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Positive thinking: How affirmations can help you achieve your health goals

Christina Joseph By Christina Joseph

woman looking in mirror

When John and Brittany Agin walk into the bathroom each morning, they’re greeted by a handwritten note on the mirror that reads: “Good morning, beautiful! Yesterday is over, all your slip-ups are forgiven. The score is zero. Make it positive today!” This positive affirmation is one of dozens hanging on the walls, cabinets and doors in the couple’s Columbus, Ohio, home.

Equal parts motivation, inspiration and real talk, positive affirmations have helped the Agins stay focused on their quest to quit smoking, get healthy and, ultimately, start a family. And the strategy is working. John and Brittany have been smoke-free for nearly a year, exercise regularly, and are expecting their first child this spring. “These affirmations have been incredibly inspirational to me,” says John, who credits much of his 22-pound weight loss to the couple’s can-do attitude. Read more about John’s journey to living a smoke-free life.

Can uplifting phrases really help you achieve your health goals? You bet, say experts. In fact, research shows positive affirmations like the ones the Agins use can decrease stress, increase a feeling of well-being and open your mind to making lifestyle changes, like quitting smoking, losing weight or eating better. “It’s all about changing the way you think,” explains Peggy Wagner, head of clinical operations for Aetna’s Resources for Living, an employee assistance program. “Positive affirmations can penetrate a person’s subconscious and change your actions, behaviors and attitude. They help you keep in touch with yourself and know what you want – your goals, dreams and ambitions.”

Ready to get started? Here are four ways to use positive affirmations to help you achieve your health goals.

1. Replace negative thoughts with positive ones.

Positive self-talk can be a powerful motivator when you’re trying to adopt a healthy new habit. “You can only become successful if you tell yourself, ‘I can do this,’ instead of saying, ‘I can’t,’” Wagner says. That said, negative thoughts and words can be tough to banish. If you catch yourself thinking self-defeating or overly critical thoughts, make a mental note to not repeat them, and ask a trusted friend or partner to point out any negative comments they hear you make.

2. Make a list of things you admire about yourself.

Jotting down qualities you like about yourself doesn’t just boost your self-confidence, it can also help motivate you to stick to your goals. When she began her weight-loss journey, Rachel Valdez of Whidbey Island, Washington, wrote down all of her positive traits. She thinks about two of them in particular – passion and grit – every day when she exercises, meditates and cooks healthy meals for herself. “Those words help drive me to get up each day, check in with myself and my intentions, and get into motion with my daily goals of healthy mind, body and heart – no matter what,” she says. Learn more about how journaling can help in your health journey.

3. Find an affirmation that supports your “why.”

Researchers have found that people who identify and verbalize their goals are more likely to reach them, so before you start on your health journey, think about why you’re making a change. Do you want to spend more time with your partner? Be financially self-sufficient? Keep up with the grandkids? Once you’ve identified your ambitions, develop an affirmation that supports them, Wagner says. For example, if you’re looking to spend more time with your partner, an affirmation like “I deserve to have balance in my life” can reinforce your desire to carve out some time together.

Some people find it useful to enlist the help of a wellness coach, who can help evaluate your affirmations and ensure they remain aligned with your goals. Many insurance plans, including those offered through Aetna, offer one-on-one coaching.

4. Post your affirmation (and repeat it often).

When the stress of her hectic schedule caused her to begin losing hair, Sharmila Rao Thakkar became alarmed. As the Staten Island, New York, resident began to strive for balance in her life, she turned to affirmations, zeroing in on one in particular: “The minute you settle for less than you deserve, you get even less than you settled for.” Sharmila wrote it down on a sticky note, posted it by her desk and repeats it whenever things feel like they’re spinning out of control. In fact, saying your uplifting message often is key, Wagner says. “For the affirmation to become effective, you need to repeat it, because negative thoughts will happen, and that is okay,” she explains. She suggests saying your affirmation when you get up in the morning and then repeating it to yourself throughout the day.

Taking on a new health ambition can be challenging, but positive affirmations can help lead you to the finish line. “I always used to put myself last, but now I say, ‘I am making time for myself,’” Sharmila says. “I need that little reminder affirmations give. Now, I’m more in control of what makes sense for me and the people around me who I love.”

About the author

Christina Joseph is a veteran editor and writer from New Jersey who still loves to read the old-fashioned newspaper. She’s raising two fruit-and-veggie loving daughters to balance all the treats Grandma sends their way. Christina’s health goal is to resume her workout routine after being sidelined by injuries.