Positive Affirmations Can Change Your Brain (And Mind). Here’s how.

Positive affirmations (or simply affirmations) are symbolic and insightful messages we tell ourselves to assert a particular belief. Both researchers and spiritual leaders agree that positive affirmations (combined with meditation and yoga) can halve a positive effect on our health and well-being. But how exactly do affirmations alter the structure of our brain and change our thoughts?

Positive affirmations: A ‘nonconventional’ form of meditation

Positive affirmations are short sentences meant to affirm a certain belief as true and ‘in tune’ with our inner self. The way they affect your mind is based on the idea that “repetition is the mother of learning.”

For example, if you’re looking to boost your self-confidence, affirmations such as “I trust myself.” or “I have complete confidence in my skills.” or other similar versions (depends on how you want to phrase it), can be incredibly helpful.

Even if our subconscious will be a bit ‘skeptical’ and will not resonate with the message of your affirmation, in time and through repetition, positive affirmations will eventually shape your reality.

Believe it or not, many consider to use of positive affirmations a form of meditation.

Sounds crazy right!? How can repeating a phrase over and over again be called ‘meditation’?   

For starters, meditation is not always about sitting in Lotus Position. It’s not about forcing yourself to spend hours with your eyes closed, desperately trying to deflect each and every thought that appears on the surface of your consciousness.

Every moment you spend focusing on your inner self is a form of meditation. Every process of self-awareness can be cataloged as a meditative state. Every time you say something to yourself, you’re actually meditating.

Before we get to how positive affirmations can have a beneficial effect on your brain, mind, and well-being, let’s look at what goes on inside our head while we meditate or practice yoga.

Your Brain Under Meditation and Yoga Practice

Even before Jon Kabat-Zinn amazed the world with his mindfulness-based stress program, meditation was a relatively popular practice among many Westerners. But the main problem was that it lacked the scientific foundation that would make it reliable in the eyes of many skeptics. And so began a massive scientific endeavor fueled by people’s growing interest in this new (for them) and promising oriental practice.

Researchers from all over the world have studied – and are continually studying – the effects of meditation, yoga, positive affirmations, and other oriental practices. From increased health and well-being to productivity and stress resilience, the benefits the benefits of such practices seemed endless. But scientists wanted more; they were interested in “decoding” the mechanism through which meditation generated significant changes in our brain and mind.    

One conclusion that most researchers seem to agree on is that meditation and yoga lead to improved cognition and emotional well-being. [1] But that’s not all. Some researchers claim that “meditation may be beneficial for brain preservation.” [2] Using machine learning to compare the brain age of 50-year-old meditators with a control group, the authors discovered that the brains of meditators were roughly seven years younger than those of controls. In a way, this study confirms that “you’re only as old as you feel.”

From increasing blood flow to crucial brain areas (e.g., cerebral cortex) [3] to activating regions of the brain responsible for body awareness [4] and even influencing brain mechanisms responsible for anxiety [5], there’s clearly a direct effect that meditation and yoga have on the structure of your brain.

Meditation is more than just a technique. In its original form, meditation is part of a complex and lifelong practice designed to improve health and well-being through various habits and activities.

One particular form of yoga – Yoga Nidra – seems to have caught the attention of researchers and practitioners interested in promoting health and well-being. Current studies indicate that Yoga Nidra can boost your resilience [6], help you manage stress [7] and insomnia [8].

Now that we have clear scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness of various meditation practices, let’s move on to the amazing benefits of using positive affirmations.

Here’s how positive affirmations can impact your brain and mind

The incredible benefits of self-affirmations have been confirmed by both researchers and people who use this practice on a regular basis. Current scientific literature indicates that positive affirmations can:

#1 Help you solve problems under stress

Problem-solving is one of the most complex cognitive processes that your mind can perform. Without this crucial process, we wouldn’t be able to overcome various obstacles that might stand between us and our goals. Every decision we make and every action we take is the result of our problem-solving abilities.

As we mentioned before, scientists confirmed that meditation and yoga could have positive effects on our cognitive processes. Based on this conclusion we could argue that the same practices might have a positive impact on problem-solving as well – since this mechanism relies on cognitive processing.

But what about positive affirmations (or self-affirmations)? Does this practice have a direct effect on our problem-solving abilities?

Fortunately, we don’t have to guess because a 2013 study revealed that self-affirmation acts as a buffer against stress, helping us solve problems successfully, even under the heavy burden of stress. [9]

By creating a set of positive affirmations that will boost your confidence in your own abilities, you can train your mind to deal with problems successfully.

#2 Quit smoking

Causing more than 6 million deaths per year, smoking is one of the leading factors of poor health and the leading cause of preventable death. Since the consequences of this nasty habit can be devastating, researchers, physicians, and mental health professionals from all across the globe are actively working to understand the biological and psychological mechanisms that keep people hooked on smoking and develop effective treatment options.

From pharmaceutical supplements and ‘miracle’ programs to counseling and psychotherapy, today’s experts are armed with a wide array of ‘tools to help those who want to get rid of this unhealthy habit.

As with all addictions or ‘bad’ habits, quitting smoking is a matter of discipline and self-confidence. In other words, you trust yourself to be resilient enough to say “No” to those nasty cravings.

A recent study involving nearly 700 participants who enrolled in a 42-day smoking cessation program concluded that affirmations facilitate cessation. Furthermore, the use of positive affirmations has absolutely no adverse effects, thus making it a viable candidate for text-based cessations programs. [10]

#3 Increase your level of endurance performance

It goes without saying that exercising has tons of benefits on our physical and mental health. From improving circulation and preventing arthritis to alleviating the symptoms of depression and anxiety, physical activity is among the cheapest and most effective strategies for boosting health and well-being.

But maybe some of you want more. Perhaps 30 minutes of low-to-medium intensity workout isn’t enough.

If you’re looking to achieve top performance, then you’ll definitely need something that will keep you going when your body screams “Stop.”

Have you ever wondered how top athletes handle pain and achieve spectacular results?

Scientists believe that it boils down to how you perceive effort and pain. In other words, any strategy designed to help people cope with effort and pain should target perception.

In a study titled “Talking Yourself out of Exhaustion,” scientists used motivational self-talk to help participants improve their cycling performance. After crunching the numbers, the authors discovered that positive affirmations related to performance and endurance helped participants score better results at the cycling test. [11]

This goes to show that talking yourself into putting in that extra effort can help you overcome the mental barrier that is keeping you from achieving better results. Whether it’s cycling, running, swimming or any other sport, positive affirmations can help you crush one personal record after another.

#4 Boost your mood

As we all know, life is generally made up of ups and downs. Every day, we go through various emotions – as a result of the events that we are experiencing – that dictate our mood. Depending on how we interpret these events, our overall mood will gain a positive or negative vibe.

Needless to say, we all want to experience a positive mood throughout the entire day. Why? Because being in a good mood allows us to work, sleep, and live better.

Since your mood is almost entirely dependent on how you interpret what goes on in your day-to-day life, the logical thing to do would be to reinterpret your life circumstances by rephrasing your inner dialogue.

A study that aimed to explore the effects of positive affirmations on mood revealed some interesting findings. When asked to read a set of positive affirmations, participants experienced little to no mood changes. However, after listening to positive affirmations, participants experienced a boost in their overall mood. [12]

Although the authors were unable to explain this strange difference between reading and listening to positive affirmations, one thing’s for sure – positive self-talk can definitely change your perspective and boost your mood.

Next time you feel sad, angry, frustrated or any other harmful emotion you might be experiencing at a given moment, remember to pause for a few minutes and rephrase your inner dialogue.


#5 Enhance your neurophysiological response to errors

Each and every one of your personal or professional achievements are the results of a trial-and-error process. In other words, you set up a strategy, put it into action, make errors (fail), revise your strategy, try again, and so on.

Since we’re all flawed human beings, the possibility of making errors is almost inevitable. There’s just no way around it. Every process that involves using a new strategy is prone to mistakes.

Unfortunately, error after error after error can quickly wear out your motivation, leaving you disappointed and unwilling to continue your journey. It’s easy to fall into the trap of self-criticism when our actions turn out to be painful failures.

Once again, the way you perceive failure makes the difference between giving up and moving forward. Furthermore, by expressing our core values through positive affirmations, we can change our brain’s neurophysiological response to threatening events. At least that’s what a study published in Psychological Science concluded after measuring the electrophysiological responses to making errors of self-affirmed and non-affirmed participants. [13]

By being more open to a threat, errors, and negative feedback, you will no longer tend to catastrophize such events. As a result, you will approach each obstacle that life throws down your path with confidence, and prevent possible errors.

Works Cited


C. Peterson, A. Uhll și S. Grossman, „Beginning with the Social Worker: Yoga Nidra Meditation as a Means for Self-inquiry, Growth, Effectiveness and Resiliency.,” în Cultivating Mindfulness in Clinical Social Work. Essential Clinical Social Work Series., Cham, Springer, 2017, pp. 63-80.


K. L. Ferguson, „The effects of a yoga nidra practice on mental health clinicians’ perceived stress,” Theses, Dissertations, and Projects., 2016.


K. Datta, M. Tripathi și H. N. Mallick, „Yoga Nidra: An innovative approach for management of chronic insomnia- A case report,” Sleep Science and Practice, vol. 1, nr. 7, 2017.


M. Jarvis, „Meditation and yoga associated with changes in brain,” Science, vol. 358, nr. 6362, p. 461, 2017.


E. Luders, N. Cherbuin și C. Gaser, „Estimating brain age using high-resolution pattern recognition: Younger brains in long-term meditation practitioners,” NeuroImage, vol. 134, pp. 508-513, 2016.


Y.-Y. Tang, Q. Lu, H. Feng, R. Tang și M. I. Posner, „Short-term meditation increases blood flow in anterior cingulate cortex and insula,” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 6, 2015.


K. C. Fox, S. Nijeboer, M. L. Dixon, J. L. Floman, M. Ellamil, S. P. Rumak, P. Sedlmeier și K. Christoff, „Is meditation associated with altered brain structure? A systematic review and meta-analysis of morphometric neuroimaging in meditation practitioners,” Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, vol. 43, pp. 48-73, 2014.


D. Krishnakumar, M. R. Hamblin și S. Lakshmanan, „Meditation and Yoga can Modulate Brain Mechanisms that affect Behavior and Anxiety-A Modern Scientific Perspective,” Ancient Science of Life, vol. 2, nr. 1, p. 13–19, 2015.


D. J. Creswell, J. M. Dutcher, W. M. Klein, P. R. Harris și J. M. Levine, „Self-Affirmation Improves Problem-Solving under Stress,” PLOS ONE, vol. 8, nr. 5, 2013.


J. M. Taber, W. M. Klein, R. A. Ferrer, E. Augustson și H. Patrick, „A Pilot Test of Self-Affirmations to Promote Smoking Cessation in a National Smoking Cessation Text Messaging Program,” JMIR mHealth and uHealth, vol. 4, nr. 2, 2016.


A. W. Blanchfield, J. Hardy, H. M. De Morree, W. Staiano și S. M. Marcora, „Talking Yourself out of Exhaustion: The Effects of Self-talk on Endurance Performance,” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 2013.


J. C. Yeung și V. Miu-Chi Lun, „When self-help materials help: Examining the effects of self-discrepancy and modes of delivery of positive self-statements,” The Journal of Positive Psychology , vol. 11, nr. 2, pp. 163-172, 2016.


L. Legault, T. Al-Khindi și M. Inzlicht, „Preserving Integrity in the Face of Performance Threat: Self-Affirmation Enhances Neurophysiological Responsiveness to Errors,” Psychological Science , vol. 23, nr. 12, pp. 1455 – 1460, 2012.