We have the unique ability to define their identity, choose their values and establish their beliefs. All three of these directly influence a person’s behavior. Conscious use of effective affirmations can modify any and all of these three behavior controlling factors resulting different responses than would have occurred previously to a given situation.
A fundamental principle of psychology is: “People are internally compelled to respond to situations in ways that will support or be consistent with their beliefs.” When a person reaches to turn-on a light switch or turns the key in a car’s ignition, his action is motivated by the belief, based on past experience, that light will be produced or that motor of the car will begin to run. A person with no belief of light being produced by changing the mechanical position of a lever or that transportation by other than animals is possible would not be motivated to take these simple actions. People have been known to go to great lengths demonstrate the validity of their beliefs, including war and sacrificing their own life. Conversely, people are not motivated to support or validate the beliefs of another, when those beliefs are contrary to their own.
People also will act congruent with their personal values or what they deem to be important. One definition of values is: “A value is a principle that promotes well-being or prevents harm.” Another definition of “values” is “They are our guidelines for our success-our paradigm about what is acceptable.” One resource on values defines Personal Values as: “Emotional beliefs in principles regarded as particularly favorable or important for the individual.” Our values associate emotions to our experiences to guide our choices, decisions and actions. The father of American psychology, William James, identified that “When the will and the emotions are in conflict, the emotions most often win.” Consequently, a person’s actions rarely conflict with their values and distress is felt when they do conflict.
A person’s observations of their environment are filtered through his values to determine whether or not he should expend energy to do something about his experiences. A person that values gold and sees a large bag of gold (a positive value) in his path as he walks will be motivated to reach down and pick it up. A person that values his life and knows about venomous snakes will retreat from the sound of a rattlesnake (a negative value) nearby when he is walking in the desert. Said another way, “Values are the scales we use to weigh our choices for our actions, whether to move towards or away from something.”
Not all values have the same weight or priority. Some are more important that others and must be satisfied before others can be addressed. Dr. Abraham Maslow illustrated this with his hierarchy of human needs. Survival has a higher priority than security, which has a higher priority than social acceptance. Self-esteem can only be addressed to the degree that social acceptance fulfilled. Similarly, self-actualization can only be pursued to the degree that self-esteem has been satisfied.
One of the things a person holds most important is her/his “identity.” Dr. Maxwell Maltz, identified over 4 decades ago that people will behave in accordance with their definition of themselves or their self-image. A person that has an identity that is “I’m terrible at math.” will avoid having to solve mathematical problems or will make more than the normal amount of errors when doing so. A person with the self-image of “I am an excellent public speaker.” will eagerly speak before large audiences, while a person with the opposite self-image will do whatever is necessary to avoid speak-in to even small groups of people.
A person’s beliefs, values and identity are usually acquired unconsciously based on his personal experience or observations of others’ experiences as to what produces desirable or undesirable results in the environment. A baby’s learning to walk and talk are clear examples of identifying with human adults, valuing the act of being able to have the mobility and communication ability of an adult and the belief, based on unconscious observation, that humans can and do walk and do talk with each other.
Physiologists have been able to identify the parts of the human brain that are involved in producing behavior in accordance with beliefs, values and identity. All information collected by human senses is passed through a net-like group of cells, known as the Reticular Activating System (RAS), located near the top of the brain stem. The RAS compares the data received with accepted values, positive and negative (threats), and beliefs stored in memory and determines whether or not immediate action is required. The results of the RAS’s comparison are communicated to the amygdala near the mid-brain.
The amygdala produces neuro-chemicals that cause emotions consistent with the nature of and proportional to the match between environment and values and beliefs. The neuro-chemicals initiate the chemical processes needed for the action to be taken. If the emotions produced are strong enough, the perceived information is blocked from reaching the logical, rational and conscious executive center of the brain, the pre-frontal lobes. In which case, the resulting behavior will be automatic, not necessarily logical or rational, and completely in accordance with the person’s strongest held beliefs, values and/or identity.
Put succinctly, a person’s beliefs about his/her identity and what is important determines his or her response to the stimuli received from the environment. These beliefs are stored in the subconscious mind and are subject to change by the conscious mind. Before a child learns to count correctly, he only know the names of numbers not the sequential order for them. Once he makes a conscious decision to count correctly, he memorizes the correct order through repetition and positive reinforcement. Before a person learns their multiplication tables, he does not believe that 8 time 8 equals 64. He consciously develops the belief that this is true either by repetitiously memorizing the multiplication table or by an “ah-ha” response from laying out 8 groups of 8 objects each and then counting all the objects to see that the total is 64. Through these methods the belief is built that the “truth” is that counting means that numbers have a specific order and that “8 times 8” and “64” mean the same thing.
The same process of repetition using affirmations can modify or create new beliefs about a person’s identity and/or what is important to him (his values). Simple verbal repetition of statements intended to become new beliefs, values or identity will result in these being stored for use by the RAS for comparison with the environment being experienced. The longer the period of time affirmations are repeated the higher the priority they are given in a person’s value system and therefore the more they influence the person’s behavior. Typically, consistent daily repetition over a minimum period of 3 to 5 weeks is necessary to create new behaviors. The greater the difference between the current beliefs, values and identity and the intended ones; the longer is the time needed for repetition to produce the new behaviors. Ultimately, the affirmation will dominate over the previous beliefs, values or identity trait in the person’s subconscious and will automatically produce the corresponding behavior.
This process can be accelerated by affirmations that produce emotional responses and vivid images when they are verbalized. The more intense the emotion the quicker the realization of the affirmation. The clearer and more complete the image that is triggered by the affirmation, the more accurately and quickly the intention will be realized.