Exploring the Examples of Motivational Interviewing Affirmations

A large, falling tree trunk in a park is held up by a strong, intricately carved hand made of wood.

Motivational Interviewing is a critical tool for anyone who works in the human services field. The Motivational Interviewing (MI) approach helps to empower and encourage others to make positive choices and reinforces positive behaviors.


One crucial part of the technique is offering up Motivational Interviewing affirmations. Affirmations reinforce the constructive steps that the individual is taking in their situation, and it helps build rapport (a vital component of MI).


Here’s what you need to know about Motivational Interviewing affirmations.


What Are Affirmations in an MI Setting?

When we think of affirmations, we may think of the old SNL skit, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggonit, people like me.” And while the skit was a little silly, self-affirmation is truly important. We all need to hear affirmations—words that affirm, validate, and reinforce, whether you’re using them on yourself or expressing affirmation in the process of building a relationship.


In Motivational Interviewing, we’re focused on relationship building with others. We want to create a connection with the person we’re serving, build trust, and show reverence and respect for their human experience. We can employ the Motivational Interviewing approach in many different settings—social work, education, psychology, criminal justice, and more—any context in which humans are served and supported. MI is a way to build rapport. It’s a conversation style that is empowering and effective, and Motivational Interviewing affirmations are a significant part of the process.


By expressing affirmations, you’re identifying a strength in the other person. You’re acknowledging the effort they’re putting forward and the obstacles they’re overcoming to get there. You’re seeing them for who they really are and recognizing their power and inner light.


Now, not all Motivational Interviewing affirmations are the same. You can view them in different tiers. See the following Motivational Interviewing affirmation examples, that would be used by an educator or administrator in a school setting.


Highest Form of MI Affirmation

It was really courageous of you to step back from that fight yesterday. That took a lot of character. Note that in this example, the administrator recognizes the strength that was required for this action.


Mid-Tier MI Affirmation

I really value how hard you’ve been working on getting your homework in on time. Note that this phrase includes “I” language, making the statement co-owned—“I value.”


Lowest Tier of Affirmation

Great job. Note that in this affirmation, we’re offering general praise.


When using the Motivational Interviewing approach and offering affirmations, we want to make our affirmations as specific and meaningful as possible. We want to focus on recognizing the strengths that were displayed in the action or behavior.


In some cases, people might feel upset or emotionally charged about a situation. Displaying emotions also requires strength. Sitting down in a situation that you know might be confrontational or have negative consequences requires bravery and fortitude. It’s important that we recognize these strengths too.


We want to show that we’re truly seeing the person for who they are. Motivational Interviewing isn’t a “trick.” It’s a method rooted in building a genuine and authentic connection. The underlying strengths of the served person are there, and we are recognizing them and acknowledging them.


Building Strength Through Motivational Interviewing Affirmations

When we’re supporting and serving others in social work, education, or a similar field, we’re often—if not always—working with people who have experienced a great deal of trauma. It’s important to realize that sometimes people have received affirmations in the past as a way to groom them or to manipulate their behavior. Sincerity and authenticity are crucial if we want to build a relationship.


If someone relates a traumatic experience, offering affirmations can help us remind them of their resilience. We can affirm the way they bounced back and highlight their strengths.


We all employ affirmations in our daily conversations. When a friend relates a challenging experience, or we see someone make an empowered choice. But many times, we might not express these affirmations to them in day-to-day life. Learning to include affirmations in the Motivational Interviewing process may take some practice until it comes naturally, even though we may think these positive thoughts of others often. After practicing the technique of articulating these observations of strength and/or efforts, we might find a positive ripple effect in our own lives and personal relationships too.


In Motivational Interviewing, affirmations are a way to help a person recognize their inner strength. It also conveys the message that we recognize and value that strength. This acknowledgment is the first step on the pathway to rapport and connection.


Examples of Motivational Interviewing Affirmations

So, what do MI affirmations sound like in your context of service? Of course, there’s no authentic way to plot out or plan a conversation, but it can be useful to practice expressing affirmations. In the following examples of motivational interviewing, we’ll go through some scenarios that might apply to different human service contexts.


MI Affirmations in Education

In education, a teacher or administrator who’s been observing positive behaviors displayed by a student might say something like, “I’ve noticed you starting to hang out in the library more often. It’s really impressive that you’re investing so much in complementing your education.”


We may see a student putting forth an effort to emotionally regulate themselves and say something like, “I see the effort you’re making today to be an example of self-control for others. It shows the ways you’re learning to express your feelings.”


MI Affirmations in Healthcare

In a healthcare setting, we might be dealing with medication management. For a patient who hasn’t been taking their medication, but has started to be more diligent about it, a practitioner might say, “Since you’ve started taking your meds consistently, it shows a real investment in your health and future.”


Or a patient may have decided to take a difficult step in their treatment journey and a practitioner might acknowledge it by saying, “Your courage to decide to go forward with this procedure is such a great example of your resilience and fortitude. You’re taking proactive steps on your path to health.”


MI Affirmations in Criminal Justice

In criminal justice, a parole officer or social worker may work with a client who has had a setback. In this case, an MI affirmation may sound like, “It took a lot of courage for you to come in today, knowing you were going to test positive.”


A social worker may notice a positive behavior too, “I noticed how you’ve made such an effort to be here on time today. You’re showing a strong commitment to doing the work to get back on track.” It’s important to notice both positive behaviors and to find the strengths even in not-so-positive situations.

List of Personal Strengths as Affirmations

Are you stumped on ways to phrase your affirmations? When we work with organizations, we often share this resource to help them brainstorm ways to identify and articulate recognition of personal strengths. Feel free to explore this list of personal strengths to help compose your affirmations.


Personal Strength as Motivational Interviewing Affirmations


In human service professions, there are many opportunities to express affirmations and to connect with those we serve. Sometimes those moments of authentic affirmation can be life-changing, motivating, and empowering those we work with to make those necessary positive steps in their lives.


To learn more about Motivational Interviewing and other topics that we explore at Share Collaborative please reach out. We offer resources and training for organizations and individuals to help you on your journey.

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