A woman with a relaxed face and closed eyes hold both arms above her head.

Photo courtesy of tonl.co

Have you ever noticed that workout-instructor motivational talk kind of borders on negative marketing? If you get through this, you get those amazing abs you want.” Keep pushing yourself — don’t you want a great booty?” We’re all in here, because we want summer bodies.” These lines can heighten feelings of inadequacy or insecurity. And they may actually hinder your potential, by being more stressful than empowering.

But experts say that harnessing your own strength of mind, instead, can eclipse self-doubt. Affirmations are the modern equivalent of those ancient mantras you may do in yoga — and they actually work.

Affirmations can improve the results of one’s exercise program, as well as any performance,” says Walter E. Jacobson, M.D., a cognitive-behavior therapy psychologist who wrote the mind-over-matter book Forgive to Win. Affirmations work because they reprogram our mind by sending empowering messages — from our conscious mind to our subconscious mind — that decrease our procrastination and increase our motivation, commitment, and resolve. This reinforces our conscious efforts to succeed and improves the outcome of our efforts.”

Over at the Los Angeles arm of Aerospace High Performance Center (these are the folks who sculpt everyone from model Adriana Lima to Jake Gyllenhaal), instructor Gift Davis makes pointed use of affirmations throughout his boxing classes to keep clients motivated. The results have built this self-made yogi a loyal following.

A woman with a determined look excercising at a gym.

Photo courtesy of @doods/Twenty20

As his sweaty students grow increasingly exhausted, Davis has them take periodic time-outs to deeply inhale and exhale, then repeat a positive thought. (His favorite aphorisms include: I am calm and confident,” I got this,” and She who says she can — can.”) He emphasizes the importance of saying them loudly and confidently. Even those who meet his method with reservation quickly learn it’s a palpable difference-maker in performance.

I practice what I preach,” he adds. This comes from firsthand experience.” Davis, who suffered from asthma as a kid, has been boxing since age 6. Feeling increasingly stymied by his condition, he began researching positive-thinking videos as a teenager. Basically, with challenges, you’re telling yourself the opposite of a positive affirmation. Like, I’m not fast enough.’ Your body language might be telling yourself that, too,” say Davis, who’s also a painter. Even in my art, I even implement these practices.”

Research seems to back this up. One study found that affirmations can decrease stress, increase well-being…and make people more open to behavior change.” In another, researchers have suggested that self-affirmations remind individuals of psychosocial resources that extend beyond a specific threat, which allows them to focus on sources of positive self-worth that transcends the threat.” So in addition to knocking back vitamins and cold-pressed juices, don’t discount positive-thinking as one of the most valuable, if not cheapest, workout supplement. 

Dr. Jacboson recommends training your mind before you train your body: saying or writing five affirmations, 10 times each, before a workout. I encourage everyone to integrate them into their exercise program and any program for that matter where the goal is to enhance performance and effectiveness,” he says. They don’t take very long to do, and there are no downsides of affirmations.”

Articles from The Natural should not be considered medical advice. If you have any questions about your health, please consult a medical professional.