“Low self-esteem is like driving through life with your hand-break on.” — Maxwell Maltz
You wake up, go to the bathroom, and look at the note on the mirror.
“I am a happy person. I am amazing. I am friendly, smart, and everyone likes me.”
You get ready, grab your coffee, and go to work. You have an absolutely terrible day.
You go home and rip the note down from the mirror, wondering why you were ever so stupid to listen to that self-help guru that told you to put it there in the first place.
Turns out, they might have been giving good advice — just not to you.
Self-affirmation can be a powerful tool, but studies show it needs to be done in different ways with different people.
High vs low self-esteem
A 2009 study showed a stark contrast in how self-affirmation affected people with low self-esteem vs individuals with a high amount of it.
The study showed that daily self-affirmation — advice we often see from self-help gurus — does work. But only for individuals with pre-existing high levels of self-esteem.
And even then, it only slightly helped them.
The bad news? The study found that daily affirmation actually hindered people with low self-esteem.
And who would seek out self-help gurus advice in the first place if not people that feel they need help due to issues like low self-confidence.
A bit of a double-edged sword.
But there was good news from this study too. It provides another way.
A way around it
For those people that do feel they suffer from chronic low self-worth, self-affirmation can help them. If it’s done the right way.
Instead of saying statements that you may doubt are true, some studies have advised focusing on your core values and future statements.
Ideas that don’t conflict with your inner conscious. Values that you know to be true and you already derive self-confidence from them.
The failure of constantly stating things like “I am sexy” — when you doubt you actually are — is setting yourself up for failure. But when we flip the situation around and focus on what we’ve actually done, what we know to be true, we have a place to start.
These are your fundamental beliefs. The values that you truly hold dear and never argue with yourself internally.
If you aren’t sure what your core values are, here are some examples:
- I am dependable.
- I am a loyal person.
- I am an open-minded person.
- I am consistent in many things in life.
- I am generally an honest person.
- I am efficient.
- I am a creative person.
- I am pretty smart.
- I am usually optimistic.
- I have a good sense of humor.
- I am not an alien.
Did any of those stand out to you? If so, they may be some of your own core values. Just be careful not to confuse what you desire to be with what you know you already are.
The latter are your core values as a human being. (Unless it was the last point above. If that’s the case — Welcome to Earth, new overlord.)
But who knows you better than yourself? You know what your true values are, just like you know the values you want to embody in the future.
The second aspect of self-affirmation from the studies deals with future statements. These are the goals you wish to conquer in the future.
But if the studies are to be followed, it’s important that they remain futuristic goals.
When we keep the goals in the future — rather than stating they already happened — we can avoid a negative feedback loop of disappointment.
Keeping our goals in the future, while still reminding ourselves of them daily, allows us to continually strive for something without the internal harshness of failing.
And we all fail, sometimes.
Pick your goals. What do you want to be doing in the future? What do you want to be known for? What kind of a person do you want to strive to be?
Jot those down. And make them future-tense.
- I will be more open-minded.
- I will smile more often.
- I will study harder.
- I will listen more.
- I will try to think of other people’s perspectives before I react.
- I will try to be calm more often.
- I will go to the gym more.
- I will drink less coffee.
- I will stop smoking.
- I will make friends with Brenda the office accountant that hates me just because I borrowed her office mug a year ago and used it for an Irish coffee.
- I will fit in with the humans more naturally after I step down as CEO of Facebook.
Again, if any of those rang true with you, jot them down!
I’m sure you already know what goals you want to be in the future. Just make a list, and remember to use the words ‘I will’ in each one.
If you haven’t tried daily self-affirmations, why not give it a try?
Over time, regular affirmations — when done correctly — can provide “a positive feedback loop between the self-system and the social system that propagates adaptive outcomes over time.”
In other words, it can help increase your self-esteem over time.
I’ve been trying the future affirmations over the last month and I can say that it does truly brighten my day a little bit. And every bit helps.
More importantly, after reading the studies, I know that they can have long-lasting positive effects on my psyche and life.
And that’s something I always strive for. Do you?