Self-affirmations can help boost your confidence. Here’s how to do them correctly.

When I asked a friend if she’d tried to validate herself before, she said to me, “Well, it’s not like I look in the mirror and say, ‘I’m so awesome.'” I do don’t blame her. While glancing at our reflection and pumping up – even power poses – may work for some, it doesn’t work for everyone.

But she used self-affirmations—just in a more specific way. Instead of making a general statement, she thought of a time when she was really proud of herself. It was so easy to remember hosting a home cooked meal for some of her friends in the area, which helped cement her love of intimate social gatherings.

Another person told me it’s even a “to done” list, writing down the things they got done that day instead of looking at a list of all the things left to check off, which makes them feel feel reaffirmed in their work ethic and grateful for what they’ve accomplished.

So what really is Self-affirmation and how does it work?

What do you value?

Rather than viewing a self-affirmation as a quick positive statement, like the mirror example, think of it as a “value affirmation” that might be more effective, Dr. David Creswell, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University and a researcher in self-affirmation, narrates Wealth.

“This is about really upholding the values ​​that are important to you and thinking about why they are important to you,” he says, including the activities that help you achieve those values.

For Creswell, being a tennis player, father, and professor is more valuable. Use these activities and passions to validate the things you already love and the way they make you feel, even what you hope to achieve with them in the future.

“Value affirmation is an opportunity to reflect on why tennis is important to me and how I view it in terms of my identity,” he says.

Get clear on what you’re good at and what you want to achieve, no matter how small, says Dr. Lauren Alexander, psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic Akron General. Appreciating kindness and remembering something that validated that value, she says, can be as simple as turning to an old friend or thinking about ways to show kindness in the future.

How does self-affirmation work in the brain?

When you affirm a value, you activate the brain’s reward system, something Creswell studied using brain scans of people who participated in self-affirmations, particularly when you affirm the most important value.

“These brain reward responses appear to be a powerful way to shut down the brain’s stress alarm system,” says Creswell.

The more routinely you affirm a value, the more you train the part of your brain that makes that connection, so you can believe it about yourself when you’re faced with a challenge. The practice can also help reduce rumination about upcoming challenges, Creswell says.

In one study, Creswell found that students who practiced self-affirmation through writing activities in the two weeks prior to a test had a lower stress response, as measured by stress-inducing hormones, than those who did not do the brief activities.

“We show that we can change their stress biology the night before the exam with these two writing sessions,” he says. “This affirmation activity really sets a whole different response pattern in motion.”

When we’re feeling anxious or stressed about something, “our perception of ourselves shrinks,” says Dr. David Hamilton, an organic chemist, friendliness expert, and author of The Contagious Power of Thought: How Your Thoughts Can Affect the World. Self-affirmation can help improve this perception, a potentially more tangible way to boost self-confidence. Future-oriented self-affirmations have previously been associated with improved self-processing including positive evaluation or a more positive self-image.

Like strengthening a muscle at the gym, it takes time to improve the thought patterns associated with our self-esteem. Neuroscientists suspect the brain’s ability to adjust neuroplasticity.

“To train a brain region, you really just have to do something or think something repeatedly,” says Hamilton.

So how do I start?

Start small. Consider using writing as a tool and taking 10 minutes each day to write down what you are grateful for to reflect your values. Even practicing saying things to ourselves can help. Instead of being too general, which can feel less personal, think of something relevant to your day or week.

Aside from writing and saying things to ourselves, putting these affirmations into action can be helpful. If you’re writing about having positive thoughts about social interactions to validate your values, consider talking to someone new to the job or introducing yourself at a local coffee shop.

While affirmations aren’t a solution to dealing with more complex mental health issues, they can help exercise the brain and change our thought patterns so we’re more comfortable taking on challenges and trusting our own abilities—whether that’s after solo time -Diary looks like, a “to done” list or even the memory of the warm moment of that dinner together.

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