Optimism and positive affirmations are two of the most powerful tools we have in our arsenal for getting what we want out of life and being successful in everything we do. Unfortunately both are also highly under-rated and underused and many people wouldn’t know how to go about using them even if they wanted too.
There’s also a lot of stigma surrounding the concept of using positive affirmations to get results and the perception of many is that it’s an esoteric and superstitious view that doesn’t come anywhere near actually putting in the hard work needed to achieve your goals and dreams in life. This is seriously missing the point however, as the fact is that it’s positive affirmations and optimism that give us the drive and the ambition we need to put that work in in the first place. Fortunately people’s faith in the power of positive thinking can often be improved when you explain to them the exact processes by which they work; it’s not some mystical force – but observable social and psychological processes that give positive thinking techniques their effectiveness.
The first way by which positive thinking helps us achieve what we want is through something called a ‘self fulfilling prophecy’. This term explains the fact that by believing we have certain attributes we then begin to behave as though we do which eventually leads to us actually developing them. For example, say you believe yourself to be a highly successful business man (or woman). If you genuinely believe this then the chances are you’ll begin to dress and act differently – you’ll wear more expensive suits and watches, carry briefcases and stand and walk more confidently. At the same time you’ll enjoy your work more as you’ll believe yourself to be good at it and so will put in more effort. Over time superiors and colleagues will begin to notice this change in behaviour and will notice that you not only look the part but have increased your productivity and can speak and present more efficiently. This will then mean they’ll be more likely to pick you for important projects or to offer you a raise. Alternatively you may simply learn from your extra work and feel more confident from your positive affirmations and bite the bullet and set up your own small business. In these ways you’ll then over time actually become a more successful business man.
Positive individuals are also more likely to take risks or to do things that others would be afraid of as they believe themselves that it’s going to turn out well. This means they’re less likely to get ‘stuck in a rut’ and are far more likely to inspire and innovate. The fact of the matter is that in life most of what we really want is right there for the taking – it’s only our own reservations and fears that stop us from doing so. With positive affirmations you can break down these barriers and actually just get the things you want. Take a night club for example – the men who dance on their own all night that are not going to pull. The ones who have the courage to go up and start dancing with other people are the ones who will go home with someone – if only due to the laws of chance – and those guys are the ones who are optimistic about trying. If you don’t try you can’t succeed (and you only fail when you give up trying), and pessimism is usually the number one issue preventing us from trying.
Pessimism also leads to depression and anxiety – both of which can drastically hamper your chances for success. This also makes positivity better for your health, and thinking optimistically can result in the production of good hormones and the strengthening of the immune system. Apart from anything else, positive people also smile more and more outgoing, which simply means they’ll make more friends and network more efficiently. Positive thinking is also self perpetuating. Once you get into the swing of being positive and using positive affirmations you’ll start to notice your life changing around you and this make you a more naturally positive thinker (interestingly the simple act of smiling also makes you happier.
That said though, there may also be some as yet unexplained interactions that make positive thinking and positive affirmations so successful. In one psychological study, researchers rated participants on their optimism and ranked them on a scale. Following this the participants were then asked to flip a coin and predict the outcome, and miraculously the more optimistic the patient, the more times they correctly predicted the way the coin would land. What you make of that study is entirely up to you…
By now your scepticism should be at least partly satisfied (if not… tough crowd!). The question then, is how can you start using positive thinking and positive affirmations yourself to begin generating results in the areas of your life that you need them?
The first and most basic technique is to begin viewing things in a more positive light. That means not only things that go well (which are easy to view in such a way), but also things that go not so well. For example, in order to put a positive spin on a failure you would say that it’s a learning curve, character building, ‘interesting’ either. Because as we said earlier, you can’t have failed until you’ve given up trying – failure simply delays your inevitable success. Furthermore, if you’re working towards your goal then you’re already living it. For example to be a writer you simply have to write – that’s an easy goal to accomplish. It’s only being successful that’s hard but so long as you’re writing then you’re living the dream. See obstacles as challenges – and it’s the challenges and bad times that make the good times so sweet, and that make life interesting and exciting (we all wish our lives were like the movies – would you really watch a movie where everything went right for the hero right away?).
Visualisation techniques are also a powerful tool that many people swear-by and are incredibly affective alongside other methods such as positive affirmations. To practice visualisation all you have to do is take some time out to imagine and literally picture yourself in the position you want to be in in the near future. For example, if it’s you’re dream to become a successful musician then you would spend time picturing yourself going on tours, performing to gigantic audiences and recording your next hit in the studio. This then works through several mechanisms, firstly tricking you brain into thinking it’s already a reality and thereby unconsciously beginning the process of the self fulfilling prophecy. Secondly visualisation can help you to formulate an action plan and to keep your eye on the goal. Goal oriented behaviour is important as it will stop you getting distracted and help you focus. At the same time this will help you to create an action plan and plot a trajectory for how you intend to achieve your aims. In sports visualisation techniques are used in order for athletes to practice their form and technique without actually having to move. In this instance it can even improve muscle memory and technique – and some bodybuilders believe it can even increase muscle mass. With these methods in place all that’s left is the positive affirmations themselves.
Positive affirmations themselves are simply a form of positive self talk. In the cognitive behavioural therapy school of psychology, the contents of our thoughts are thought to have a big impact on our mood and behaviour. Here many mood disorders such as depression and anxiety are thought to be caused by patients mentally putting themselves down thinking things like ‘I’m no good to anyone’ or ‘I’ll never amount to anything’ and blaming themselves for things that go wrong while putting things that go right down to luck or the help of others. Such faulty thinking can come about in a number of ways, either developing slowly or being ‘inherited’ from overly critical parents or friends. Eventually such criticisms become internalised and mentally scolding can become habitual. Cognitive behavioural therapists therefore teach patients to practice ‘mindfulness’ which consists of a form of meditation where they are instructed to ‘listen’ to their thoughts in order to identify the positive and the negative.
While such destructive thought patterns are regular in those with mood disorders, they can also be fairly common in healthy individuals – and that critical voice could be what’s preventing you from speaking up more in public or for trying to go for that dream job that you’ve been wanting. The concept of positive affirmations then is to replace these bad thoughts with positive and encouraging ones. These then consist of short positive statements, usually in the first person and active tense that you repeat to yourself either at a specific time or in context specific scenarios. For example someone who struggles with their self esteem may choose to begin their day with a positive affirmation such as ‘I am a worthwhile, intelligent, beautiful and popular person’. Meanwhile someone who desperately wants to be a famous film star might repeat the phrase ‘In five years I will be the star of a movie’. A sports star who struggles with the pressure might repeat to themselves ‘I am calm and collected under pressure’. Notice how each of these positive affirmations is a clear statement and not in any way vague, each one is completely positive and in the first person whereas something like ‘in would be great to be a film star some day’ just won’t work. Try coming up with some positive affirmations for your life.
At first you may feel self conscious or embarrassed repeating these positive affirmations. However they really do work and can be just as successful for those who are already successful and happy as it can for those who want more from life. The way by which they work is essentially through the self fulfilling prophecy again, though this kind of ‘forced positive thinking’ will eventually permeate all of your thought patterns and behaviour making you generally far more positive an individual. In this sense it can almost be considered a form of positive self-hypnosis or self imposed brain washing. While it may at first seem strange repeating these phrases they will eventually become second nature and just as habitual as your current thinking patterns.
If you manage to adopt these positive affirmations permanently into your thinking then they should begin to effect your thinking patterns in general and you might find that your other thoughts become similarly more positive. At the same time you should find yourself making fewer disparaging remarks (and you can look out for them and stop yourself if you do). The affirmations will also help you with your self fulfilling prophecies and by telling your brain how you are in the present tense and in the first person you’ll start to force it to believe you. Finally the positive affirmations can provide an immediate self-esteem boost on demand when you need it. Should you be about to make a presentation remind yourself before you go up: ‘I am well spoken, collected, charismatic and impressive.’. Another time these immediate boosts might be useful could be to counter a negative statement from outside – say someone told you you were useless you’d just remind yourself ‘I am a highly successful and worthwhile person’.
It’s better of course to avoid these situations altogether and so another alteration you can make to help yourself become more positive and successful is to surround yourself with positive people and avoid critical or pessimistic influences. The unfortunate thing is that people who aren’t positive or have low self esteem themselves often drag the rest of us down. Of course it stands to reason that someone negative will tell you that you can’t achieve what you want to – as they’re naturally pessimistic. At the same time though if they’re insecure they’ll often try to deal with it by bringing other people down. By telling you that you’re unsuccessful or can’t be they’ll then seem more successful by comparison and will feel better themselves. In this way they’ll ‘project’ their own insecurities onto you as a way of protecting their own self esteem. For these reasons, if you’re struggling with low self esteem already or are aiming to increase yours so as to become more successful then it’s important that you surround yourself with other positive and successful people. At the same time, if you receive criticisms then try to remember where they’re coming from – from other people’s own insecurities. This also demonstrates why it’s so important that you do work on your own outlook; as it won’t just affect you but will ‘spread’ to those around you.
By sticking to all these things you should find that you start to think more like someone who’s already successful, and as a results you should find that genuine success follows. And if nothing else you’ll find that a more positive outlook makes you happier, more productive and healthier and that it rubs off on all those around you.