The History of Affirmations

If you’ve ever started a diet only to quit a couple of weeks later, decided to write the great American novel and gave up after the first few pages, or simply tried to give up a bad habit, you know firsthand just how hard change can be.  One technique used to facilitate change and help individuals to reach their highest potential is the use of affirmations.  Contrary to popular perception, the use of affirmations is not a New Age, “fluffy” technique.  The use of affirmations can be traced to ancient eastern religions, and its effectiveness is backed by modern neuroscience.

What are affirmations?

Affirmations are words or phrases that evoke a positive state of mind, such as, “I am strong and beautiful”.  According to, they are closely related to mantras, which are religious or mystical symbols or poems that are repeated or chanted during meditation.  Buddhist and Sanskrit mantras have an ancient history; the word mantra is from the Sanskrit roots, “man”, to think, and “tra” to liberate, meaning that they are an avenue to free one’s mind from thought.  Mention affirmations to many people and they will think of the hilarious Saturday Night Live character, Stuart Smalley:  “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!

Affirmations Are Rooted in Science

But despite the ribbing affirmations have taken, they have some serious scientific backing in the form of neuro-linguistic programming.  This system was founded in the 1970’s by two neuro-scientists from the University of Santa Cruz, John Grinder and Richard Bandler.  After studying the behaviors of the most exceptional and successful psychotherapists, they theorized that success can be achieved by increasing positive behaviors and decreasing negative ones.  (University of Hawaii, 1990) They then incorporated the work of linguists such as Alfred Korzybski and Noam Chomsky to understand Meta models: language patterns that unintentionally limit understanding and outcome possibilities. (Center for Coaching Certification, 2012)  To understand how this works, think of a dog who is kept in the yard with an “invisible fence”, an electronic barrier that senses when the dog tries to cross it and delivers a mild shock through the dog’s collar.  Negative thought patterns (Meta models) are like an invisible fence:  when we try to change a habit, we are unconsciously knocked back into our “yard”, our set patterns of behavior.

The Use of Affirmations Today

Many successful writers and celebrities use some form of affirmation or visualization to achieve success, such as Norman Vincent Peale, Anthony Robbins, Will Smith, Oprah Winfrey, Tiger Woods, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.  However, the use of affirmations is not limited to the rich and famous.  Most life and career coaches, as well as some psychotherapists, are trained to listen to their clients and identify their language patterns to screen for Meta-models.  They can use the client’s goals to write positive affirmations using the client’s own words in a positive, non-limiting way.  The client then listens to the affirmations regularly and posts them around the home and office in order to facilitate change and reach their full potential.  Used properly, affirmations are an invaluable tool to achieve success.

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One thought on “The History of Affirmations

  1. I say this to my clients and to myself all the time in not as much detail, lol. Thinking and speaking positively will help you believe you can achieve. Thank you for sharing. I’d love for you to check out my blog and hopefully join in on Empowered Living weekly hop.

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