I hate affirmations.
Now, “hate” might be a strong word. That’s usually a word I reserve for spiders and water chestnuts. And really neither of those things are all that horrible, I suppose. I do HATE hearing the sounds of people eating. It’s a thing. You can read all about it here.
Anyway, affirmations aren’t my favorite thing. They are something you learn early on in the personal development world and I just never took to them. There was just something about them that rubbed me the wrong way. They have always felt like a little too much talk and not enough action OR just enough talk to keep you taking action that might be helpful.
You know what affirmations are, right? They are “statements that we tell ourselves in order to spark self-change. They are designed to alter our beliefs about ourselves such that they are more positive.” People who use affirmations in their lives often use them daily.
Some examples of affirmations:
“My life is fun and rewarding.”
“I am smart and capable of accomplishing anything.”
“I am grateful for everything I have.”
Now it might seem weird to not be a fan of a tool that seems so positive. I mean, what’s the harm of saying those statements above?
If affirmations work for you, then I encourage you to keep using them. Stop reading right now and go back to your affirmations.
However, if affirmations have never been your thing either, keep reading. I have thoughts on a different approach. But first, let me explain why I don’t like affirmations.
1. Affirmations are not enough
That’s not to say that other tools in the mental health toolbox are enough all by themselves, but affirmations are so “easy” to do that they are often the only thing that people do.
Do you know that saying by Abraham Maslow?:
If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.
When it comes to the self-help world, affirmations are one of the first things people learn. Everything else after that is much harder so often times people’s mental health toolbox just has the affirmation tool in it.
So when they approach problems, they just see another affirmation they have to say to overcome that problem when perhaps additional tools may be necessary or more useful.
Behind on your mortgage and foreclosure is pending? Try this one: “Money is coming to me with little or no effort.”
Broke up with your boyfriend? Try this one: “I know with every fiber of my being that the Universe is bringing me only the most supportive, loving and awesome relationships.
Unexpected and unwanted pregnancy? How about this one: “I welcome the changes in my body.”
While I made up the scenarios above, the affirmations are recommended affirmations for these kinds of topics. I mean, really? If I’m heading to foreclosure, I’m gonna DO something to make sure the money comes to me and it might take some effort.
Maybe these affirmations could be helpful, but there are lots of other tools that could be helpful to have in your toolbox to help you with these scenarios much more effectively:
- Personal reflection
- Asking for feedback
- Talk therapy
- Seeking the help of qualified professionals
Bottom line. Make sure you have more tools in your toolbox in order to make affirmations a more useful tool.
2. Affirmations reinforce the “you just need to change your mindset” myth
Sometimes your mindset is just fine and your circumstances are shitty. It’s ok if you don’t have positive feelings about your circumstances. That doesn’t mean you have a bad mindset.
If you are excessively beating yourself up in your head or excessively blaming everyone else for your problems (where excessive = any amount that is not productive) then mindset adjustments are necessary.
But if genuinely shitty stuff is happening in your life, it’s ok to not feel great about it.
I have a client going through a really hard time. If I listed out everything they were dealing with you’d be like “dang, I don’t think I’d even get out of bed”. And they were worried about their mindset because they weren’t feeling great about all the shitty stuff that they were going through. They were feeling sad, angry, scared and frustrated. And anyone looking in from the outside would say “Yeah, that totally makes sense, I’d feel that way too”.
Of anyone I’ve ever worked with, this client has one of the most positive mindsets I’ve ever encountered. Not because they are a Pollyanna looking at the world through rose-colored glasses, but because they are willing to try things, to fail and to learn and grow. They don’t judge themselves for their failures and they don’t blame others. They take responsibility for their actions.
In other words, you can have a great mindset AND still feel like shit.
You have to remember what our brains are doing on a regular basis. On the daily your brain is trying to scare the shit out of you. That’s it’s job. It’s supposed to keep you alive and that means that it’s going to blast doom and gloom messages at you all the time. For early homo sapiens it was screaming “Watch out for that saber tooth tiger” when you heard a noise. Now it’s screaming “They’re all going to realize that you don’t know what the hell you’re doing. You’re a fraud!!!”
And then you bring affirmations into the mix and it’s like blasting a “positive mindset” radio station with “Walking On Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves on endless loop in response to your brain’s doom and gloom radio. It just creates a lot of noise.
Lives worth living will have low points that will lead to hard feelings. When those low points hit, do yourself a favor and back off the affirmations. It’s ok to just feel like shit for a minute.
Which takes me to my third reason for hating affirmations…
3. Affirmations encourage you to keep charging ahead when a pause might be best
So you aren’t getting where you want to go in your job no matter how many times a day you say “I am smart and capable of accomplishing anything”?
You start your day every day with that affirmation and just keep getting after it just like you did the day before.
Maybe when you are trying really hard at something and it’s not working, just saying “I am smart and capable of accomplishing anything” while you keep banging your head against the obstacles doesn’t really make sense.
It might make sense to pause and take stock of things. Ask for help. Consider other solutions. Ask yourself if this is the path you really want to keep going down.
That client I mentioned earlier, they had to pause. They took a beat or two to take stock of their feelings. They let those feelings wash over them. It sucked. It didn’t feel great. It was scary because they didn’t know how long they’d feel that way.
They could have just pushed forward screaming out their affirmations in order to block out the “bad” feelings and “fix” their mindset, but that would have just been denial. Those feelings would surface eventually, so they might as well be intentional about feeling them.
This pause helped them move forward in a much more intentional way than they were when they thought they had to change their mindset and just push forward.
It’s OK to pause. You don’t have to keep pushing. Sometimes rest is best.
When it comes down to it, any tool could be ineffective by itself. Any tool could make you think there’s something wrong with your mindset. Any tool could lead you to think that pushing forward is best when a pause might be better. Affirmations are an easy target because they are often the first and, too often, the only thing people learn in their personal growth journey.
As I said before, if affirmations work for you, keep doing them. In fact, make them the best you can. There are lots of resources out there to help you write effective affirmations.
And if affirmations don’t work for you, it’s ok. They don’t work for people for lots of reasons. If you are one of those people consider another approach:
- Make room for the unpleasant feelings rather than suppressing them
- Take a moment to pause and take stock of your current reality…without judging what you uncover (If your current reality is big ol’ mess, consider joining me on the GYST journey)
- Tap into your values…who do YOU want to be regardless of how everyone else is acting?
- And then take action in line with those values
It can take time to learn how to pause and sometimes people need help uncovering their values and figuring out what it looks like to take action in line with their values. If you are already on this path of self-discovery and personal growth and need help with some of this, you might be ready for coaching with me. You can go here to learn more about what that might look like.
Do affirmations work for you? Tell me all about it in the comments below.