Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
~ Viktor E. Frankl
While meditation helps successful people heighten their focus, affirmations help these same people narrow their focus on a particular goal. Affirmations are not as popular as meditation, but both are key habits of successful people. So, What is an Affirmation?
The Oxford dictionary defines an affirmation as “the action or process of affirming something or being affirmed.” And, to affirm is “to state as a fact or to assert strongly and publicly.” So by definition, affirmations are the process of stating a series of facts by declaring them firmly and publicly.
Why do Successful People Say Affirmations?
Oddly enough, people use affirmations every day whether they realize it or not. According to the definition, we can see an affirmation is just a saying that we repeat on an average basis. A few examples of affirmations we use is telling a loved one “I love you,” “Good luck,” or in my case “Have a great day.” These short and commonly used phrases make changes in our brain. Although science has not yet proven how affirmations modify the brain, they think the modifications occur in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex.
What is the Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex and who is Victor?
An article published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States titled Self-affirmation alters the brain’s response to health messages and subsequent behavior change dives deep into the theory and application of self-affirmation. The primary objective of the study was to determine if self-affirmations would make a difference in the activity levels of participants.
The study focused on one part of the brain, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex “is the most common region implicated in self-related processing (1) and is also a key region, along with the ventral striatum, implicated in positive valuation of stimuli (1).” (1) “Research has suggested that the link between VMPFC activity during health message exposure and behavior change may stem from a recipient’s ability to process a health message as self-relevant or as having value to oneself.” (1)
To make things easy to understand, I’m going to refer to the Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex as Victor the Playful Cat. Now imagine Victor as a kitten, he is full of life and very spontaneous. As Victor ages, like all living things age, he slows down and loses the ability to jump as high and run as fast. Let’s also imagine that Victor is slightly obedient (which if you have ever owned a cat, you know this is a far stretch).
In the study, the people who self-affirmed had young Victor in their brain. If you were to tell young Victor to jump on the sofa, he would most likely do it after some coaxing. Because he is full of energy and believes you, he will listen. The control group in the study had an old Victor in their mind. As Victor is old and not very energetic, he will likely not even attempt to jump on the sofa. This is because he does not believe what you are telling him. This illustrates that there is a link between activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and the belief one has in their abilities. An active Victor, or ventromedial prefrontal cortex, means you are more likely to try harder and therefore see change. On the other hand, a lethargic Victor or inactive ventromedial prefrontal cortex means you are less likely to believe that you are capable. Victor is just an illustration of the reality of how our brain works and responds to affirmations.
The Scientific and Personal Results of Affirmations
The results from the study we mentioned earlier are fascinating. Researchers found that subjects that self-affirmed increased their activity versus a control group that did not self-affirm. The research showed that there was over a 6% difference between the control group and the self-affirming group. That is, over a 30-day period the self-affirming group were active for almost 90 minutes more than the control group. The success of affirmations isn’t just limited to scientific studies, because, I have personally seen the positive effects they can have on daily life.
In the summer of 2015, I made affirmations a daily habit. I wrote down and even recorded a list of six to seven affirmations that I recited every single day. After a month of reciting the same affirmations over and over, the most amazing thing happened, they worked. I started and ended my affirmations with “Today will be a great day.” The way in which I repeated my list forced me to say “Today will be a great day” 22 times each morning. So, after 40+ days I had repeated “Today will be a great day” over 900 times. By this time, my brain was starting to accept that today was going to be a great day. Due to the constant affirmations, my thoughts were naturally positive. Tony Robbins says “Where focus goes, energy flows,” and I certainly saw this change in my personal life.
In Between Bites
The first day I noticed the affirmations working was on a Sunday after closing at work. At the time, I worked in the produce department of our local grocery store. Sundays are a very busy day for the grocery business, and it happened to be a holiday weekend. We were completely slammed at work. The busyness was further exaggerated by scheduling problems. Instead of working only four hours, I was stuck working by myself from 3 pm to 9 pm. When I finally did get off work, I wasn’t able to get home until 10:30 due to traffic.Lastly, my girlfriend had been at my house since 9:30 since I was supposed to be home by then. At this point, I was tired and very aggravated because of all the circumstances that hadn’t gone my way.
Once I got home, I said hello to my family and grabbed a plate to warm up the leftovers from dinner. I sat down in the living room so that I could eat and talk to my family, and that is when it happened. While I was eating, Dad asked me how work was. As I took a bite, I responded instantly and unexpectedly. In the middle of my bite, I said: “Today was great.” He responded with “Oh really, that great?” As I thought about my response, I realized that I had no real reason for saying today was great. In reality, it was a hard and long day. The apparent reason for my startling responses that I had trained my brain to immediately respond that today is good, regardless of the circumstances.
How To Make Morning Affirmations a Habit
Step 1: Decide What Your Core Values Are or Should Be
Make a list of 8 to 10 affirmations that you believe represent your core values. Some examples might be:
- Today will be a great day.
- Today and every day I will work as hard as I can so that I can give as much as I can to those around me.
- Today and every day I recognize that without God’s grace and love I wouldn’t be who and where I am today.
- Today I will eat as clean as I can because I know that my future health is more important than my temporary desires.
Make sure each affirmation aligns with as many core values as possible, and affirmations can be of varying length. I recommend around one to three sentences for each affirmation because they are easier to remember.
Step 2: Decide the Best Pattern of Repetition
I have no reasoning for the pattern I follow, but it works for me. First, I go through the list one at a time. Next, I repeat each affirmation three times in a row. Lastly, I go through the list one last time. By then end of my pattern, I have gone through each 11 times. For a 3 affirmation list the pattern is: 1,2,3,1,1,1,2,2,2,3,3,3,1,2,3. I suggest making a pattern that allows for several repetitions but is also conscious of time. Whatever pattern you decide on, stick with it.
Step 3: Make Time for What is Important
After making a list of affirmation and deciding on a pattern of repetitions, make time for your new daily habit. Reciting your list should take less than 10 minutes, and can be done in NET time (No Extra Time). Pick a time or place such as after making your bed or on your drive to work for reciting your list. I recommend reciting your affirmation right after meditation, which you can learn more about. Whenever or wherever, just make time for what is important.
Recite and Move
By now, you should have aclompished the following three steps.
- Made a list of affirmations that will change the way you think for the better.
- Decided on the most effective way to recite this list.
- Decided when or where to recite the list.
Now all you have to do is to affirm. I beg you to not end your knowledge here with reading this post. In as little as thirty seconds you can recite “Today will be a great day” three times before work or school every day. As you recite your list, feel your list. Do not recite these statements because you have to, do it because you’re inspired to change your life. Move and feel each affirmation, and I promise you that it will be worth every second. I beg you to make reciting affirmations a daily habit, and if you’d like to learn about what else you can do to change your life, you can learn more about meditation.
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Go grab today, and make it great.