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June 10, 2012
Do Affirmations Work?


According to American memoirist Augusten Burroughs, affirmations or the process of repeating positive words may boost the spirits of already happy people but can leave sad people feeling worse.



Affirmations are "the psychological equivalent of sprinkling baby powder on top of the turd your puppy has left on the carpet," says Burroughs in his new self-help book, This Is How.

Citing research by scientists at Waterloo and New Brunswick Universities Burroughs says "the truth is, it is not going to help to stand in front of a mirror, look into your own eyes, and lie to yourself."

Burroughs questions the validity of affirmations and whether they work. Scientists are divided in their opinion. But the majority concludes that self-affirmations have the power to change people's lives and reiterate what sages have been saying all this while. Science also says that positive self-talk definitely brings about changes in the brain.

Brain Synapses
"An affirmation is an auto-suggestion in which a thought is deliberately meditated upon to embed it in the mind," says J D Mukherji, head, neurology, Max Super Specialty Hospital, Delhi. He points out that as conscious thinking beings, we perceive and process information consciously, unlike computers. The brain is made up of neurons, axons and dendrites. These axons reach out to other cells to distribute information, and dendrites receive information from other cells and all this is done through chemical neurotransmitters, he explains.

"We are born with 100 billion neurons. Each neuron makes connections which help our body perform actions based on experiences we acquire as we grow. It takes time and repetition for our brain to learn the connections necessary for us to function and thrive," says Mukherji. As synapses are formed between neurons, they are strengthened through repetition and those that are infrequently used finally become dormant or are weeded out.

Neurons which fire together wire together, according to another theory. Activation of cells at the same time leads to increases in synaptic strength between those cells. "There is a synchronicity in the way neurons fire. If the frequency is different in different regions of the brain, then neurons will not connect well with each other," says P K Jha, neurosurgeon and neuro-wire feedback therapist at Delhi's Dharamshila Hospital. "Which is why affirmations don't work all the time," he reasons.

"Saying an affirmation starts a process where vibrations contained in that affirmation start making energetic changes. It is a declaration from that person to introduce energy vibrations in that affirmation, into his life," says California-based life coach Sugandhi Iyer. A Waterloo University study published in the Association for Psychological Science journal found that benefits of affirmations last more than 60 days. It says, "initially insecure participants who completed assertion tasks grew securer and also behaved more relaxed and positive".

Affirmations And Egos
Another paper published in Abstract of Psychological Science, showed that people who affirmed their values released less cortisol, a stress hormone, than the control group. A powerful mode of self-affirmation is expressing core values. Researchers Schmeichel and Vohs found that the ego-depletion effects were completely eliminated among participants who expressed their core life values.

Self-affirmation improves self-control. "Self-affirmation holds promise as a mental strategy that reduces likelihood of self-control failure," the study concludes. Declarations to oneself enhance self-control and counter existing thinking patterns and habits. This helps in forming new habits and new ways of thinking that are positive and oriented towards problem-solving. "What we term the subconscious mind does not judge the validity or truth of the spoken or even a mental statement. When a statement is repeated, the subconscious mind absorbs the statement and broadcasts it to the rest of the body and to the energy field around the body," says Mumbai-based healer Kaity Cama. She suggests you say affirmation in the present continuous tense to make it more real to your subconscious. Say, "I am becoming stronger and healthier" rather than "I am strong and healthy".

Ultimate Bliss
We need to carefully construct our thoughts and be aware of them at all times to reach a higher state of consciousness to come out of our present predicaments. Even if the situation remains status quo, your perspective and approach to problems improves.

"Clear the clutter and create space for celebratory affirmations and say things like 'all is well', or 'this is the best day of my life'. Tell yourself that you are the embodiment of peace and joy. And breathe peace and breathe joy," says spiritual guru S. Brahmachari. So change the way you look at things: if your glass is half empty, that's great news. It gives you a chance to fill it up with positive affirmations.

Your State Of Mind
The brain thinks in infinite ways based on past experiences. It follows the principles of Quantum Physics. At any given time, several probabilities are present. We have the free will to decide which possibility we want to focus on, which thoughts to pursue. There is no certainty, only possibility and free will. Some thoughts are random while others are deliberate. Either ignore them or repeat and convert them into effective and lasting brain power for definitive action.

By doing this, we are following the Quantum Zeno Effect -- that is, frequent observations can hold a state stable for longer than normal. If observed long enough, the state can become permanent. Our minds and thoughts are in constant natural flux. When we choose to focus on a specific thought, we generate mind power to keep the thought present permanently and create new default neural connections. Hold the thought long enough with conscious attention. You can permanently alter your state of mind.

By Sonal Srivastava


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