January 13, 2022

Positive Affirmations don’t always Work—Here’s Why.


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We hear a lot about the power of positive affirmations and how they can be life-changing.

What we expect is waking up in the morning, looking at the mirror, telling ourselves that we’re beautiful, we’re loved, we’re happy…and voila! We are enjoying a spectacular day.

But how effective are affirmations, really?

I myself have tried this method continuously. What I have noticed is that on the days when I was already feeling good, it gave me a boost and motivation to move, nothing more than that. When I’m happy, I’m overconfident, and it seems that positive thoughts just flow on their own without me even trying.

But there were days when I felt down in the dumps. I stood in front of the mirror and what I could only see was an ugly face. No matter how many times I tried to tell myself that I’m beautiful, I just couldn’t see it. I’d try to convince myself that I was strong, but deep down, I still felt helpless.

I wrote down positive affirmations regularly and spread them in different places so that I could see them everywhere—this was a technique that I had learned. I made a list of the things that I was grateful for and read it every day, without even slight progress because I wasn’t doing actual work, and I wasn’t digging deep enough to search for the origin of those core beliefs.

And my sense of worthiness kept going downhill.

I’m not saying this applies to everyone. Maybe, for some people, affirmations do work. But I suppose for the majority, or for the ones who really need them, they don’t.

That’s because affirmations target the conscious level of your mind, not the unconscious—unless they were used during hypnosis, when a person is placed in a trance-like state, which enables them to respond to more suggestions.

Our beliefs are shaped by the traumas and experiences throughout the years—they cannot be altered by words. It would be like lying to ourselves.

Try to convince those who were neglected as kids that they are lovable; ask them to repeat this mantra for days or even years. What would change? Mostly, nothing.

That belief was deeply rooted in their unconscious mind due to years of abuse and since their early childhood. Telling themselves that they’re lovable might even make them feel worse. Their brain refuses to accept it.

If we create our affirmations based on reality, they might actually be extremely beneficial. Positive yet realistic affirmations.

We can start by asking ourselves if the belief we have is realistic, where it came from, what evidence we have to support it, and then come up with an alternative. But in my opinion, this is all still not enough.

What if we kept hearing that we’re losers while growing up?

It gets stuck in our unconscious mind, and we hold this belief into our adulthood, turning us into exactly that—losers. Because we’d be lacking the confidence it takes to skillfully finish the tasks we started, or we may be functioning in a state of fear, which is why we keep failing at everything we do. Every time we fail to achieve things, such belief in our intrinsic weakness confirms our view of reality. Our continual failures become our evidence of what we illusorily think we are.

Changing our beliefs is not an easy task. It takes effort and consistency. Thinking that it can be reversed by contradictory statements at the surface level only leads to more frustration.

I believe in actions. If we want a real transformation then we need to take action, even if we start with small steps. If we want to feel happy, then we can do something that makes us happy. If we want to feel beautiful, then maybe a little transformation in our appearance can help, such as getting a new haircut or wearing our favorite outfit. Any minor changes in our daily lives can have a huge impact on our emotions.

Of course, thoughts do affect our emotions significantly. But it can also happen the other way around. When we’re in a heightened stress-response state, our fears, anxiety, sadness, and all negative emotions may overtake the reasoning process. We might find ourselves unable to control our thoughts.

That’s why affirmations do not work for everyone nor in all situations.

What I’m saying is that we can start with words—words that lead to action, actions that create positive feelings, and feelings that change our perception of ourselves and our lives. This would make it easier for us to create new thoughts and actually believe them.

The sequence, well-thought ideas (words) and activity based on these words, trace out a positive pattern that informs our practice.

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