#161 Self-Affirmation Theory

The Science of Affirmations that Actually Work

In our last +1, we chatted about Amy Cuddy’s research into the bidirectionality of our feelings and behaviors as we looked at the importance of striking a powerful pose when we want to feel powerful.

Today, we’ll look at what Amy calls a “mindset nudge” to get ourselves into a powerful state of presence.

Researchers tell us that one of the most powerful ways to get our minds right is to practice something they call “Self-Affirmation Theory.”


The type of self-affirmation we’re talking about here is NOT the Saturday Night Live Stuart Smalley version of looking into the mirror and repeating to yourself “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and, doggone it, people like me!”

That doesn’t work.

What DOES work?

Well, get this: Social psychologists have created a little test to stress you out and then measure your response. It’s called the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST).

Imagine being asked to give an impromptu 5-minute speech in front of a panel of judges who are told to simply look at you sternly and offer no positive feedback. THEN, while still in front of those judges, you need to count backwards from 2,083 by 13 with the judges telling you to go faster. (Hah!)

Enough to stress you out just thinking about it, eh?

Well, here’s what’s fascinating: Usually, when people go through that experience, their cortisol levels spike. BUT, if they first reflect on a core value that is very important to them and write a brief description of WHY it’s important to them, they can go through that stress test WITHOUT the typical spikes in cortisol.

That’s amazing.

It’s the power of Self-Affirmation Theory. When we are aware of and living consistent with our values, we’re more powerful.

Which, of course, begs the question: What are your core values?

Cuddy tells us that one way to arrive at that is to ask ourselves what three words best describe us.

So, Today’s +1: What three words best describe YOU?

Think about that for a moment. And capture it.

These three words best describe me:

1. ______________________
2. ______________________
3. ______________________

Now, which one is most essential to who you are? Briefly reflect on WHY it’s important to you and a specific time in which you demonstrated that value.

Why: ________________________________________

When: ________________________________________


Gosh darnit, you’re awesome!

In a scientifically rigorous way, of course! 😃

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