By: Kat Gage
Using positive self-affirmations has been said to help break the cycle of negative self-talk. Positive self-affirmations also help you develop new thinking habits while practicing self-compassion all of which are very beneficial to improving our mental health, but are the affirmations alone enough?
In the short term, affirmations are very helpful, but over time if we continue this practice without any other method of developing emotional resiliency, the affirmations begin to lose their effectiveness. As a result, overtime we begin to feel worse about ourselves and our ability to reach goals and endeavors that we set for ourselves.
The Mind and Memories…Storytelling
You may be surprised to learn that our brains have a great imagination…even as adults. We imagine so well and it feels so real that sometimes we may have a hard time trying to figure out if that memory is real or not. The memory may not be real. According to Jeffrey Davis, M.A., this happens because, “imagining an object, situation, or action in vivid detail lights up the same neural pathways that the same object, situation, or action would trigger in real life” (Davis, 2022).
This function of our brain is what sets us back when it comes to positive affirmations. Positive affirmations are essentially wishful thinking or fantasies. We repeat mantras or picture ourselves acing a test or an interview, etc. When we envision doing well on a goal, but don’t actually accomplish the goal in real life, our brain’s storytelling function tricks us because we feel the same sense of reward as if the goal was satisfied in real life.
This becomes problematic because we believe we’ve already won and/or we have boosted our ego which may lead to a loss of motivation or feeling completely crushed and overwhelmed by the obstacles that we need to conquer to reach our goals.
If positive affirmations alone don’t work, what’s the missing tool we should utilize to improve our overall mental health and ensure we are conquering our goals?
Learned optimism, defined by positive psychologist Martin Seligman, is the key!
Jeffrey Davis, M.A., states, “There is an important distinction between wishful thinking and what Seligman termed “learned optimism.” While the former can easily lapse into escapist fantasies, the latter is the conscious practice of viewing the world from a positive perspective. It means understanding “failures” or misfortunes—and the negative emotions associated with them—as temporary setbacks and opportunities for growth” (Davis, 2022).
When faced with a failure, practicing learned optimism helps us feel empowered to redirect our path and conquer future obstacles and reach our goals.
To help us in practicing learned optimism, Seligman designed the ABCDE model which allows us to explore the stories our brain is writing, the behaviors surrounding those stories, and helps us challenge the negative stories that come along.
To learn more about the ABCDE (Adversity, Belief, Consequence, Disputation, & Energization) model, to start practicing learned optimism, to begin feeling less hopeless, and more motivated, click the link below!
Davis, J. (2022, September 29). Self-Affirmations Alone Don't Work. Psychology Today. Retrieved October 6, 2022, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/tracking-wonder/202209/self-affirmations-alone-dont-work
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