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The art and science of affirmations

In Insight and Experience by tess.holdernessLeave a Comment

Louise Hay was an early pioneer and advocate for the power of “the affirmative” to transform people’s minds and lives. Scientific research is now shedding new light on this “power of positive thinking”.


The long-reigning Queen of Affirmations, Louise Hay, has long believed that the thoughts we choose create the life we live. Decades before it became fashionable to discuss the link between mind and body, she was actively encouraging people to replace negative feelings with positive new thought patterns.

Loving the Self, cultivating the practice of forgiveness as a powerful healing tool, and “an attitude of gratitude” are all key ingredients in the Louise Hay recipe, enabling individuals to create positive changes in their relationship to Self, and their personal outlook and circumstances.

Increasing numbers of scientists, psychologists, medical practitioners and researchers are now starting to add to the mix. Their findings provide a scientific basis for what many in the self-help movement have long known – “Change your thinking and you can change your life”. Not to mention improving your health and well-being, and your ability to conceive, believe and achieve your goals and dreams. In some circles, this is known as visioning and manifestation while, for others, such things are simply regarded as achievements within the realm of human psychology and potential.

Regardless of the terminology, there is a definite intersection opening up where science meets spirituality meets human potential. The road ahead is an exciting one, as this type of integrative ‘new thinking’ becomes better understood and more mainstream. This is well reflected in the growing sales of self-help and personal development books, including those that explore quantum science, neuropsychology and the mind-body connection. This inquiry into the nature of life has become part of the new ‘literature of possibility’.

Only a few decades ago, it was a different story. Back then, writers like Louise Hay and Deepak Chopra, now among the elder statesmen and women of the industry, were more like lone voices from the fringe. Courage and perseverance were required, as their ideas and activities were regarded as quite radical, and attracted scepticism and criticism from those operating under different worldviews. Yet their messages resonated and opened up new possibilities for the readers who were drawn to their work and integrated their concepts.

In many ways, such writers were ahead of their time, and it took a while for the rest of the world to catch up. A slow shift in receptiveness towards these sorts of ideas has since become something of a revolution in thinking. This continues to gather momentum as many new writers and researchers contribute to this growing body of knowledge.

The science of the mind

American neuroscientist, Dr Joe Dispenza, has spent decades studying the human mind. He points out that medical science now has a much better understanding about how the brain works and stores information, and why it perpetuates the same behavioural patterns over and over again. In writing about what he calls ‘the biology of change’ or the science behind changing your mind, he explains that the brain has the capacity to not only learn new skills but to also be rewired and reprogrammed.

Dr Dispenza points out that we are not hardwired to be a certain way for the rest of our lives. ‘Neuroplasticity’ – the capacity of the brain to change – once believed to primarily be the domain of the young developing brain ­– is now known to continue on throughout adulthood. This plasticity can be utilised to effect long-term changes in thinking and behaviour, as in the practice of cognitive behavioural therapy.

A common principle in neuroscience is that ‘nerve cells that fire together, wire together’. The repeated firing of certain brain patterns has corresponding effects on mental and physical health, as well as personal outcomes in life. For example, dwelling on problems reinforces the brain circuitry relating to those problems, creating stronger neural pathways and habitual tendencies. Understanding how the brain works and how such habits are formed puts us in a better position to not only break negative patterns, but to also reprogram our mental and emotional circuitry, so that new and positive pathways and habits can form.

When we identify and eliminate self-destructive patterns by replacing them with positive thoughts about ourselves and our specific goals and visions, change can occur from the inside out. Regular affirmations can literally change the brain, as well as the physical body, as neuro-chemical communications travel around the body’s systems – including the circulatory, nervous, immune and endocrine systems.

Dr Dispenza, who also has a chiropractic background, says there is a very strong (neuro-physiological) link between the mind and body. As well as neural connections, thoughts also create chemical reactions within the mind that communicate directly with the body and play a role in physical health and disease.

“When you are no longer mentally repeating and processing the same negative thoughts that have made you feel sad and sick, and instead you practice positive, affirming thoughts, a by-product is that you start to feel happier and healthier, and both the brain and body begin to change”, he says.

Such findings, arising from the study of the mind, directly correlate with the affirmation work of writers and practitioners like Louise Hay. The early teachings of these self-help pioneers blended the knowledge of the day with spiritual principles, intuition and the careful study and observation of human psychology, interaction and potential. New research from the field of neuroscience further validates their insightful work and its potential to produce profound and transformative changes for people.

The art of a living legend

As Louise Hay has always said, “every time you think a thought or say a word you are literally painting or creating your life”. Affirmations are seen as the starting point for creating a new mindset – providing a support base from which to take action towards achieving personal goals.

Louise Hay’s techniques remain simple and effective, and her books, like “You Can Heal Your Life”, are ever popular. Her central premise is to start by “loving yourself” – which places you in a better position to love others and to create positive changes within your own life. Much healing begins with this simple realisation. Practical affirmations are all about “making positive statements about your Self and your life”, so that you can start stepping into the energy of being that way in the world and attracting important things into your reality.

Louise likens the process to cultivating a garden: “You plant a seed and if you provide the right conditions it can grow”. You then need to lovingly tend the garden, pulling out any weeds (or negative perceptions) to allow the good things in life to develop and flourish.

Louise Hay has gone on to touch the lives and inspire many millions of people across the globe. On a personal level, what she has managed to achieve, in terms of transforming her own life using these same principles, is even more impressive when you learn about her troubled past. She is a living testimony to the fact that it is not what happens to you in life but what you do about it that counts.

Louise experienced a series of traumatic early events (which included her parents divorcing and her being fostered out, returning back to her mother and being exposed to a physically and sexually abusive stepfather, and being raped by a neighbour – who was sentenced to jail). Having left home at 15 and lacking education, Louise worked in rather menial jobs. Looking for affection in the wrong places, she was pregnant by the age of 16, and adopted the baby out to a loving childless couple. Later work as a model and her marriage to an English businessman were high points of her life, but, when her husband left her for another woman after 14 years of marriage, Louise was devastated.

Around that time, at the Church of Religious Science in New York, Louise first heard that “if you are willing to change your thoughts you can change your life”. She determined not to let her past define her or her future. Instead, she set upon a path of learning, discovery and healing. Louise not only turned her life around, she created an exceptional and fulfilling life, not to mention the Hay House Publishing empire that evolved from humble, self-publishing beginnings into a world leader within the personal development genre. Today, Louise remains happy, healthy, active in publishing, and is still going strong in her mid-80s. What an inspiration!


Tess Holderness is a freelance journalist and photographer, based in Melbourne. With a background in biological sciences, she specialises in writing about science, sustainability and nature, as well as health and well-being.

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