Pitfalls of affirmations

I was going through some old draft posts, where I started but never finished a post where I put a link to remind myself to respond to something later, and I came across a link to Creative Affirmations blog to an article called The Top 5 Affirmation Pitfalls.

Since I’ve been talking about affirmations lately, I thought this might be something good to talk about.

The “pitfalls” the author gives are:

  1. Affirming with words that do not promote feelings.
  2. Your affirmations are in future tense.
  3. Not saying affirmations.
  4. Not taking action.
  5. Doubt.
Some people claim that affirmations are magical, but there is a real psychological action to them.
Affirmations are a way of focusing your thoughts. It’s a way of helping to reprogram your subconscious thoughts.
I went looking for some research on affirmations, because so many people believe they help so many things, and I was surprised at what I found. 
I did find a 2009 study that indicates affirmations are helpful in combating depression and anxiety, but I also found a more recent study that indicates that the psychology of affirmations is more complicated than most believe.
If someone is a positive person with healthy self-esteem, the affirmations worked a little bit. But for people with low self esteem, some affirmations made them feel worse.
While I believe affirmations can have a positive effect, I can also see this point.
When I was in my deepest depressions, nothing helped. I read Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life  about 10 years ago, and I threw it across the room more than once. I don’t remember a lot of specifics, but it felt like “fake it till you make it” to me, and there was no way that was going to work for me at that point.

And I’m someone that believes in this stuff.

So, while affirmations may not help people who are clinically depressed or naturally negative thinkers, if you are trying to become more positive about things in your head, give them a try.

If they make you feel worse – by all means stop and get some real medical help.

But if they do help you feel better and help you focus on your goals, then make sure you use positive emotional words, keep them in the present tense, and work to make them come about.

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8 comments on “Pitfalls of affirmations
  1. Karen Grothe says:

    Whoa! It's so weird that you posted this today. I just saw a blog this morning about why affirmations can mess you up. The author says of affirmations: “Self-deception creates a cognitive dissonance so that, despite the positive-sounding phrasing, you’re creating inner tension and conflict.” This is probably just what happens to people who are depressed who try affirmations. She suggests a truthful positive self-talk rather than contrived affirmations: “So, then, speak the truth. Affirm your desire. Declare your intentions. Recall your successes. Your psyche will believe you. Your body will feel you. Your Soul will thank you for the straight-up communication.”
    http://www.positivelypositive.com/2013/01/24/why-%EF%BB%BF%EF%BB%BF%EF%BB%BF%EF%BB%BF%EF%BB%BF%EF%BB%BF%EF%BB%BFaffirmations-can-mess-you-right-up-and-what-to-say-to-yourself-instead/
    (Sorry for the super-long link.)

    Anyway, I just found it interesting that you read another blog discussing pitfalls of affirmations. Sounds like they have some similar concerns.

  2. Cool, I'll go read it.

    I did find this to be true when I was depressed. Before then, I really believed affirmations could be the key to a lot of things.

    When I was depressed, I sure tried affirmations.

    And they didn't work.

    That was part of my loss of faith at one point.

  3. I have read that when one frames positive affirmations in the future tense, and those future aspirations are not achieved, one loses confidence in one's own ability to affect the future outcome, which leads to despair. The article (sorry, I disremember where) suggests that one should instead envision specific shorter-term goals, acknowledge the difficulties between you and the goals, and plan systematically the surmounting of each individual difficulty thus acknowledged. “Fake it 'til you make it” and similar thinking only highlights problems if you should fail.

  4. Priska on another forum was having difficulty posting a comment, so I've copy/pasted her comment here:

    My affirmation all of those years ago was “I have the time, money and energy to create whatever it is I need in life.' For twenty or so years I believed it was working, that I actually had all of that.
    When I had my 'awakening' lol, I realized that I had the time, money and energy but no one else did (and I really didn't either), I ran myself and them into the ground with my high expectations. Nothing was ever good enough. But then, thats my story. All I know is that I have mellowed and am more accepting.

    She recently posted about mindfulness and positive thinking: http://www.letsboomon.com/can-positive-thinking-distort-your-view-of-reality-and-make-life-appear-worse/

  5. Anonymous says:

    To play devil's advocate…

    According to “The Progress Paradox”, by one Greg Easterbrook, those considered in 'poverty' in America are living better than 99.4% of humanity that's pre-ceeded us to current day.

    We can beat our heads, we can compound our own problems, but really, in the end, doesn't life warrant such? Is there not another way? Do we humans with out intelligent brains….how often do we over-think things?

  6. My therapist (I miss her!) used to say that just because someone is worse off than you, doesn't mean what you're going through isn't bad.

    Like the old, “There's starving kids in China, you know!” to make kids eat their dinner. There being starving kids in other countries doesn't make me not gag when eating something with cheese in it. 😛

    But you're right, we often over think things; especially people like us.

  7. Anonymous says:

    So is an affirmation a healthy “head f***”, or an unhealthy one? Inquiring minds want to know. For instance, if I say, “I WILL publish a book”, vs. “I CAN publish a book”, which is the more positive statement?

    Saying I WILL doesn't necessarily mean I have the belief that my book would sell, or of it even being worthy of publishing (with enough money you can publish anything), where as CAN, could imply belief in myself and my talent to the point that something I produce would be worthy of publishing on its own merit.

    Pitfalls? Aplenty. Such is a mind f*** any way you look at it. It's putting words to paper so you are constantly reminded of your goals/wants/plans. Such could stimulate action, while at other times such could inspire depression or worse, due to no fault of your own. Sometimes “life” is the ultimate deciding factor on YOUR plans. They don't always work out, regardless of your effort(s).

  8. *****So is an affirmation a healthy “head f***”, or an unhealthy one? Inquiring minds want to know.*****

    I think the answer is, “It depends.”

    According to the study quoted, then if you keep saying either one, but you aren't writing, that could create a cognitive dissonance which increases anxiety and becomes a negative MF.

    But if you're writing consistently, and you say either one of those, then you can use that as motivation to keep going.

    So, have you been writing? 😛

    **** Such could stimulate action, while at other times such could inspire depression or worse, due to no fault of your own. Sometimes “life” is the ultimate deciding factor on YOUR plans. They don't always work out, regardless of your effort(s).*****

    I think, again, it depends.

    If it makes you feel worse, then it's time to figure out another tactic to take.

    But if it motivates and gets you going, then use it.

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