Affirmations are positive statements that are meant to help counteract negative, self-defeating thoughts. They are designed to encourage us to feel better about ourselves and bring us back to a place of positivity and can-do optimism. Sound too good to be true?

Actually, repeating brief daily affirmations really does improve our emotional and mental well-being, a new study finds. Positive affirmations help redirect negative, self-critical thoughts that can absorb our attention when things are difficult.

Researchers at the University of California Berkeley first instructed 135 undergraduate students: “You're invited to allow your eyes to close … Bringing to mind a recent mistake or a failure, or something about yourself that has been bothering you lately, or has made you feel unworthy, unloved, or not enough ... and notice what arises in your body as you bring this to mind.”

Saying daily affirmations really does work to improve our emotional and mental well-being.

Then they divided the students into two groups. One was taught a simple finger tapping exercise believed to reduce stress and anxiety. The other group was instructed with these words: “Sending kindness and warmth to yourself by bringing one hand to your belly and the other to your chest with the energy of hugging yourself, allow yourself to embrace what arises in your body.”

Next, these students were instructed to say a positive affirmation to themselves.

These micropractices were performed for 20 seconds a day for a month.

Students performing the daily self-compassion, self-affirmation activity reported lower stress and improved mental health, comparable to more time-intensive practices such as mindfulness meditation or therapy, the researchers found.

Self-affirmations are “Essentially a practice of being a caring friend to yourself when reflecting on moments that evoke being hard on yourself,” the study's co-author, psychology researcher Eli Susman, a Ph.D. student in Clinical Psychology at Berkeley, explained in a press release.

Affirmations are usually a short, simple and positive statement. For example:

  • I am living with abundance.
  • I am grateful for everything I have in my life.
  • I am confident.
  • I am not defined by my past; I am staying in the present.
  • I choose to be happy.
  • I am consistently improving.

Of course, you can make up your own affirmations. It's best to start with the words “I” or “My” so your affirmation is a positive message directed to yourself.

The study is published in Behaviour Research and Therapy.