Do Affirmations Work?

Last Saturday Beth and I completed RunDisney’s “Tower of Terror Ten-Miler.” The longest I’ve ever run (in my life) without stopping was four miles. So my goal for the race was to run five miles before walking.

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We decided to use affirmations during our runs (positive statements that provide a mental picture of what you want). For years, Beth believed “I’m not a runner.” So the affirmation she created was: I’m a marathon runner; this is easy for me.

I’ve always seen running as being incredibly hard and requiring extraordinary amounts of discipline. So I created this affirmation: Running is easy. I love running. I am a runner and I always run.

After 64 minutes, we finished mile five. Goal accomplished.

I started to think…“what if we could run this entire thing?”

[callout]BONUS CONTENT: Be at the lookout at the bottom of the post. I created a PDF on how to create affirmations that you can download for free![/callout]

I knew my body could make it…but could my brain?  Was I mentally strong enough not to quit?

At that point I created a new affirmation:Tower of Terror Ten Miler

The only thing that can cause me to quit is my brain, and MY BRAIN NEVER QUITS! 

After two hours and eight minutes, we crossed the finish line together, hands raised high. It was an incredible moment for us both. We didn’t stop once.

Paul wrote “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

We are so thankful God kept us healthy and helped us finish. I’m convinced though that had we not specifically focused on “renewing our minds” through positive affirmations, there would have been a different outcome.

How It Started

Beth & I recently went to a seminar by a psychologist who has worked with Super Bowl and NCAA national championship teams. Here’s eight hours of phenomenal training conduced into two sentences:

1. Change your life by changing your thinking

2. Change your thinking by using affirmations repeated daily

But do affirmations really work?

And…since they seem to have their roots in modern psychology, are they biblical?

I found myself wanting to believe. After all, my desire as a coach is to help men change!

But I’ve tried affirmations in the past, and while they provided a nice elevation in my mood, they didn’t seem to produce lasting change.

Here’s where I failed.

“Trying” affirmations is like “trying” pushups.

A week’s worth of pushups and you won’t see a difference. Compare that with doing them everyday for a year.

What about the research? 

Most studies have concluded that affirmations are a proven way to literally rewire the brain which affects our core beliefs and therefore our actions.

However, one study did show that affirmations produced negative emotions in people with low self-esteem.

But…the study was short term, so it’s results seemed obvious.

What would you expect if you tell someone – who already feels like a failure and has a lifetime of experiences to reinforce those feelings – to repeat “I am successful” for five minutes?

But have that same person do affirmations every day for three years, combined with visualizing themselves as being successful, and what change would you expect?

Your Beliefs Determine Your Actions

Proverbs says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”

News Flash: Your heart doesn’t think…your brain thinks.

You will ALWAYS act in accordance with your beliefs about yourself…the picture in your head of who you really believe you are.

Change your picture and you’ll change your life.

Last week I overheard a guy at Panera say how his wife was overweight in high school. And even though she’s healthy now, she refuses to believe she’s beautiful regardless of how much he tells her.

Why does the picture of herself in her brain say “ugly!” even though the mirror and the people closest to her say “beautiful!”?

Why do 76% of convicts released from prison, many who confidently exclaim “I will live clean!” end up back in prison?

Why do most of us (be honest guys) see ourselves as failures, even though we’re clearly not!?

How Do Affirmations Work?

You have roughly 30,000 to 50,000 thoughts a day running through your conscious mind (probably depends on how much coffee you’ve had).

Imagine those thoughts are like fruit on a tree.

You can see them, touch them, even pick them.

But you can’t see the roots. You can’t see the very source of those thoughts. The fruit (visible, tangible) is your conscious mind. The root system (unseen, unfelt) is you unconscious mind.

Your unconscious mind is the hard drive of your brain. You don’t feel it, you’re mostly unaware of it, yet it’s in the background working all the time. It stores vivid images of all your past experiences, and more importantly, your interpretation of those events which form your beliefs.

Here’s the simplistic version of the neuroscience behind thoughts & beliefs:

  • The brain contains neurons, which communicate with each other by using a synapse (like a bridge) that passes chemical messages between the neurons.
  • Your thoughts “fire” the neurons, which trigger a chemical reaction (think about your wedding night and you’ll get this).
  • When neurons consistently and repeatedly fire in the same manner, a strong neural pathway is created. Neurons that fire together, wire together. This is the process that makes complex tasks seemingly automatic (aka, airline pilot).
  • The deeper the neural pathway, the harder it is to change.
  • But, the brain is incredibly effective. Like grass growing back over a well-worn path, when a neural pathway is no longer being used, it will gradually dissipate.

Paul wrote that transformation comes when you renew your mind.

Neuroscience is actually showing us the biological process of how that works…by reforming the neural pathways in your brain to actually change your beliefs, and hence, your actions.

The key is consistency – you have to daily put new thoughts in your brain until those old neural pathways dissipate, and new ones are formed. This is one of the only ways (scientifically) known to actually change your belief system (the picture you have of yourself at an unconscious level).

And…it’s the only way that woman who sees herself as ugly is going to actually start to believe she’s not.

Are Affirmations Biblical?

The answer? It depends on the affirmation.

You have to answer two questions to find out:

1. Does the affirmation itself line up with scripture?

2. Is my motive behind the affirmation in line with scripture and God’s will for my life?

If the answer to both is “Yes!” then how would using a tool proven to physically “renew your mind” be wrong?

To be prosperous and successful, God told Joshua (1:8) to do four things:

1. Speak It: “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips”

2. Think It: “meditate on it”

3. Be Consistent: “day and night”

4. Take Action: “do everything written in it…then you will be prosperous and successful.”

Why didn’t he just say “do everything in it and you’ll be successful?”

Because God (who created our brains) knows that we only act in accordance with our beliefs. And the quickest way to change our beliefs is by consistently speaking and thinking on focused information.

Most of us do steps 1 and 2, and quit after a week. And then we think God’s word doesn’t work. Scientifically speaking, it’s the consistency (every day for months) that rewires the neurons in the brain and creates the new neural pathways.

Closing Thoughts

Affirmations work. They are not new age (there’s actually more Biblical rational behind affirmations than there is journaling).

Solomon commanded his sons to “keep my commands in your heart” and “bind them around your neck.” He wrote that the “tongue has the power of life and death.” God told Joshua to meditate on scripture day and night. Paul wrote to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” and he gave some clues how by telling us to “think on these things.”

God’s word is not ambiguous. What we say and what we think absolutely affect our lives.

But are you just living as a victim of years of poor speaking and poor thinking? Or are you being proactive to intentionally take daily action that will “renew your mind” so you get the transformation you want and need?

-Wesley

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[reminder]I’d love to hear from you. Please take a moment to let me know how you can apply this to your life right now.[/reminder]