Self-Affirmation and Personal Value

Self-Affirmation and Personal Value

We’ve all made mistakes. Life is full of failures. Whether at work, in school, or in a relationship, we are constantly reminded that we are imperfect as humans. Yet we make conscious efforts to reduce future mistakes and do better the next time. When confronted with the truth of our failures and shortcomings, we often become more motivated to preserve our self-worth. One way we might do so is to consider alternative sources of personal value. For instance, when faced with a threat to professional competence, we might remind ourselves of our intellectual aptitude or strong family ties. Past psychological studies suggest that preserving self-worth minimizes the anxiety, stress, and defensiveness associated with threats to self-integrity while keeping us attuned to the possibility of self-improvement.

More recent research published in the journal Psychological Science has shown that self-affirmation also plays a direct role in the reduction of errors and mistakes. Self-affirmation increases emotional responsiveness to performance error by increasing brain sensitivity. The enhanced sensitivity to errors among affirmed individuals allowed them to better correct for their mistakes and score 44% better on mental tasks.

This finding suggests that when we assert our core values, for instance, by affirming who we are, we become more emotionally responsive to lapses in performance and thus more receptive to the demands of the task at hand. Meanwhile, non-affirmed individuals are more likely to reject or dismiss personal threat and ignore errors. In other words, there is less mental processing when we are not considering what we truly value, and this reduces our ability to perform optimally.

The implication is that, when we have a very important task to perform, we should reflect on who we are and why the task is important. We should not be afraid to fail, but rather aware of the importance of succeeding in relation to our greater values.