“You will be a failure, until you impress the subconscious with the conviction you are a success. This is done by making an affirmation which ‘clicks.'” ~Florence Scovel Shinn

thumbs upDid you hear that collective gasp?

An affirmation is a declaration that something is true and declarations, properly formed, can be very powerful and effective at getting you from point A to point B in your life.

So am I trying to say that The Secret and Norman Vincent Peale and Zig Ziglar and {insert your favorite self-help guru here} got it all wrong about affirmations? Not exactly.

Still, I’m not alone in this. The Journal of Psychological Science published a study done by Dr. Joanne Wood of the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, entitled “Positive Self-Statements: Power for Some, Peril for Others”. The study concluded that “repeating positive self-statements may benefit certain people, such as individuals with high self-esteem, but backfire for the very people who need them the most.”

To quote Albert Einstein, “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.” The wisdom that can be drawn from this study is that people are attempting to make affirmations simpler than they are. It’s kind of ridiculous, because they are pretty darn simple to begin with.

The thing that causes all the problems is leaving the affirmer (you) out of the equation. After all, you are the context of your affirmations, the observer as well as the participant.

So here is how you render an affirmation useless:

  1.  Come up with a high quality affirmation. (That’s right, the excuse is not going to be that the affirmation itself was poorly constructed.)
  2. Start reading it aloud to yourself in the mirror several times a day. (No lack of diligence to point to.)
  3. Realize that you just plain don’t believe it. (Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner!)
  4. Keep doing it anyway. (And reinforce the failure.)

The study noted earlier points out how affirmations fail for those most in need. It even hypothesizes why. But what it doesn’t do is explain how to fix the problem.

The solution is Einstein simple. You must engage with the part of you that is in disagreement with the affirmation. Give your mind/ego/reptilian brain the chance to have its say.

Here’s how. Let’s start with a desirable affirmation:

“I am currently enjoying my light and agile weight at 178 pounds.”

You do not presently believe this, being a Cheeto-stained, sluggish 260 pounds. So every time you repeat this affirmation, your brain comes back with, “Yeah right, you couch-surfing slug.” And that, my friends, turns out to be the real affirmation you affirm. That’s the secret no one tells you: affirmations work just as well if the outcome is highly undesirable. In fact, most people are repeating negative affirmations all the time:

“I am so stupid. ”

“I can’t seem to get up in the morning.”

“I’ll never quit smoking.”

And boy, do they work. The difference is that the affirmer believes these statements heart and soul. So they come to be.

So how do you give your brain its say without affirming its self-defeated outlook? By adding a simple step and being mindful of your reaction.

If you know that your mind is not going to accept your affirmation without push back, start off different:

“Even though I am presently 260 pounds…

And even though I haven’t gotten to the gym just yet…

I am open to the possibility that I can enjoy my body at a light and agile 178 pounds.”

Put as many statements about your present state as your ego requires to feel heard. Repeat it more than once if need be. When you feel you can, dial it back:

“Even though I only now just joined the gym…

I am open to the possibility that I can enjoy my body at a light and agile 178 pounds.”

Finally, when you feel you can let it go, just repeat:

“I am open to the possibility that I can enjoy my body at a light and agile 178 pounds.”

The day will come, sooner than you might think, when you can go with and stay with your original affirmation without all the nods to a doubting mind. You have to show some respect for your poor little mind. After all, it is just trying to protect you from disappointment and pain. So show it that respect but don’t let it take charge.

One other important adjustment to make is to use the phrasing “I am open to the possibility” rather than the more direct “I am”. Even a doubting mind can be open to a possibility. It gets you over that final hurdle so you can have an affirmation both your spirit and your ego can agree on.

“Affirmations don’t work (but you can fix it)” click to tweet

So, even though you have failed at affirmations before and even though others seem to get better results, you are open to the possibility that properly executed affirmations can help you make any change your heart desires. See what I did there?

Where are you getting affirmations right? Tell us about it by commenting below.

Photo credit: Adam Bronkhorst

Affirmations Don’t Work (and How to Fix It)
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5 thoughts on “Affirmations Don’t Work (and How to Fix It)

  • Permalink

    Hey Kenneth,
    thanks for providing this solution to the ineffective use of affirmations! I have been using affirmations for years now and have found some of them working well and others not so much… What I find really helpful is to use visualization with my affirmations. I read my sentence aloud and visualize a clear picture in my mind of how I want the situation to be. Then you add the feeling you would have in that situation, and that leaves a quite powerful impression.
    Keep up the work, I enjoyed the read!
    Nadine 🙂

  • Permalink

    Is it possible that ANY contrary-to-fact affirmation will be rejected by the mind?
    In other words should one affirm “I am progressing to a salary of $56,000” instead of “I earn $56,000”?

    • Permalink

      Sure, it’s possible. But it doesn’t happen in secret. You know if you are rejecting it and you can take appropriate action to dial in your affirmation in response. I would be cautious about statements like “I am progressing…” You can succeed at progressing by moving forward at a snail’s pace without ever arriving at your destination.

      • Permalink

        hi so what can you use instead of ‘i am starting’ or “i am progressing”

        • Permalink

          If you have had trouble starting something, begin your affirmation with “I am open to the possibility that I can start…” It can then progress to “I can start…” Finally, you can land at “I have started…”

          Focusing on “progressing” is a trap however. Anything could be labeled as progress and therefore there is no necessity to ever complete anything. Rather than focusing on progressing, focus on an interim goal, a specific milestone. Then center your affirmation on that. For instance, “I am progressing toward my Ph.D. in astrophysics” will only serve to keep you in school forever. Rather, set you next objective like this: “I am open to the possibility that I will nail the galaxy formation test on Thursday.” That is actual progress.


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