Positive Thinking & Affirmations – Why & When They Don’t Work

positive thinking and affirmations - BS?I’ve used affirmations for years, and I’ve seen many folks teach them.

So do affirmations actually “work”?

Sure they CAN, but you have to define what “they do work” means.  

Do they bring you total success and fulfillment? Hardly.

That’s where we need to define what we mean by affirmations “work”.

Let’s talk about when they “don’t work” first.

When Affirmations Go Wrong

Consider the story from Tom Campbell teacher and author of My Big TOE (Theory of Everything).  He talks about a man that set an intention (an affirmation) of getting $100K.

He wanted it so bad, that’s all he focused on.

Did he get his $100K?  He sure did, after his family died in car accident and he received an insurance check for $100K.

Clearly an affirmation of intention gone wrong.

And what about when they plain and simple just don’t work?  

When you are caught up in negative thoughts and try over and over the most positive affirmations to bring you what you want, and all you end up doing is feeling like a piece of doo-doo in the gutter, because all the affirmations do is remind you of what you don’t have?

Been there, done that.

Watch Out for Affirmation “BS Artists”

There are a lot of BS artists out there that spout the Law of Attraction and use affirmations as they “just work”.

That you can have anything you want if you just believe it enough, and can order from the universe like you’re ordering from a diner.

Total BS, because you don’t always know what’s best for your personal evolution on the surface, and deep down affirmations can create a deeper inner conflict that seems unresolvable, when there might be a better way, say by starting with where you are, instead of where you aren’t and want to be.

I think these folks are also painting a much prettier picture than they live, because it sells.

It goes along with my “quick fix” philosophy that we are taught to embrace easily, but never leads to happiness.

Though it may seem that I’m affirmation bashing here a bit, I’m actually a fan of positive thinking and affirmations in many ways, especially when it comes to soothing oneself in difficult times or when fear has overrun life somehow.

They also can work very well if used correctly, and thus my next point.

The Power of “Core” Affirmations

But these are affirmations based on core values like self-acceptance and self-love. Without this proper foundations, affirmations will always, always fall short (you’ll see the research further down in the article).

Not about becoming the richest person in the world, or having all this external power.

The problem with affirmations is that they can also fall in the category of “sugar over shit” where deeper issues or problems aren’t being dealt with directly, and the affirmations are just a way to cover them over.

Start thinking of positive affirmations this way…they certainly can make things more probable, but they don’t make them definite and if you don’t make them come true, you aren’t some kind of failure.

Yes, the human mind is very powerful, but so powerful that it controls reality that you can get whatever you want?

Please, that’s just straight up narcissism and doesn’t take into account the rest of the beings wishing, wanting and willing let alone the massive universe around us.

I’m going to be straight up here.

I think many of these folks that rely only on affirmations, especially of the “getting” nature, are pretty much delusional and they want to make a quick buck, or aren’t willing to meet people where they are at in terms of what they’re struggling with (i.e they’re lazy and shouldn’t be teaching people).

They have no idea how to teach someone the art of self-acceptance living without affirmations.

These folks are ignoring the times they don’t work, other things they are actually doing to get what they want (i.e. doing affirmations while taking heavy medication that masks their depression and/or anxiety, for example).

Worst of all they will blame the person that tries to use them as not “doing them enough times”.

Believe me I’ve hung out with people like this and I’ve even used affirmations for years…maybe they do get them to work.

But they certainly aren’t masters if they can’t teach others well.

So What’s Happening on a Deeper Level?

Affirmations can’t necessarily uncover what’s happening more deeply within you on a more unconscious level.

It takes raising your consciousness and that has a lot more to do with other personal development processes like meditation, contemplation, and deeper life intention work, rather than just some words on a page or said out loud.

I see positive affirmations as supportive thoughts, self-talk or statements to help guide one towards the desired destination in life, without the cost of enjoying the process of living in the moment.

They are far from the end-all be-all for making things happen.  When it becomes all about making the affirmations come true, and that you only “need to believe” then I think one is headed for troubles-ville, indeed.

I have noticed that there are plenty of times when they don’t work, because either something deeper is going on within me that I’m not seeing, or just don’t want to admit about myself.

This is where radical self-honesty and acceptance come into play.

For Times When Affirmation Don’t Work

I’ve used affirmations plenty in the past and to varying degrees of success. I’ve heard affirmations zealots that say “affirmations always work, just do them.” I’ve heard others say that “affirmations don’t work at all.”

I agree with both camps, but I think they either way positive thinking and affirmations have to be used in the right way, and not as a cookie cutter solution that they just work for everyone.

Here’s an interesting piece of research that shows how affirmations work well for people with high self esteem, but have the opposite effect for people with lower self-esteem, they actually make these people feel worse.

Research Article: When Positive Affirmations Don’t Work

So if you’re feeling great, then anything you say that makes you feel good, you keep feeling good. No shocker there.

But if you feel bad, then you’re just beating yourself with the happy stick as it were. You’re lying to yourself and you know it, it and affirmations in this case just remind you of what you don’t have.

One of the biggest problems is that in Western society we are taught to only feel good, chase pleasure and deny the pain or the negative.

The key here is to integrate positive and negative.

You see you won’t know what’s positive without referencing the negative, otherwise how would you know what’s positive?

So you must acknowledge the negative and respect it, otherwise you’re just repressing issues and lying to yourself.

Am I just complaining or do I have a solution? You better believe I have some freaking solutions!  Here they are.

Troubleshooting Affirmations to Make Them Work for You

1) Always Start with Self-Acceptance. Here’s the thing, when people use affirmations, most of the time it’s to get some external thing or result in their life to lead them to happiness.

It’s cool to want stuff, things and experience, I’m OK with that.

But it’s the long road to happiness, and to a fleeting happiness at that.

So accepting where you are here and now, actually gives you more freedom and flexibility to get what you want, without the struggle. Because if you don’t get those things or results, you’re still OK with your life and your self.

You don’t need no stinkin’ affirmations when you are coming from a place of radical self-acceptance.

Then affirmations or self-talk is like icing on the cake of your life.  Drop affirmations entirely (unless they are self-talk about self-acceptance, that’s the one caveat I’d endorse).

2) If Affirmations Aren’t Working, Try Rational Statements. These are great, great, great. Rational statements are something I learned from using cognitive-behavior therapy in overcoming my long-standing issues with social anxiety.

It’s a process where you include where you are at (self-accepting) but head in a positive direction.

So if you wanted to get a new job, but hate your current one, you could use a positive affirmations like “I find my dream job effortlessly and easily.”

The rational statement form would be “even though I don’t like my current job, it provides for me as a stepping stone to find my dream job/career.”  See the difference.

3) Hold Positive Affirmations Lightly, Don’t Make Them Gospel.  Again, using the affirmations as a map and a set of coordinates for where we’d like to go, but remember we can always change course to a different destination (goal or desired result).

4) Connect Affirmations to Your VALUES.   Much more powerful when connected to one’s values aka what deeply matters most to you in life.

I will soon construct a post on value-based living, as it has entirely shifted my life on this concept alone.

You might not even need affirmations as a reminder of your values and to stay on track with having a life you feel you TRULY want to live.

So that’s my take on why positive thinking and law of attraction style affirmations don’t always work, and some solutions to troubleshooting these methods.

End of the day…whatever works for you, affirmations or not, go for it.  Thoughts on why affirmations are good…or bad?  I’d love to hear them.

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Comments

  1. I love this post and enjoyed reading it. I have been reading and saying my daily affirmations now for the last 1 and half years and cannot live without them. I was very low and felt worthless and useless after a breakup. After visiting a Positive thinking workshop in the area I heard of Louise l. Hay and read her books and keep buying her calendars and little books. I love them. They have helped me to love myself again, to feel appreciated, to feel that I am someone, and to feel valued. I can walk arouud with my head high and enjoy life, and feel happy. I found myself again. The affirmations which work for me are all to do with life and myself not really material things. They make me happy and the day is good and I can make others happy. They help me to keep going and are part of my life.

    • David Hamilton says:

      Thanks Ute for your lovely response. So glad Louise’s work helped you so much, as it help me too.

  2. Well the first paragragh about a mans family dying because of his affirmations is seriously upsetting. That makes me never want to do any affirmations ever again!
    Thanks.

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