This Is Why Positive Affirmations Don’t Work (And What Actually Does)

null
Thought Catalog / Unsplash

Thoughts are powerful; they create your reality. Control your thoughts and you create your reality. A positive mindset begets positive end results. Positive affirmations are good. These popular tenets are espoused by the likes of Louise Hay, Napoleon Hill, Anthony Robbins and countless other self-help gurus.

The problem is, positive affirmations don’t actually work. Consider the last time you really wanted something to happen. It could be a dream job, an ideal relationship or even a parking space in the city.

Having learned from the best, you used positive affirmations in the ways suggested. You wrote your desired outcome on a card, kept it on your person at all times and repeated the phrase over and over in your head. The end results of your efforts were probably not the ones you were looking for.

Having failed, you might have berated yourself. You didn’t do the affirmations correctly, you were somehow undeserving, or even: “it was meant to be”.

The Problem With Positive Affirmations…

The reason positive affirmations don’t work is that they target the conscious level of your mind, but not the unconscious. If what you are trying to affirm is incongruent with a deeply held negative belief, then all that results is an inner struggle.

Let’s say you believe that you are “ugly and worthless” – a commonly held belief by depressed people all over the world. This belief may feel deeply and irrevocably true, no matter what the actual reality might be.

For example, at the peak of her career Jane Fonda was held to be one of the most beautiful women in the world, yet, as her autobiography reveals, she judged her physical appearance as inadequate and struggled with eating disorders for decades.

Cringing when being paid a compliment is because “I know it isn’t true.” Imagine how excruciating this exercise would feel: Look at yourself in the mirror and say out loud: “I am beautiful, inside and out. I love myself”.

If you deeply believe and feel that you are ugly and worthless, it will set off an inner war. With each positive declaration, your unconscious will cry out, “it’s not true, it’s not true!”

This conflict uses up a great deal of energy and creates massive tension in the body. The end result is that the negative belief becomes stronger as it fights for survival and what you really desire fails to manifest.

So What Does Work?

So if affirmations don’t work, what does? The good news is that there is a simple method you can use, apply immediately and have instant and excellent results.

A groundbreaking study holds the key. It sheds light on the effectiveness of declarative versus interrogative self-talk (Senay, Albarracín & Noguchi, 2010).

Declarative self-talk is about making self-statements, either positive (e.g. affirmations) or negative (e.g. core beliefs). In contrast, interrogative self-talk is about asking questions.

In the study, four groups of participants were asked to solve anagrams. Before completing the task, the researchers told them that they were interested in handwriting practices and asked them to write 20 times on a sheet of paper either: “I will”, “Will I”, “I” or “Will.” The group that wrote “Will I” solved nearly twice as many anagrams as any of the other groups.

From this and other similar studies the researchers conducted, we learn that asking ourselves is far more powerful than telling ourselves something when we wish to create successful end results.

Questions And Answers

Questions are powerful because they probe for answers. They remind us of the resources we do have and they activate our curiosity. All that is required is a simple tweak!

Let’s say you are about to give a presentation and you’re feeling nervous about it. You may find yourself declaring: “I suck at presentations, they never go well for me”.

Alternatively, you may give yourself a positive pep talk: “I am delivering a great presentation that inspires my audience”. Both are declarative statements that apply a kind of external pressure to the self and shut down the possibility of accessing the inner resources and creativity needed for success.

However, tweak the above statements so they become questions: “Do I suck at presentations? Have they ever gone well for me?” Or: “Will I deliver a great presentation that inspires my audience?”

Potential answers may be:

“I get shy and nervous and people switch off when I talk. However, in my last presentation, I made a point that people found interesting and I really had their attention. How could I expand on that?”

“The last presentation that I did went well. What did I do that worked and how could I do more of that?”

To Sum Up…

This powerful strategy works better than affirmations because it acknowledges your negative thoughts and feelings and reduces the need to fight them. You start to become an ally to your unconscious mind, which in turn will elicit its cooperation. And the unconscious mind is fantastic at coming up with creative stuff!

Follow this process to effectively apply the interrogative self-talk strategy:

1. Draw your awareness to any declared self-statements, whether positive or negative

2. Tweak these statements into questions; e.g.: “I am” into “Am I?”

3. Mull over possible answers to these questions and come up with additional questions. “What if..?” produces a particularly fruitful line of inquiry

Eliciting your curiosity and creativity using this method will put an end to that draining inner struggle, which in turn will reduce the tension in your body and help you relax. It won’t cost you anything and it will position you to reap excellent end results! TC mark

More From Thought Catalog

Calming CBD Dog Treats

Looking to calm your dog down without embarrassing yourself or having to get prescription medication? 100% THC free, lip-smacking peanut butter flavor, legal in all US states.

“My dog is my best friend and knowing that she had separation anxiety was killing me. Knowing that her CBD oil keeps her at ease while I’m at work or out is a relief. For both of us.”
— Kendra Syrdal

Thought Catalog readers get 20% off using coupon code: ANXIETY20

Buy CBD dog treats
This Is Why Positive Affirmations Don’t Work (And What Actually Does) is cataloged in , , , , , , , ,