Positive Affirmations Actually Work: Here’s How To Start

Learn how to write powerful positive affirmations that can change your life—and discover the best ways to implement them into your daily routine.

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We all have inner voices within our minds. Sometimes those voices encourage us, but often they supply us with negative self-talk: I’m not good enough to get that promotion. I’ll never meet the right person. Ugh, I’m so lazy for not exercising yesterday. Before we know it, we let these negative thoughts cloud our minds and absorb our energy. According to Eckhart Tolle, best-selling author and spiritual teacher, “the primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.” So what if we spend a little more time and energy working on changing our thoughts? We’d be much happier and, chances are, much more successful, too. That’s where positive affirmations come in. They help redirect our brains to send us encouraging, uplifting statements—instead of negative ones. These positive affirmations build our confidence, boost our mood, and increase our productivity and happiness. By implementing positive affirmations into your daily routine, you can change your mindset—and, ultimately, change your life.

What are positive affirmations?

Positive affirmations aren’t just feel-good statements. When done right, they can actually alter the neural pathways in our brains. “The mental image we carry of ourselves and our mind is referred to as our self-image,” explains Tanya Ince, PhD, a money coach who helps individuals reach their highest potential. “Our self-image determines our actions, decisions, behaviors, and what we believe to be true.” Positive affirmations are statements that help to change our self-image. Even though our self-image begins forming when we’re infants, we can make alterations to it as adults. For instance, if we believe we’re unlovable, we can form a positive affirmation to alter that belief. “The average human thinks 40,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day, but it can be even more than that,” says Ince. “Most of these thoughts are unconscious and happen automatically, like when we’re driving our cars.” To take control of those 60,000 thoughts (and our lives!), we can use affirmations to install new beliefs that support our goals. And if you’re totally new to positive affirmations or doubt their power, read on.

The Three Main Types of Positive Affirmations

Positive affirmations aren’t fluff: They remind our brains of what’s good, true, and helpful. They help us reach outside of those negative, circular thoughts. And they come in three main varieties.

Positive Affirmations for Your Identity

Affirmations about your identity speak to who you are. Do you believe you’re a good mother? A faithful friend? A thoughtful person?

“Our self-image determines our actions, decisions, behaviors, and what we believe to be true.” —Tanya Ince, PhD

Even if you’re self-confident, you might carry doubts and deeply held beliefs about who you are or aren’t. Positive affirmations that target negative thoughts about your identity might look like: “I am a fun, likeable person” or, “My body is healthy and beautiful.”

Positive Affirmations for Your Capabilities

What you believe you can and cannot do are beliefs about your skills. As Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right.” Affirmations about your capabilities might sound like, “I have the skills to succeed at this project” or “I know how to host a dinner party for my friends.”

Positive Affirmations for Your Relationship With the World Around You

Do you see life as easy—or hard and full of problems? Are people on your side or against you? What you believe about the world can be modified through affirmations to fit a more realistic, positive outlook. We can remind ourselves with affirmations like “The world has many good people in it” or “Life is full of little joys.”

How to Create Positive Affirmations That Actually Work

“Pre-made statements, like ones from a list of positive affirmations, aren’t very helpful and often times don’t work,” shares Katie Sanford, Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, owner of Found Hope Counseling in Studio City, California. If you don’t believe your affirmation, it won’t resonate with you. To build positive affirmations that will help manifest your dreams and change your life, follow these five key requirements.

1. Target an area where you want more balance.

“What area of your life would you like to expand or empower? Your health, career, finances, family life, or spirituality?” asks Ince. Develop a powerful affirmation to home in on the area where you’d like to see improvement.

2. Make it personal.

“Creating affirmations is an art. They must feel like they’re yours,” shares Ince. “Your affirmation has to create a feeling in order to change your neural pathways.” She shares an easy tip: Add your name to your affirmation, like “I, Melanie, find enjoyment in my work.”

“Everyone has negative core beliefs, they just affect us differently. All of us can benefit from looking at what we’re believing.” —Katie Sanford, Found Hope Counseling

3. State your affirmation in the positive—avoid negative wording.

According to Ince, your positive affirmation shouldn’t include the phrases, “I don’t,” “I won’t,” or “I can’t.” So rather than saying, “I won’t let people walk all over me,” your affirmation stated in the positive could be: “I am strong and my opinions matter.”

4. Resist comparisons to other people and moments in time.

The words “better,” “worse,” “less,” and “more” shouldn’t make an appearance in your affirmation. Don’t compare yourself with your past self or other people. To make this easier, Ince explains that positive affirmations should be written in the present tense, not the future. Instead of “I will love myself,” say, “I do love myself.” Instead of “I’ll exercise more,” try: “I take care of my body every day.”

5. Be realistic, but stretch yourself.

“Your affirmations need to be realistic, or you’ll feel like you’re lying to yourself,” says Sanford. Your positive affirmation must be true yet helpful. In other words, it should feel attainable but push you toward empowerment and positive self-image. If you don’t feel confident in a certain area, like your job, don’t create an affirmation that says you’re the next CEO. Instead, use an affirmation like, “I am skilled and resourceful. I can always figure things out.”

When and How to Implement Positive Affirmations

Now that we know how to create award-winning, life-changing affirmations, how the heck do we use them? Combining a variety of methods works best, explains Ince. Aim to receive your affirmations visually and audibly as often as possible. Write your affirmations on a sticky note and adhere them to your bathroom mirror or your computer monitor. “You can also record them using your cell phone and play them back to yourself,” shares Ince. If you meditate regularly, repeat your affirmation over and over throughout your practice. “You can even write down your affirmation 10 to 15 times on a piece of paper. It can be surprising how well writing repetition works,” says Ince. If you have a partner or friend who wants to help, they can even read or say your affirmation to you. When you hear your affirmation, like “Jasmine has fun in her life.” Respond with: “Yes, it’s true.” In this way, you’re both accepting and confirming your own affirmation. “I’ve even used positive affirmations in group sessions. It’s helpful because as people are saying and hearing each other’s affirmations, they naturally begin to reaffirm them for each other. When someone says, ‘I’m capable,’ and a room full of people nod, the affirmation sinks in deeper,” Sanford says. She also notices that people’s postures change when they say their affirmations. Their heads are up and their shoulders are back.

The Best Time of Day for Positive Affirmations

Want your positive affirmations for success to really sink in? Start when you wake up, and end your day with them. In the morning, our brains are the most open to change,” says Ince. So when you’re lathering up your hair with shampoo or washing your face, repeat your affirmation a few times. Include your affirmation in your bedtime routine, too, because your subconscious mind helps to install your affirmations as you sleep, Ince explains. Here’s to kicking negative thoughts and dreaming easier!

How long does it take for positive affirmations to work?

Ever since Maxwell Maltz published Psycho-Cybernetics in 1960, it’s been believed that it takes 21 days to form a new habit. Newer research out of the University College London indicates that it actually takes around 66 days, or about two months. “Changing your self-image or a long-held belief can take longer than that,” explains Ince. “It’s important not to give up when there’s some resistance. Keep going.” Implementing a positive affirmation doesn’t have to be a super serious endeavor, either, encourages Ince. “Think of it as a playful exercise, an experiment.” Try repeating your affirmation for three to four weeks to see what happens. What new opportunities pop up? What new feelings or beliefs do you have about yourself and the world? “It doesn’t take long to use your positive affirmations every day. A few minutes in the morning or throughout the day are all you need. The more reminders, the better—and the faster the change will happen,” shares Ince. “Everyone has negative core beliefs, they just affect us differently. All of us can benefit from looking at what we’re believing,” says Sanford. “Everyone can benefit from positive affirmations.”

Jenna Jonaitis
Jenna Jonaitis is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, SHAPE, and other publications. She recently traveled with her husband for 18 months—farming in Japan, studying Spanish in Madrid, volunteering in India, and hiking through the Himalayas. She's now expecting her first child and is always in search of wellness in mind, body, and spirit.