THE TRUTH ABOUT POSITIVE AFFIRMATIONS: this subject came up recently with a client, so I decided to do some research. Many of us remember with with fondness the hilarious, ridiculous Stuart Smalley from SNL, proposing that “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”
I have not, personally, used affirmations to boost my self-esteem, but I have instead focused on affirmations pointing to the positive things in my life. Remember how Oprah got the world writing Gratitude Lists every day?!
The Science behind Affirmations
After reading a range of articles, the findings on Positive Affirmations may surprise you! According to Dr. Joanne Wood and her team at the University of Waterloo, who published a study in the Journal of Psychological Science, Positive Affirmations only work well when you already have a basically good feeling about yourself. There seems to be a base level of self-esteem that needs to be in place in order for Positive Affirmations to work. Then, they can give you a boost to get you through hard times. If, however, you are unsure of yourself, anxious, ambivalent or even depressed, affirmations are found to be ineffective. And even further, they can actually cause more damage than good.
Why? From the HuffPost article Why Positive Affirmations Don’t Work, “The researchers suggest that, positive praise and affirmations, such as ‘I am a lovable person’ was incongruent with the mindset of those with low self-esteem… this led to feelings of conflict and just feeling bad… which then led to more negative thoughts about themselves.”
It depends on an individual’s experience of self worth
If you feel pretty secure with yourself, tap into the power of Positive Affirmations, and see how it impacts how you think and feel about what’s happening in your life.
It is possible to change your reality by changing your thinking!
On the other hand, if you tend to ruminate, are troubled by worries, negative thinking, or intrusive thoughts, you need to accept that these thoughts are showing up. Rather than fighting or avoiding them, learn to tolerate these thoughts. Understand that they are just thoughts and cannot hurt you.
Start with Neutral Statements
To work with a negative mindset, start by replacing a “positive” affirmation with a neutral statement.
Instead of: “Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better.” (1)
Try: “I have had better days, but I have also had worse. Today I am OK.”
Instead of: “I am beautiful, happy and I love myself.”
Try: “I am working on accepting myself just as I am.”
I’m reminded of the great line by Suzuki Roshi, “You are perfect just as you are, and you could use a little work.”
By introducing neutral statements–making certain these statements are reality-based–your brain will not have to deal with incongruity, a sense of lying to yourself. Nor will there be the need to repress bad feelings in order to maintain a certain self-image (thus removing fuel from the fire of Addiction). Instead, the well-worn neural pathways that make up your pattern of negative thinking can take a rest, as neutrality develops. This neutral path provides “sturdier footing for positive thinking to begin to tread lightly upon.”
Affirmations and Yoga
I have found a helpful You Tube audio that uses Positive Affirmations. When I was dealing with overwhelm and anxiety about taking my Mental Health Licensing exam at age 45, I practiced yoga postures of a restorative nature while listening to Solfeggio Healing Frequencies. In my body I experienced a flow of “positive energy,” ease, and ended up feeling so much better physically and psychologically. So perhaps bringing the body into the mix can really help the positive affirmations kick in. Give it a try, and hope it helps!
(1)Read here about the origin of this old chestnut