“I am confident.”
This is an example of a positive self-affirmation. But do these actually hold any power? Can these statements help students in their academic performance?
Let’s take a look at what self-affirmations are, some benefits of using them and how you can use this technique…
What are self-affirmations?
Self-affirmations are statements that help challenge and overcome negative thoughts. They are based on the self-affirmation theory, which suggests that:
- People are motivated to maintain their sense of self-integrity, which is the belief that one is good.
- Within our lives, people might encounter threats to their self-integrity. For example: doing worse than they expected on an exam.
- A useful way to try and restore this self-integrity is by using self-affirmations.
But how do they actually help? Here are some benefits found from using this technique…
Benefits of self-affirmation
Executive functions are a set of mental skills that help us control our behaviour. One type of function is inhibition, which is the ability to control our attention, behaviour and thoughts. This helps students pay attention in class and stay on task.
An example of a threat to self-integrity is believing that you are less powerful. In one study, researchers investigated this by assigning the participants to be either a “superior” or “subordinate”. They were told that the “superior” would direct, evaluate and determine the pay that the “subordinate” would receive for the study.
They found that participants in the “subordinate” group had less inhibitory control, meaning they were less able to focus on their task and more distracted. This could mean that if students believe they have less power, their academic performance could suffer.
But how can you overcome this? Well, in another study, researchers found that using self-affirmative statements could overcome this effect. Participants were also allocated as a “manager” or “subordinate”, but some individuals in the “subordinate” group also took part in a self-affirmation task. This consisted of ranking 11 values and saying why their top-ranked value had personal importance to them. The individuals who completed the self-affirmation task had greater inhibitory control than those who did not take part in this task. Therefore, saying self-affirmative statements can help you reverse some negative consequences of feeling “less powerful”.
Although a little bit of stress can be good, being too stressed can have a very negative impact on students’ performance. But can using self-affirmative techniques help?
In a previous study, chronically stressed participants completed a difficult problem-solving task in front of an evaluator. They found that those who took part in a self-affirmative task before hand performed much better in the task.
Therefore, saying a few positive statements before an exam can be extremely helpful in not only reducing the amount of stress you experience but also to help you perform better.
Using self-affirmations has also been shown to be a motivational tool, as engaging in this technique has shown to help people participate more in physical activities. In one study, researchers randomly assigned some individuals to engage in self-affirmations. They found that self-affirmed participants reported more physical activity, which was large enough to show substantial health benefits. They also found that these individuals had more positive attitudes towards exercising and had a stronger intention to exercise. Therefore, using self-affirmations can be a simple way to help motivate yourself to be more active.
But why is exercise so important? Well, some benefits to having enough exercise include:
- Improved memory – Research shows that physically active children do not only perform better on memory tasks, but also show larger volume in the hippocampus, which is the area of the brain largely associated with memory.
- Concentration – In a previous study, students who took part in 5-10 minutes of exercise twice a day concentrated better in their lessons.
- Stress – Research found that those who take part in yoga or pilates report less stress.
To find out more on this topic, see our blog on 8 ways exercising boosts your brain power.
In one study, researchers found that when teenagers are presented with challenges, those who spontaneously self-affirm their strengths or values maintain higher self-esteem. Therefore, it might be useful to get into the habit of self-affirming and reflecting on your strengths, values and social relationships when feeling “threatened”. See this blog to find out more about “How to maintain new habits”.
Develops a sense of belonging
As humans, we have a fundamental need to belong. In a previous study, researchers investigated whether self-affirmations could help individuals feel like they belong. They found that students who had a low sense of belonging had a worse grade point average in comparison to their peers. However, when these individuals took part in a self-affirmation task, they tended to get better grades over time.
How to use self-affirmations
So, how can we actually use self-affirmations to help students feel and perform better? Is there even a “right way” to self-affirm?
Well, research suggests the key for self-affirmations is to make sure that it relates to an individual’s core personal values. One way to find this out is by ranking different values in order of how much they mean to you, then explore the reasons why they feel important.
After finding out your personal values, it can also be helpful to use statements that relate to this throughout the day, particularly when you encounter a challenge. This can help you keep your cool and stay on task.
Self-affirmations can be a very useful tool to use whenever you feel challenged or threatened. It can be a very quick way to help encounter difficult situations, with research suggesting many benefits that come out of it.
The key in using this technique however is to make sure you reflect on things that hold personal importance and value to you.