What is an affirmation? In the world of psychology, affirmations (specifically positive affirmations) are uplifting or reassuring statements people say to themselves to rebuttal negative or dysfunctional thoughts. This will make more sense if I describe an example:


Tim is a perfectionist office worker. However, he recently made an error on a big report. Tim has been beating himself up over this small mistake, thinking things like “I’m an idiot” or “what will everyone think of me now?” You may have been in a situation like Tim’s yourself. But these thoughts are distracting and simply not helpful. Affirmations that may help combat these cognitions might be “I forgive myself. I am not perfect and that is ok.” or  “I will learn from this and do better next time.” The fact of the matter is that no one is perfect. Reminding ourselves of this can allow us to take the mistake as a learning experience and shift our focus from the past to the future.


This is only one example of a positive affirmation. If you google “positive affirmations” you will get dozens of sites with tons of affirmations that are bound to address the issue you may be having. You are not alone!


However, the key to affirmations is believing them. Affirmations are facts, however it can be difficult to emotionally embrace the facts when we are caught up in negative thoughts or beliefs.


If you’re skeptical about the efficacy of saying nice things aloud to yourself, you would not be the first. However, decades of research regarding self-affirmation theory has indicated that, bizarre as it is, positive affirmations work. Saying them aloud can rewire our thoughts to think more positively about ourselves. Cascio et al. (2018) found that affirmations can activate parts of the brain associated with emotional regulation and self-related processing. While this recent study shows that we still don’t fully understand the neurocognitive mechanisms of affirmations, we do know that affirmations combat the negative thoughts we have, which leads to more confidence, self-esteem, and a more positive outlook.



Cascio, C. N., O’Donnell, M. B., Tinney, F. J., Lieberman, M. D., Taylor, S. E., Strecher, V. J., & Falk, E. B. (2016). Self-affirmation activates brain systems associated with self-related processing and reward and is reinforced by future orientation. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 11(4), 621–629.

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