There was this guy on SNL, Stuart Smalley, remember him? He was known for his self-affirmations and motivational speaking. His catchphrase was, “I'm good enough. I'm smart enough. Gosh darn it, people like me."
Society generally doesn't approve when people brag about their accomplishments yet we all wonder what makes some people so successful. Many would argue it's confidence and self-esteem. Research supports that affirmations set us on a path to a healthy balance of confidence and humility.
The adorable dad and daughter video that often shows up in my newsfeed supports my theory that instilling confidence in our youngest, most impressionable little people is an appealing idea. Not only is it appealing and adorable, it's life-changing.
How affirmations change the brain
Scientists can confirm that speaking positively about ourselves to ourselves out loud actually changes our brains. An article in Science of Us details the results of brain scan research proving the effectiveness of self-affirmations. During the study, participants visualized themselves in an area of value such as family and friends, humor, or politics. Their positive affirmations resulted in self-focused brain activity when thinking of future scenarios.
Psychologically, affirmations are rewarding and beneficial because they train us to linger on thoughts we value and defend ourselves with reassurance during threatening situations. Consistent affirmation practice brings long term benefits of self-regulation and emotional management.
We praise our kids all the time for a job well done. But it doesn't matter if I tell my kids a million times a day how smart, kind, beautiful, and creative they are, it's not my opinion and approval that will keep them going in life. It will be their own belief in themselves, their gifts, and their roles.
It takes some practice, but soon weaving brief affirmations into the daily incessant chatter with kids becomes habit. We like to include affirmations in our morning ritual and sprinkle them throughout the day during situations that inspire us or that require confidence.
Brain scientists emphasize the importance of specific, repeated positive affirmations done at routine times on a daily basis for at least twenty-one days. After that length of time, the neural connections are being made to train the brain to think more optimistically.
The “magic formula" of the power of affirmations has three critical components. You can customize for specific self-improvement goals or confidence barriers, but these elements and the basic structure need to be in place for affirmations to be effective.
- The words “I am" and the Sanskrit word “Om" activate the areas of the brain responsible for reducing negative affect and improving health.
- Affirmations can be made in future or present tense.
- Spend a few moments mindfully visualizing details of the feeling and situation you are affirming.
- The visualization step is critical as it creates the pathways for your brain to connect the words of the statement with the positive feelings associated with it.
- The final and most difficult step in effective affirmation practice is belief in the statement.
- When starting out, believing a statement you aren't sure about seems like faking. But over time, the belief in the statement is the key to changing the brain and experiencing more positive feelings.
At this point in our practice, my three-year-old simply says whatever comes to mind. We don't spend time visualizing or trying to gauge belief in the statement. This works perfectly for now. When he is dealing with challenging emotions, feeling anxious, scared, or angry, I try to validate, comfort, suggest he say an affirmation, and move on with our day. Even at a young age, he seems to be comprehending, on some level, the effect that words have on his fears and confidence.
We use a variety of statements depending on the situation and the negative feelings we're trying to overcome.
- I am kind.
- I am brave.
- I am strong.
- I am creative.
- I am loving.
- I am happy.
Though the words “I am" have validating power, affirmations are equally as effective when started with other strong, positive words.
- My light shines brightly.
- I create peace for myself.
- I find joy in helping other people.
If you'd like a grown-up read on the topic, definitely check out the book “The Brain That Changes Itself."
Saying affirmations out loud in the mirror like Stuart Smalley seems a bit silly at first. But I can't argue with brain science. I truly believe modeling daily affirmations will give my kids the confidence to grow stronger after a breakup, pick themselves up after losing a job, or recover from whatever other challenges life hands them.
So, gosh darn it, I'll keep doing it.