Affirmation is the act of reflecting on core aspects of the self, such as important values, relationships, and personal characteristics in sports or in other life spheres. The word ‘affirmation’ comes from the Latin ‘affirmare,’ originally meaning, “to make steady or strengthen” (Etymonline, 2017).
Athletes use affirmations to help them achieve goals and success. Affirmations may serve as protective adaptations when an actual or impending threat is perceived. Athletes have a basic need to maintain the integrity of the self. Events that threaten self-integrity arouse stress and self-protective defenses that can affect performance and growth. Self-affirmation interventions and theory facilitate achievement and help athletes respond adaptively to adversity and setbacks. Self-affirmation interventions bring about a more expansive view of core values, the self (identity) and its resources, diminishing the implications of a threat for personal integrity.
Timely affirmations have been shown to improve education, health, and relationship outcomes, with benefits that sometimes persist for months and years (Cohen & Sherman, 2014). Like other interventions’ self-affirmations can have lasting benefits and function as a positive feedback loop between the self and the environment. In cognitive behavioral therapy, affirmations are short positive statements repeatedly used by a person to establish beliefs and patterns. As such, affirmations are statements that are designed to create self-change in the athlete using them. They can serve as inspiration, motivation, as well as simple reminders of core values. They also can serve to focus attention on goals and have the potential to promote positive and sustained self-change. Athletes using affirmations
may feel awkward, but with practice they may begin to feel more natural, and new beliefs will create a new experience. Examples of effective affirmations are written in first person. These types of statements turn affirmations into statements related to values and the self. Identity statements such as “I am a worthwhile person,” “I am a devoted and compassionate person,” or performance statements such as “I am secure and confident performing at this arena,” “I perform great under pressure,” or “I accept being nervous.” Some athletes find it helpful to write positive affirmations on a card, book, or on their phone. Reading the affirmations a few times during the day can keep the athlete’s positive thoughts on track and prevent negative thinking.
Cohen, G. L., & Sherman, D. (2014). The psychology of change: Self-affirmation and social psychological intervention. Annual Review of Psychology, 65, 333 371. Available from https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-psych-010213-115137. Etymonline (2017, August). Retrieved from: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term5affirm.
***Contributed by Carsten H. Larsen for Hackfort, D., Schinke, R. J., & Strauss, B. (Eds.). (2019). Dictionary of sport psychology: sport, exercise, and performing arts. Academic Press.