Personal Development

How Do Positive Affirmations Work On Your Beliefs?

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What are positive affirmations?

Just to make sure we're all on the same page, let's put out a basic definition of what a positive affirmation actually is!

"A positive affirmation is a reminder to our heart, mind and body that optimism IS the natural state of being. In a world filled with cynicism and negativity it can be very easy to forget that each day is a blessing- even if it the whole blessing part seems rather heavily disguised. Pop culture, the news and sometimes even people around us are a constant reminders of the fact the world can be a dangerous and scary place, but positive affirmations help us to create an equilibrium of positive and negative aspects of life."

Instilling positive affirmations into our lives is not as easy as it may seem on the outside, we evolved to mentally emphasize the dangerous things surrounding us. Think back to your cave men ancestors who were living constantly with the risk of being eaten or not having enough to eat. To survive, our ancestors had to learn to detect and prevent danger at all times like most animals. Us humans have psychologically held onto this tendency to worry about dangerous things even though for many of us there is no longer such an urgent need to watch our backs a majority of the time.

Positive affirmations are basically verbal, mental or even physical reminders that life is inherently good, and that we can let go of our cave men tendencies. With positive affirmation we remember the fact that the values surrounding our life and we have reason to hope.

However, positive affirmations are so much more than that as they literally determine what actions we take, what thoughts we think and what values we have. This is because they are inherently linked to our beliefs.

Your beliefs become your thoughts.

Your thoughts become your words.

Your words become your actions.

Your actions become your habits.

Your habits become your values.

Your values become your destiny.
Mahatma Gandhi

You have been using affirmations all your life!

How many times have you said to yourself and others around you:

  • I'm no good at that!
  • I can't do that!
  • I am not very intelligent!
  • I am not good looking!
  • I wish I was more like them!
  • When I have money I will….!

These are all examples of negative affirmations, and we all use them on a daily basis in one form or another.

Your self talk determines the beliefs you will have about yourself, about others and about the world around you.

The affirmations you use in everyday life, whether they be unconscious or not, determine your beliefs and it's your beliefs that will ultimately decide how successful you are going to be in any area of your life.

The importance of beliefs

One of the biggest gifts we could ever be given in life—and I mean this quite literally—is knowing that we can change our beliefs. This is just an amazing piece of knowledge to have, to know that we can actually change beliefs that have been useless and lying unchallenged within us for years.

We have certain beliefs within us just now that are disempowering us, and this is what we want to look at next to show you ways that you can disarm the disempowering beliefs or get rid of them altogether and install new beliefs into you own life.

Our beliefs literally shape our reality. Your reality is totally different from mine. It’s also different from your partner’s, work colleagues’, your kids’ and the people around about you. You’re unique to you; the thing that makes you different are the beliefs you hold about your world. Think about that for a moment—you have created your own world. Yes, we share a lot of constructs, but effectively you have created the world around you, and the person that you are today. That might bake your noodle a little, but if you can get your head around that and really think about it, you’ll realize what it means—that if you have created your life thus far, you can also change it, because you are the creator.

Your physical state is altered with your beliefs

Dr. Bernard Siegel recounts stories of patients with multiple personality disorders who have literately changed eye color and when they have changed from one personality to another. They have also developed physical symptoms such as diabetes within their bodies simply because they have changed from one personality to another, each having totally different beliefs about themselves.

That’s a stark presentation of how deeply embedded our beliefs are, and there is lots of evidence to support this. If you read any of Dr. Siegel’s books, you will realize the power of beliefs. So, this not only shows that beliefs are in our mind and can affect our minds, but they can also affect our physical bodies as well. They are extremely powerful in and of themselves, so it’s important to learn as much about yourself—through your beliefs—as possible. Then, if you feel it’s necessary, change them or install a new belief.

Let’s consider the placebo affect, which basically has two sets of patients who are given two sets of different pills. One of the sample groups receives a sugar pill and is told that the “pill” is going to help with their condition: pain, depression, etc. The other sample group is given genuine medication to treat the condition.

What has been found time and time again since 1955 when the phrase “placebo effect” was coined is that 50–60% of patients respond to the placebo tablet—that is, the sugar pill. So, it has the desired effect of positively addressing the condition. This is the power of belief. This isn’t to say that human beings are stupid—it just means that we are fooling ourselves with the power of the mind by believing that the sugar pill is going to help. This is reinforced within the hospital/medical setting and our “acceptance” that a doctor has prescribed the “pill.”

So what this really means is that a belief—if taken down to its basic function—is something you hold in your mind. It’s a concept—something you know with certainty is “true,” and that creates a deep feeling within.

A belief is a feeling of certainty that something is true.

If you say that you are an intelligent person, what you are really saying is you feel that you are an intelligent person. That feeling of certainty allows you to tap into your inner resources, which will allow you to display a feeling of intelligence and, in turn, to think and take actions in a different way—from the perspective of an intelligent person, or at least your perception of how an intelligent person would behave.

Belief formula

For the purpose of this program, I have come up with a belief formula, based on my psychology degree research (both qualitative and quantitative). The belief formula is:

perception + evidence + repetition + time = belief

Now, to illustrate this formula, I’d like to tell you a story about a girl named Sharon who is 22 years old. Sharon has never really believed that she is attractive, which is reflective of a lot of people in the world today, both female and male.

One day whilst at work, a male friend paid her a compliment and said she looked really good and “hot.” This took Sharon by surprise, but she didn’t really think anymore about it. However, when she went home that night, she looked in the mirror and thought about what her friend had said. And she thought that she was actually looking a bit better than she had been.

A few nights later, when she was out with friends, she was approached by a good-looking guy who asked if he could buy her a drink. Sharon was really flattered but politely refused to take the drink, which caused a little stir among her friends, who joked with her about this. Again she was taken aback by this compliment.

Sharon started to reflect on recent events and began to question and challenge her perception of her beliefs about herself. Other small things like this happened over the next few weeks and Sharon’s (self) belief started to take hold.

A few weeks later, Sharon was out shopping by herself and she saw a nice pair of jeans and decided to try them on. She looked in the mirror in the changing room (which as you know can be traumatic for anyone!) and was able to recognize that she actually looked good. And she acknowledged that she liked what she saw in the mirror.

This was the formation of a new belief about herself. A few weeks later, her mother said to her that over the past few months there had been a marked difference in her appearance, and she was looking wonderful. Now, it was unusual for her mother to pay her a compliment, and she was able to take this compliment in the positive manner in which it had been offered. So Sharon was able to take this belief obtained in the previous few months and let it set in her mind. Sharon had now formed the belief that she was attractive.

Due to the formation of this belief (that she is attractive), which had been reinforced by the compliments of others, Sharon started to act, dress and even walk differently. This was all a result of her newfound belief in herself. She began to dress to accentuate her best assets, and she attended the gym to maintain this attractive figure. This change affected her thinking, and she started thinking more positively confidently. She began to take on bigger challenges in life.

You see, Sharon had a perception of herself and the way she looks. This perception changed as external validation force her to look at her perception. More evidence—again in the form of external factors and internal factors—proved to Sharon that she was attractive. With time and the continuation of building evidence she formed a new belief about herself:

perception + evidence + repetition + time = belief

The story of Sharon is quite simplistic in that a belief may be formed over years depending on what stage we are at in life. If you look at the transition for Sharon, she was able to challenge her misconceived perceptions and beliefs about herself through the aid of external reinforcers.

This is what happens to you. Your beliefs are either positive or negative. If you are the type of person where your world looks bleak and dark and miserable, it’s purely because your beliefs need to be altered in relation to how you really are, and how the world really is.

The event is irrelevant—it is how you react to the event that matters. I know that there will be awful experiences that people will have been through, and the more traumatic the experiences, the more specialist help you will need. However, in general day-to-day life, if you have limiting beliefs in your life, you can turn them around (if you wish) purely by turning your beliefs around. Obviously you have to examine your current belief to know what areas you want to change.

The table of beliefs

Tony Robbins uses a metaphor for building your beliefs called the “table metaphor.” Basically what this means is you have an imaginary tabletop that represents a perception about yourself. In Sharon’s case, the perception may have been planted when the colleague at work paid her a compliment. At this point, it’s just a “tabletop.” It doesn’t have any support as such at this stage. As Sharon traveled through the following weeks she received further compliments that reinforced the positive image in her, which resulted in the formation of the “legs” for the “tabletop,” or her perception. It was now able to support the idea of her positive self-image, and that idea has now turned into a belief she has about herself. This is how we all form beliefs.

Belief formation

When we are young our beliefs are formed from external forces (i.e., parents, teachers, friends, peers and family). If we respect another person, then it is easier to believe what they say—Santa Claus, anyone?

In adulthood, we have transferred these childhood beliefs across, so it’s time to look at your beliefs, evaluate them and identify which ones you want to discard. Whenever you question something it means you are starting to doubt it. This will lead to more questions, which result in you being less likely to believe entrenched attitudes given to you by others.

However, you will be able to retain those beliefs that you actually trust in. Think about the belief that 99.9% of the world population holds true: that the sun is going to rise every morning.

Think about that belief just now, and then question it.

The possibility of the sun rising tomorrow morning is extremely high. How do we determine this? We look to the past. It has always risen in the morning. There has never been one single day that the sun has not risen at a specific time. These times have been recorded and we can trust in our past experience of the previous events. So because of the evidence, we have no foundation to say that this belief is not true.

Obviously there are some people out there who may believe that the sun will not rise. The difference is that this belief will be proved unfounded within 24 hours, when the sun rises again. However, when we question beliefs about ourselves (and not external natural forces), we start to “pick holes” in our beliefs.

When I was about five years old, I was told by significant people in my life (friends, teachers, etc.) that I wasn’t really intelligent—and I believed them. At the time I couldn’t understand that this was correlated to an undiagnosed hearing impairment that appeared to reinforce this viewpoint. I had difficulty hearing the teacher in class (Math, English, etc.) because I couldn’t hear properly.

That carried on for another 10 years or so, and I still believed that I was quite “thick”—this was the phrase I used at the time, and it’s a phrase that I have never and would never use about myself or anyone else again. But the word represents how damaging the belief was. The reason I was so ready to believe this was because significant others in my life told me both verbally and non-verbally that I was “slow,” and I had no understanding or benchmark from which to challenge this assertion at the time.

When I reached 14 years of age things changed. I questioned these beliefs that I had. The reason for this inner challenge was that I had taken a history exam—a topic I was really interested in—and I achieved an “A.” This outcome made me question my beliefs about my intelligence as a whole. I then began to look for evidence—the “legs of the table,” so to speak.

I carried on to achieve good results in English, math, and my geography exams. These were all clear external indications that the conditions of worth and labels that had been placed upon me as a child were wrong. I began to form other beliefs that culminated in me believing that I was intelligent, and I had the audacity to apply to university. Now, to apply to university I had to have some higher level math, physics and chemistry, and when I reflected back to high school I saw that I hadn’t been able to achieve even the most standard grade in any of these subjects. However, because I had changed my beliefs and now believed that I was intelligent, and because I believed I could pass these higher exams, I went on to achieve all the qualifications required of me, on the first try—which allowed me to secure a place in my psychology degree course.

I graduated in 2000. This was one of my biggest achievements in life, purely because of my previous belief that I lacked intelligence. I know that intelligence is not equated to passing exams, as the exam system is inherently flawed, but it is an indication of commitment, belief and a degree of intelligence.

It is this experience that triggered my interest in beliefs, and how they form our reality and worlds. This is an illustration of how challenging our beliefs—and changing them—can change our future reality, and we can start to bend our reality when our current reality’s beliefs are challenged.

How do positive affirmations work?

Positive affirmations basically work by re-training our brain to believe something new or to delete an old belief that we already hold about ourself. Using the formula above an old belief can be questioned, to make that belief 'molten'. When we question our beliefs they automatically lose a little power. However, we start to layer a new belief on top of our old belief and we find evidence to support it, and repeat it often enough and given enough time, the new belief will become a rock solid belief.

This is when positive affirmations come in.

With the repetition of positive affirmations we can choose which beliefs we want to have about ourself.

You might think that is absurd, but think about it:

The beliefs you hold about yourself just now have been passed to you from other people, they're not really your beliefs. Think about your money beliefs: do you always think you will live without ever having a lot of money? this will have no doubt been passed to your from your parents, and their beliefs have been passed to them from their parents, so you see some of your beliefs have been passed down from generation to generation simply with the act of stating affirmations often enough.

Conversely if you think you will always be wealthy, those beliefs have been passed down from generation to generation.

Think about something you believe about yourself just now, something positive……

Now think about why you have that belief. Chances are it's because a lot of people told you e.g. Oh you're so intelligent…. you start to adopt the belief that you're intelligent which will affect your thoughts, and the actions you have in life.


Why do we NEED positive affirmations?

It's not that we need positive affirmations. It's more to do with becoming aware of our old affirmations and choosing the ones we want to have in our life in order to change the limiting beliefs we have and to install new beliefs about ourself.

Once you finally believe in these positive affirmations, you can start focusing on in the grand scheme of what you want to do with your life. What is better, once you start taking the steps to improve your life you create a positive feedback loops, because all of a sudden the values stated in the positive affirmation become more present in your life making it easier and easier to have the energy to continue on your positive journey through this life.

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About the author

Steven Aitchison

Steven Aitchison is the author of The Belief Principle and an online trainer teaching personal development and online business.  He is also the creator of this blog which has been running since August 2006.