Affirmations or "Self Talk" and How You Can Improve Your Life
For those who want to improve performance at work, school or in the playing field, affirmations or "self-talk" is a viable option. These repetitive sentences create inputs into the subconscious prompting a change in mindset and therefore increase performance. Increased performance allows for the attainment of personal goals. However, affirmations can also help achieve a balance in other aspects of life.
This article is divided into the following sections:
- A Secret Weapon
- The Brain Does Not Act on Its Own
- Self-Improvement Gurus
A Secret Weapon
Last Friday evening at about 9:00 PM I looked at my calendar and realized I had a USTA doubles match in the morning of the following day. I remembered looking at the lineups a couple of days earlier and knew our team captain, David had put me on court two along with Lou.
We were going to be playing against Green Acres Tennis Club, a very strong team which had made it to the Sectional Championships a couple of times in the last five years. We, on the other hand, were looking for our first chance at Daytona Beach since the team was first organized five years ago.
Knowing I would probably come across Eduardo, a tall ex-AAA pitcher with a wicked serve, I decided to try my newly acquired secret weapon. I decided to go into my room, close the door, stand in from of the mirror and repeat the following:
"I have been playing since I was fifteen and I am an excellent tennis player. I have outstanding ground strokes. I have the best backhand of all the players in the team. I have a serve with a lot of variety. I will come to the net and put away volleys. I will not be intimidated by any strong serve. I will move into the first serves and attack second serves. I will anticipate all shots. I will stay on my toes. I will be animated when my partner serves, and I am at the net. I will poach whenever there is an opportunity. I will keep my eye on the ball and make sure I see it hit my strings. I will be swift and fluid. I will play smart. I will be relentless and will not give up. I will fight, fight, fight for every point."
After I repeated these sentences three times, which by the way I had written down on a piece of paper a few days before, I laid down on the bed and continued the ritual. This time as I repeated each sentence, I created an image in my mind visualizing how I would perform each task.
For example, I would imagine myself focusing on Eduardo’s serve and swiftly moving to my left in order to intercept his high bouncing serves to my backhand. I would imagine myself moving into the ball during transitional volleys; tossing the ball high and directly over my head when serving; moving to my left and to my right when at the net. I went through this process three times.
The day of the match, I repeated the routine in the car while at the parking lot of the club. During warm-up, I visualized myself doing what I said I would do. During the match, I repeated to my self many of the actions I said I would take. The result: We won 6-4, 3-6 and 10-5 on the tiebreaker.
My secret weapon: Affirmations or as some people call them self-talk. (I jocularly call this process self-induced brainwashing.) A process by which you affirm your positive values as a way of gaining confidence in addition to creating instructions or inputs allowing the subconscious to seek ways to improve performance.
As it turns out, elite athletes have been using some sort of psychological techniques for years. In the past athletes would visit a sports psychologist only as a way of fixing a technique, coping with fears or for help in returning from an injury. Today psychological techniques have been created to gain an edge.
Sports psychologist Antonis Hatzigeorgiadis and his colleagues at the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences at the University of Thessaly in Greece, conducted a meta-analysis of 32 sport psychological studies on the results of affirmations and self-talk on athletic performance. As expected, the analysis revealed affirmations and self-talk improve sports performance under all circumstances.
However, these auto-suggestive techniques go way beyond sports. Affirmations have been prescribed by self-improvement gurus and psychologists for several years as a way of gaining an edge in life.
The Brain Does Not Act on Its Own
The idea behind affirmations is to purposefully and intentionally insert proper inputs into our minds. While many people might be doubtful as to the efficacy of this form of self-induced brain washing, many experts and motivational gurus will tell you, they do indeed work. They claim the reason is your brain is flexible, absorbs information, pays attention to commands, and the information in it is ultimately fungible.
The notion that the brain acts on its own, making independent decisions is a misconception. This is the type of hydraulic or mechanical model that philosophers and psychologists of past eras assigned to emotions and attitudes, but that scholars like Robert C. Solomon from the University of Texas at Austin have challenged. Today, experts will tell you that emotions, like beliefs and attitudes, can be rationalized, changed and revised.
Motivational experts, as well as many psychologists, claim the secret lies in the repetition of keywords, phrases or sentences that after a while begin to tunnel their way into your subconscious mind allowing for the encoding process of memories to take place. These memories eventually affect the behavior and actions needed to accomplish the desired goals.
“Your input determines your outlook. Your outlook determines your output, and your output determines your future”. — Zig Ziglar
Hence, if you take control of what goes in your mind, as Zig Ziglar’s quote above claims, your outlook on life will change in a positive way, which will increase your output, in turn making you more successful. In very basic terms, changing your mindset will motivate you to increase your output and performance. With increasing output and performance comes a greater chance of success in that which you wish to accomplish.
Self-improvement guru Remez Sasson claims that affirmations work at the subconscious level as your mind regards these command statements and thoughts as describing real situations. It then endeavors to align the words and thoughts with reality. He proposes that the frequent repetition of these “affirmations” during waking hours will allow them to enter the subconscious mind-affecting behavior, actions, and reactions of the person involved.
He claims by simply telling yourself over and over that “you are rich”, you will be spurred to search for opportunities to get rich, consequently taking advantage of those opportunities. Other affirmations he proposes are: “Day by day I am becoming happier and more satisfied.” “I always stay calm and in control of myself, in every situation and in all circumstances.” He recommends it is important to affirm with attention, strong desire, faith, and persistence. But also, to affirm often.
Sasson goes beyond the mere repetition of affirmations. He also recommends the usage of creative visualization or mindful exercises that create a visual mental image of what you want to accomplish. The combination of the two will help the person trying to create these inputs to start to gain emotions associated with the desired image and the affirmations.
Another self-help guru worth knowing about is Napoleon Hill, known for his 1937 book Grow and Think Rich. In his book he promoted the idea that passionate and intense expectations are the essence of improving one’s life. He also advocated that obsessively convincing yourself and actually believing in something, would bring about goal attainment.
In his book Hill said: “If you truly desire money so keenly that your desire is an obsession, you will have no difficulty in convincing yourself that you will acquire it. The object is to want money, and to be so determined to have it that you convince yourself that you will have it… You may as well know, right here, that you can never have riches in great quantities unless you work yourself into a white heat of desire for money and actually believe you will possess it.”
He also said: “Your ability to use the principle of autosuggestion will depend, very largely, upon your capacity to concentrate upon a given desire until that desire becomes a burning obsession.”
For those of us who don’t believe money is necessarily the yardstick for measuring success, we may want to use affirmations for the attainment of knowledge, spirituality, peace of mind, or whatever other loftier goal we might want to achieve.
While there are many other motivational experts, Zig Ziglar is one that must be mentioned. Perhaps what sets him apart from all the others is his approach or view of success that transcended the mere acquisition of wealth.
His many quotes and words of encouragement often dealt with happiness, service to others, love, family values, and friendship. Quotes like: “You never know when a moment and a few sincere words can have an impact on a life forever”, and “You can own everything in the world, but if you lack contentment, you’ll never be happy”, resonate for a more selfless approach to personal achievements.
Ziglar also advocated for the repetition or affirmation of sentences as a way of changing your life. His approach was that output or performance must be in equal proportion to the increase of a proper mindset. To this end, he would have his followers stand in front of a mirror at night before going to bed and in the morning upon waking up, and repeat with enthusiasm, fervor and passion sentences that infused self-confidence, kindness, passion, sense of responsibility, hard work, and industriousness.
This ritual would take place over a period of 30 days, after which additional sentences would be added that emphasized specific qualities to attain, as well as a personal commitment to follow through with what has been repeated.
For years hypnosis has been used as a tool to treat pain, depression, anxiety, smoking cessation, and much more. This has been accomplished by using guided relaxation, focused attention, and intense concentration. In the relaxed state of mind that the patient experiences, the therapist can implant a suggestion to aid in the altering of behavior. In a way, very similar to what affirmations are accomplishing, however without going under a hypnotic state. Both methods attempt to alter the mindset and eventually behavior by creating inputs that go into the subconscious.
While there might be some skeptics who regard affirmations and self-talk as quackery, there is widely accepted and well-established psychological theory behind the practice. The self-affirmation theory popularized by Claude Steele of Stanford University, proposes that by repeating one’s personal values in positive ways, we can reduce stress and maintain self-integrity. This ultimately leads to improvements in health, work and academic performance.
There are many books and articles you can access instructing the readers with possible affirmations that can be used. Whether you are looking for techniques to improve your performance in the playing field, at work, or in life, affirmations could be a worthwhile alternative. The fact is that our brains are capable of amazing feats. By believing change is possible, you are halfway to what you wish in life.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.