How Positive Affirmations Can Help You Reach Your Health Goals

Positive affirmations can help you hit your health goals—whether you want to improve your sleep quality, feel more confident about your body, get in more steps per day (while logging them with your favorite Fitbit tracker), or all of the above. Chances are you’ve heard of positive affirmations, even if you haven’t incorporated them into your own daily life. But what exactly are these confidence-building mantras, and how do they work?

What’s the point of positive affirmations?

In social psychology, self-affirmation is “the process by which individuals validate or affirm the positive aspects of their personality to create self-integrity.” And in essence, positive affirmations are short, self-affirming statements that may help you overcome negative or self-sabotaging thoughts and effect change—both in your life and the way you feel about yourself. For example, if you’re stuck in your career, you might repeat a positive affirmation such as, “I am skilled and experienced in my profession,” out loud or in your head to help combat self-doubt.

There’s research on ‘growth mindset,’ which is the idea that you believe you can change,” says Tchiki Davis, Ph.D, a Research and Development (R&D) Consultant and creator of The Berkeley Well-Being Institute. “It’s like reinforcing to yourself that you believe you can make this change, at the core of it. It’s not a magic trick. It just helps you to have a mindset shift that can hopefully contribute to a positive outcome.”

In other words, people who believe they can change and work on developing themselves through hard work, strategy, and constructive criticism from others have a growth mindset. And research indicates those people may experience improvements in motivation and performance.

The potential payoff of positive affirmations

One of the best parts about a regular affirmation practice is that it takes minimal effort to incorporate these game-changing statements into your routine. All it takes is a few moments each day, either spent writing them down or repeating them aloud.

And guess what? Focusing on and repeating a series of personal motivational mantras could be the difference between merely wanting to accomplish your goals—health-related and otherwise—and actually improving your chances of benefiting from said goals and their outcomes.

In fact, according to the Annual Review of Psychology, “timely self-affirmations have been shown to improve education, health, and relationship outcomes, with benefits that sometimes persist for months and years.” The study relays that people harbor a basic need to preserve their own self-integrity. By writing about (affirming) their core personal values, people can strengthen their view of the self and its resources—thereby improving their own resourcefulness, adaptiveness, and ability to make things happen!

Although other survey studies reveal mixed results, and of course, everyone is different, repeating positive self-statements can certainly benefit some. In fact, for some people, self-affirmation can even help boost self-esteem when it comes to body shape and weight, too. Here are a few ways positive affirmations may help you reach your goals:

Visualize a positive outcome

Visualization techniques can be as simple as envisioning the final result of what it will look like to achieve your goal—or the process can be as nuanced as imagining how it will feel to do so. For example, just how good will you feel after having a productive day at work, and getting those 10,000 steps in by the end of the day?

Again, results on the efficacy of mental visualization are admittedly mixed. One study by researchers Heather Kappes and Gabriele Oettingen demonstrates that conjuring visions of success can actually make us feel less ambitious—on a physiological level. This is due to the fact that our brains can’t tell the difference between what we’ve imagined and what’s really occurred. So, instead of pushing ourselves to succeed, the brain preemptively triggers a “relaxation response” similar to the feeling we’d have after reaching our goal.

On the other hand, this inability of the brain to differentiate can either hinder us—or help us, depending on what you’d like the outcome of the situation to be. Remember, it’s less about what you want to accomplish, and more about how it will make you feel—whether it’s the process of finding a job you love; working in 10,000 steps a day, every day; or catching more quality Z’s at night.

“Using mental visualization isn’t necessarily about making that day or outcome happen—but that you have all of these positive emotions that you carry with you by imagining the activity,” says Dr. Davis. “I feel like positive affirmations may be a similar thing, where you’re thinking about this positive outcome, and that makes you feel good, even if the positive outcome doesn’t happen.”

For example, if you’ve ever tried doing this before a job interview or an important meeting at work, then you know just how empowering an effect it can have on your sense of self-confidence. Even if you don’t get the job, you can feel good about yourself and how you handled the interview.

To try it out: First, envision the specifics of the outcome you want, then write down your affirmation(s)—being sure to frame the statement as if it’s already happened. Yes, the two can go hand-in-hand, and the more specific you can get when doing both (visualizing and affirming), the better.

Some examples of positive affirmations:

“I’m so glad I nailed that job interview! I’m happily thriving in the knowledge that I deserve a career that challenges and fulfills me, and my confidence and integrity really showed.”

“I’m so proud of myself for continuously achieving my health and fitness goals! I feel so energetic and productive after reaching 10,000 steps a day, and I’m going to keep pushing myself to build more movement into my day, every day.”  

“I sleep well at night knowing I’m living my best, happiest, and most fulfilled life every single day.”

Use the approach that works for you

Like starting up a meditation or mindfulness practice, this is all about doing it regularly—which means that it’s going to be different for everyone. “My approach is if you find something that works for you, that fits in your life, that’s likely to be the most effective strategy,” Dr. Davis says. “Personally, I have sticky notes all over my computer—affirmations, some goals, a mixture of things. This way it can seep into your consciousness without you having to work on it.”

“Whatever feels like a good fit for you, and you’re actually willing to do on a regular basis, is what’s going to be the most effective,” she adds.  

Tap in to the support of a community

If you’re having trouble coming up with affirmations for yourself, you may find the support of a community helpful. What better way to do so than by tapping in to the Fitbit community?

Set a silent alarm on your Fitbit tracker to give yourself a gentle, everyday reminder to practice your positive affirmations. (You can set up to 8 on all Fitbit devices except for Fitbit Zip.)

Or, work them into your meditation practice by using the Relax app (available on certain devices), which provides personalized 2- or 5-minute deep breathing sessions to help you tap into your zen at any given moment throughout your day.

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