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Affirmations Really Work—Here’s How to Use Them to Reach Your Personal Goals

Experts break down why affirmations work—and how to use them to reach your health and wellness goals.

By Kylie GilbertJune 19, 2024

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In 2019, Kirsten Ferguson wrote on a sticky note, “I am a Peloton instructor.” Six months later, the company reached out to her—proof, she says, of the power of affirmations and manifestation. 

“Affirmation work has changed my life,” Kirsten says. “It has allowed me to shift my mindset when walking through hard times in my life.” Indeed, experts say this method of positive self-talk is an effective way to reach your goals and persevere through difficult moments and chapters. But what are affirmations, and how can they help you achieve your goals in fitness, work, or life? 

Ahead, we’re sharing the psychology behind why affirmations work and how to incorporate them into your routine.

What Are Affirmations?

“Affirmations are powerful, positive messages you tell yourself to help you feel better and do better,” explains clinical psychologist Kathryn Esquer, PsyD.

Affirmations can be short statements or longer sentences, but they should be easy for you to remember. They typically use first-person personal pronouns, like “I” and “me.”  

“I have so many [affirmations], but one that I am constantly affirming is ‘I am enough. I am worthy. I am called, created, and destined for greatness,’” says Kirsten, who leads a class collection of affirmation-filled intention setting walks on the Peloton App.

Another way to think about affirmations: They help you show yourself the same compassion and support that you’d show a friend, says Kristin Neff, PhD, an associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and a self-compassion researcher. “It’s going into battle and having your own back as an ally—rather than being an enemy to yourself,” she says.

How Do Affirmations Work?

Affirmations boost mental and physical health by harnessing the power of neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to reorganize and form new neural connections, Esquer explains. 

Positive affirmations stimulate neural pathways associated with encouraging thoughts and self-perception. Over time, this repeated stimulation strengthens these pathways in your brain, making positive thinking more automatic—and reducing the impact of any negative thoughts. Just like consistent exercise strengthens our muscles, consistently using affirmations strengthens our brain’s ability to think more supportively of ourselves.

Benefits of Using Affirmations

Affirmations can help you challenge self-sabotaging and negative thoughts that creep up when you’re struggling, whether in fitness, at work, or in your general day-to-day routine. “The shaming and the judgment and the criticism,” which, by the way, tends to be the default way that many of us motivate ourselves, “is actually often very counterproductive,” Neff says. Affirmations, on the other hand, create a positive, more effective lens to view from.

And all this positive thinking benefits our overall health and stress levels. Research has shown that positive emotions can improve our overall well-being and resilience, and might even help reduce stress hormones and improve immune function, Esquer says. 

What’s more, affirmations can even boost athletic performance. A 2014 study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that motivational self-talk (a form of positive affirmation) improved endurance performance by increasing the time to exhaustion in athletes. And a 2011 meta-analysis published in the Association for Psychological Sciences suggests that positive self-talk is an effective tool for enhancing athletic performance and facilitating learning.

Even when you suffer from setbacks, affirming your self-care and support can help you get back on track. For instance, Neff’s own research, published last year in Psychology of Sport and Exercise, found that NCAA athletes who were kind and supportive to themselves when they struggled in games or during training actually improved their perceived performance (as judged by the athletes and their coaches). 

Affirmation Examples to Try

Looking for inspiration to help you reach your goals? Here are a few affirmations that can help you get started: 

  • I am strong and capable.

  • I achieve my fitness goals with determination.

  • Every workout makes me healthier.

  • I push through challenges with ease.

  • I am energized and focused.

  • I’ll support you to reach your goals. I believe in you.

  • I deserve to be healthy.

  • I can handle whatever comes my way.

A man journaling while sitting on a rock by the sea.

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How to Create Your Own Affirmations

Reciting pre-written affirmations like the ones above is great, but the best affirmations often come from within ourselves, Esquer says. Affirmations should feel authentic to you, so it’s important to tailor them to your personal goals, values, and desires, she says. 

To create your own affirmations, experts suggest incorporating the following pro tips:

1. Use Positive Language

“Use positive wording to focus on what you want to achieve or feel, rather than what you want to avoid,” Esquer says. For example, instead of saying, “I am not afraid,’” try, “I am confident and brave.” Or, instead of saying, “I am not stressed,” say, “I am calm and relaxed.”

2. Frame Your Affirmations as Reality

“The words you put behind ‘I am’ are some of the most powerful words you can say to yourself,” Kirsten says. “Don’t doubt it—claim it as if it has already happened, and then put the work behind it.” 

For example, Kirsten says, if you have a dream of running a half marathon, you might try affirmations like, “I am a runner. I am capable. I finish what I start. I am enough. I am a half marathoner.” (Remember, Kirsten wrote “I am a Peloton instructor”—not “I will become a Peloton instructor.)

3. Tap Into Your Emotions

Crafting an affirmation that’s both meaningful to you and evolves a strong, positive emotional response will be more helpful in achieving your goals, Esquer says. For example, affirmations like “I am joyfully embracing every challenge" versus “I handle challenges” are more likely to be internalized and acted upon, she says. 

4. Don’t Focus Only On the Outcome

When creating affirmations, we can fall into a trap of focusing only on an end goal—say, running a sub-four-hour marathon—but this can make your self-worth feel conditional on that outcome. Instead, “affirmations should be about your unconditional worth,” Neff says. 

She suggests affirmations with supportive, encouraging language that show the kind of unconditional love a good friend would have for you, even if you fall short of your dream marathon time or another end goal. Try talking to yourself with the self-compassion and care that a parent might show their kid, Neff suggests. For example: “I’m here for you. I love you unconditionally. Whether or not you succeed or fail, I’m here for you. I believe in you.” 

Do You Need to Repeat Daily Affirmations? 

While there are no hard and fast rules for how often you should repeat affirmations, consistency is key. That could look like repeating affirmations to yourself first thing in the morning, after brushing your teeth, or every time you get into your car, for example. (More on this below!)

“The real power when reciting affirmations is when you are constantly repeating them so the brain and your mind start to believe them as fact and truth,” Kirsten says. 

Esquer agrees that consistent repetition of affirmations is key to their effectiveness, noting that regular practice helps integrate positive messages into your daily thought patterns.

Since consistency and repetition are key in reaping the benefits of affirmations, it can help to make affirmations part of your regular routine. 

“I use affirmations all day long and they have really become a part of my life,” Kirsten says. She even practices affirmation with her daughters at the same time every day: “Before they get out of my car in the morning for school, they let me know what their affirmations for the day.” 

Esquer also suggests saying or writing down your affirmations in a journal first thing in the morning or before bed. Habit stacking, or pairing a new habit with an existing habit (such as repeating affirmations as you tie your shoes before a run or brush your teeth each morning), can also help you get into the swing of affirmations, Esquer adds.

That said, doing anything new, including starting an affirmation practice, takes cognitive energy, explains Judy L. Van Raalte, PhD, a professor of psychology at Springfield College and a certified consultant for the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP). That means the best time for affirmations might be when you’re able to actually engage—whether that’s thinking about your affirmation, saying it out loud, or writing it down—and pay attention to it. (Read: If you’re not a morning person, maybe that’s not the best time for affirmations.)

Of course, you can also use affirmations “whenever you need a boost of motivation, commitment, or reassurance,” Esquer says. Neff agrees: “The most effective time to use an affirmation is when you’re feeling some sort of negative emotion,” she says. For example, that could be during a tough workout when you need some motivation to power through or after a rocky meeting at work when you need a dose of encouragement.

Tips for Incorporating Affirmations Into Your Health and Fitness Routine

Want to level up your fitness or wellness routine with affirmations? Here are a few pointers on how to do so, according to our experts:

1. Recite Affirmations In a Way That Feels Comfortable to You

If saying affirmations out loud makes you uncomfortable, you can repeat them silently to yourself or write them down. “I write down affirmations during my journal time and write them on sticky notes throughout my house so I can continually affirm them throughout the day,” Kirsten says. 

You could even create a vision board that includes affirmations and motivational quotes, along with images representing your goals to keep you motivated, Esquer says.

2. Use Them When You Need a Boost

You can use affirmations “whenever you need a boost of motivation, commitment, or reassurance,” Esquer says. Neff agrees: “The most effective time to use an affirmation is when you’re feeling some sort of negative emotion,” she says. 

Kirsten enjoys using affirmations to power through a tough sweat session. “Right when the workout starts to get hard, I speak them out loud,” she says. “A lot of times in a Peloton class I will say ‘Yes you can,’ and Members will think it is to them—but it is really me saying it to myself.”

3. … But Don’t Recite Them Only When You’re Struggling

Without a doubt, affirmations can power you through challenging situations, whether that’s an intense workout or a difficult project at home or work. But don’t feel like you need to reserve affirmations for when you need a boost: “You can also use affirmations when you aren’t in a slump and you’re rocking it,” Van Raalte says. 

This is important, she says: If you only use affirmations when you’re at a low point, the affirmation can begin to become associated with a feeling of struggle versus success.

4. Incorporate Movement or Touch Into Your Affirmation Practice

Try saying your affirmations while you’re stretching or doing a cooldown routine, Esquer suggests. “This connection and physical movement can ground you and reinforce your commitment,” she says. 

Neff also points to the science behind trying “self-compassionate touch” (for example, putting your hands on your heart and belly, stroking your upper arms, or hugging yourself) while saying your affirmation. For instance, a recently published study from researchers at the University of California Berkeley found that undergraduates who practiced self-compassionate touch for just 20 seconds reported lower stress and improved performance. 

5. Listen to Your Affirmations Before and During Your Workout

Esquer suggests taking your motivational workout playlist one step further by adding in voice recordings of your affirmations between songs. Listen to the playlist while you work out to keep your mind focused on your goals.

This content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician for questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. If you are having a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.

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Peloton instructor Kirsten Ferguson.

Kirsten Ferguson

Kirsten welcomes runners of all levels in her classes. She is the proud mother of two daughters and uses her life experiences to fuel her deeply inspiring workouts.

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