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Affirmations to Tell Yourself While Waiting for Grad Admissions Committees to Take Their Sweet Time

While you wait and twiddle your thumbs for acceptance decisions from the 30 schools you applied to (looking at you, pre-meds), the practice of giving yourself affirmations while looking in the mirror adds a constructive element to the ongoing existential crisis that is graduate education. Though it may seem silly to “talk to yourself”, it’s an important practice to disconnect from your inner-roommate and cultivate a positive inner-relationship. It’s not meant to inflate ego, but rather encourage self-love. After all, we spend every waking moment with this person, why not try to like them?

Many of you are scientists, so I figure it’s valuable to investigate the psychological theory behind self-affirmations and why they are important. Dr. Claude Steele popularized Self-Affirmation Theory in the 1980s and it continues to be studied today. Generally, humans seek to hold themselves in high regard. We want to like ourselves. We want to have high self-esteem and maintain self-integrity. Sometimes, we face obstacles that threaten that integrity, like taking a test or having a bad interview. When this sense of worth is threatened, we tend to become defensive and this may result in destructive behavior. “Self-affirmation manipulation” as it’s called in the psych community, can be achieved by instructing the participants to answer questions about positive acts they’ve done and by asking them to write about things they value before the threat to their identity is introduced. When we participate in positive affirmations, this increases our information processing, allows us to accept this new information, changes our attitude, and can alter our behavior (positively). When we practice these affirmations everyday, we set ourselves up for successfully overcoming the little hurdles that we face daily (looking at you, imposter syndrome). And with this, we are more receptive to healthy suggestions. It’s a win-win.

Affirmation theory was even tested out in classrooms as part of an effort to promote equity and inclusion among students by Akira Miyake et al. in Science. In this research study, Reducing the Gender Achievement Gap in College Science: A Classroom Study of Values Affirmation, students were told to write down several things that were important to them before taking a test, or “Values Affirmation”. Classes that participated in the self-affirmation practice saw higher test scores among females when compared to classes that did not participate, and closed the grade gap between students in the classroom.

Tips and Tricks for Self-Affirmations

I’ve gathered some insight on how to begin your practice on affirmations. For some I’ve included citations, and the rest I’ve learned from life-coach friends, self-help books (How to Heal Your Life by Louise Hay), and personal experience.

Write it down, whether it be in a notebook or on your mirror. Writing down these affirmations gives them tangible substance. Studies on self-affirmations usually have participants write them down.

*****Bonus Round***** say them to yourself in the mirror!

Keep your affirmations flexible and acknowledge the various roles you take in life. When one of these roles feels threatened, you have assurance in knowing that this single role does not define you. Life is big and broad! Lots of things are happening!

(Sherman et al., 2006)

Make a separate values list: What do you hold dear? What is important to you? The environment? Volunteering? Social Equity? Family? Your cat?

(Cohen et al. 2009 and others)

Repetition is key when doing affirmations, as well as actually embodying them and saying them with our feelings as best we can. Doing arm motions and being animated while we do between 15-25 affirmations in the mirror once or twice a day is money.

If you don’t FEEL the affirmations at first, THAT IS OKAY, it’s about taking the time to update your self-talk vocabulary with words that are encouraging rather than discouraging. The more often you do them and the more focus and intention you put into them, the better you will feel on a regular basis, and the more you will be able to face daily obstacles.

The best time of the day to do affirmations is first thing in the morning before all the anxiety thoughts start to kick in, or at night right before going to sleep.

It’s really good to take a few deep breaths and make space for the feelings that can come up when we do affirmations. Sometimes they make us feel great and sometimes they can bring up a lot, and that’s a good thing too, as long as we stay present and breathe through that and allow those resistances to pass through.

Affirmations to practice

I am enough.

I am worthy.

I am valued.

I am capable.

I am a good student and I work hard.

I am a good child/spouse/parent/friend/mentor/student.

I am where I am meant to be in my life, I am whole, including my flaws.

I may succeed, I may not. Either way, I am enough and I will learn from this situation.

I am proud of myself and I believe in myself.

I will not worry about things I cannot control.

My strength is greater than any struggle.

I am doing the best I can with what I know and how I feel.

I make the best out of every situation and outcome.

There is plenty for everyone, including me.

Everything is going to be okay. (great for anxiety attacks)

I value _________.


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