Affirmations & Positive self-talk: Do they work?

Photo by JCT(Loves)Streisand

Positive Self-talk and Affirmations are pretty much the same thing with the very subtle difference that affirmations are more often verbal or written while Self-talk is more often played out in our heads.

I got to know about the idea of Self-talk quite recently through a book by Theodore Bryant called “Self-Discipline in 10 Days”.  It is one of those ideas that if I had read it out of context or didn’t read long enough about its underlying psychological implications, I would have probably discarded it as pure hogwash in no time at all.

I must admit that this had happened to me with the concept of affirmations long time before. I had always reserved quite some doubt to the idea. The thought that affirming something aloud could change things used to sound as an over-optimistic ‘I can achieve anything’ attitude slightly bordering on the delusional.

All of that changed with an insight or two in the Human potential and through some personal experiences of my own.  My views have totally changed and I came to see affirmations and positive Self-talk as two essential mind tools that can help us to consciously design our life and direct our future.

Undetected Self-talk

So what does self-talk mean in the first place? The word ‘self-talk’ may sound funny to start with for it might evoke a picture of someone walking down a busy street talking to himself in a nutty kind of way. Of course this is not so.

Actually we all talk to ourselves all the time but on a subconscious level.  We may not be aware of it but a lot of actions and decisions we take are a result of subconscious self-talk

Note: This points at an even deeper question of how much of our actions are a result of free will as against being determined by subconscious predispositions – a good point for discussion!

Bryant points at the fact that procrastination is very often a result of subconscious self-talk. When we find ourselves to be doing something we did not want to do or even worse, not doing something we need to do, what happens is that the undisciplined and wandering part of our mind has talked us out of it and voted us out behind a closed boardroom door of our subconscious mind.

You might need to finish a long deferred chore or fill out that much dreaded tax form when suddenly you find yourself wasting time on a couch staring at a TV program you don’t even like.  What happened in between is that you have subconsciously talked yourself out of it.

Positive self-talk

Positive Self-talk, or what Bryant calls action-oriented Self-talk is when we consciously send messages to ourselves that are positive, specific and in the present tense.  Most of all they are conscious.

For example, if you want to finish off a report but seem to be procrastinating about it, you might say to yourself “I am now working on the quarter 3 sales report”  (even if you really aren’t) as against “I should be working on the quarter 3 sales report” or “I will work on the report”.

Part of our mind doesn’t distinguish messages that are really ‘out there’ from messages that are in a sense made up. It is just like when we’re at the cinema and we curl up or get tense and excited in thrilling scenes or else we laugh or cry in dramatic ones even though we ‘know’ that it’s only a movie. The mind acts on it as though it is real.

Moreover, when the information received is placed in the present tense the mind will act on it now.   If the statement is presented in the future tense, the mind will side-track it and it will get continuously preceded by attention to objects or situations in the present while it keeps being pushed down the queue to a point where it is shelved and forgotten.

Specificity is also an important factor. If the thought in our minds is left too broad and under-defined it will have too little information on its purpose, destination and priority. It is like a parcel posted without an address, stamp and mail priority information. Not only it will go nowhere fast but it will not go anywhere at all.

On the other hand the more a statement or thought has information regarding to its goal, importance and context, in other words the more it has conscious intention, the greater its effect will be.  More information equals greater effect.

Making positive self-talk is like trying to intentionally redirect our stream of consciousness towards our aim and purpose in life instead of being unconsciously drifted away from it or arrested from reaching it with our subconscious negative self-talk.

The complementary tool of affirmations

Affirmations work in the same way as positive self-talk does. In fact affirmations are a form of positive self-talk but which is more hands-on, visible and accentuated.  Affirmations can be seen as a complementary tool to positive self-talk.

Affirmations are like solidifying your thoughts by verbally reciting or writing down a statement which as in the case of positive self-talk should be positive, specific and in the present tense.

For example, if you want to reach a goal, say learn a new language or lose weight, you write down on a piece of paper and/or verbally recite many times everyday statements such as:

I am easily learning Korean successfully” or “I am effortlessly losing weight fast”.

Of course this may sound like wishful thinking for many as it did for me. It may feel like forcing ourselves to believe something which we rationally think it’s not totally true. Perhaps this is the reason why affirmations may not be that appealing at first. Yet this is only misconception.

Do they Work?

It is when we leap over the fence of rational and critical thinking that we ironically start seeing that it makes a lot of sense.

The fact is that self-talk and affirmations are working for us all the time. The problem is that they are unconscious, aimless, without intent and often counter-productive if not downright self-destructive sometimes.

We find it hard to believe that positive self-talk and affirmations work because we are unaware that a lot of our actions and decisions, even if we might think that they were born out of a well-thought rational judgment, are in fact influenced or determined by internal self-talk and silent affirmations of our beliefs and convictions.

When we sometimes reflect on our actions, we might notice that we have a predisposition to behave in a certain way and that even though we sometimes rationally resist it we end up being unconsciously drawn to it increasingly more until the decision is finally taken without remembering the final steps of that decision-making process.  Did that ever happen to you?

That is subconscious self-talk and affirmations of your beliefs at work in the background. Do they work? You bet!

Conscious re-direction

The aim is then to consciously redirect these powerful subconscious mind tools to work for us with focus and intention instead of letting them drift aimlessly on a subconscious level.

Positive self-talk and affirmations are just about consciously re-directing our thoughts and intentions towards our goals and purpose in life. This is a very powerful notion.

The analogy is to focusing beams of light using mirrors and lenses. Imagine light streaming in a room from different apertures, spreading out and diffusing at different angles and intensities. As it naturally comes in the room it has no focus, direction or uniformity.

Then we decide to place a whole set of mirrors at the right places in the room and at the right angles to redirect the streaming beams of light to one point of the room where we want.  Secondly we use lenses placed at certain distances within the redirected beam of light to focus and intensify the beam further until one very focused beam of light is achieved. The mirrors are like positive self-talk which redirect the beams of light while the lenses are like affirmations which help to focus and intensify the beam.

Affirmations as frequency modulators

On a deeper level, affirmations and positive self-talk can be seen as tuning oneself to be in sync with one’s intentions. It is like bringing your actions in alignment with your inner purpose.

When affirmations are repeated on a regular basis, it’s like setting a specific frequency upon which all other thoughts and actions will follow and tune into creating constructive interference and amplification of the signal. After a while your conscious intentions will be focused on a particular wavelength instead of being noisy and emitting different and mutually destructive frequencies.

From another angle, affirmations and positive self-talk will help you develop a powerful and positive mindset and gradually reprogram your belief system in a way that will set the blueprint for positive and successful action.

If you have any more opinions or experiences about affirmations to share, please go ahead and write down a comment! Sharing is cool.

Category: Life Hacks



  1. Thanks Alison for your nice words. Highly appreciated 🙂

  2. Thanks for one’s marvelous posting! I really enjoyed reading it, you can be a great
    author.I will be sure to bookmark your blog and
    definitely will come back at some point. I want to encourage
    one to continue your great writing, have a nice weekend!

  3. hi,

    thanks for the empowering self help tips. I agreed that it is totally important to talk to yourself in an effective and positive way.

  4. Hi Dave!

    Thanks for the diary tip…I think it is extremely effective & useful to have a diary just for building and focusing your objectives.

    It’s curious & cool to have found out about affirmations through Scott Adams! (he’s a brilliant cartoonist). Recently I have read one of his comic strips collections in a book entitled “Freedom’s just another word for people finding out you’re useless” – Utterly witty and funny.

  5. I can personally vouch for affirmations.
    They DO work ! I first heard about them from a certain Scott Adams see .
    I suggest ahead and make a diary and build your objectives. Thanks for the insights into self-talking.

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Article by: Gilbert Ross