giving yourself a pep talk – which studies show vastly improve performance.
I am a valuable asset to my company
At the end of the day, we all really want to be valued. It’s another way of giving us a sense of meaning. Repeating this affirmation reminds us that we are already enough. We already add value – there’s no gap between who we are now and that valuable person we strive to be. This shift in focus can be monumental in transforming our mood.
As Robert Wright discusses in his book Why Buddhism is True, “There is no one self, no conscious CEO, that runs the show; rather, there seem to be a series of selves that take turns running the show—and, in a sense, seizing control of the show.
If the way they seize control of the show is through feelings, it stands to reason that one way to change the show is to change the role feelings play in everyday life. I’m not aware of a better way to do that than mindfulness meditation.”
Affirmations are a mindful meditation practice and a way to change which CEO is running your brain for that minute, hour, or day. Shift from a negative point of view to a positive, and see how much better your work becomes.