How Do Positive Affirmations Work? They Mostly Don’t

How do positive affirmations work? What makes so many people trust in all of that advice in the first place?

These are some very good questions I couldn’t help but consider when my condition was at its lowest point.

Tell me if you ever heard one of these pretty little sentences:

  • “I forgive those who have harmed me”
  • “I am brave and I can stand up for myself”
  • “I will succeed at whatever it is that I am doing”
  • “I was blessed with family and friends”
  • “I can conquer any weakness”
  • “Every day makes be better than I was the one before”

The list goes on and on, but the main point remains as it is.
Positive affirmations are basically things that you tell yourself, time and time again, in order to stay positive.

Sounds familiar? It should, most of us do it to some degree.
We would all like to believe in ourselves, so what’s the harm in simply convincing yourself to do just that?

I asked myself the very same question, and upon finding no damaging drawbacks I decided to do just that.
As you may know from my article about the law of attraction, I do not believe in the idea that our thoughts shape our experiences.

Rather, I think that our experiences are what shapes our thoughts. People aren’t just being naturally negative, something must have pushed the down that road.

As such, I believe that taking action is the only way to be happy or having meaning.
Merely thinking happy thoughts isn’t going to get you any closer to being happy.

I am about to make a similar argument for positive affirmations since they are within the “law of attraction” category.

hope love and faith

Why do positive affirmations work?

Before making my point about positive affirmations, I will talk about why they do work in some cases.
The method isn’t useless per say, it’s just not as useful as the alternatives.

They push you into action

How many times in your life were you stuck in a certain “I want to but…” scenario?
Too many to count, I bet.

From personal experience, similar situations tended to happen to me whenever I was faced with large social interactions.

I wanted to prove to myself that I can suffer through these interactions just far, but my brain wouldn’t stop nagging me.

My brain would nag me to not do that, imagining worst-case scenarios left and right.
As such, I needed a positive affirmation to push me into action, and in similar issues, you could argue that they are very useful.

Your brain tends to make excuses for things it wants to avoid, so the ability to convince it otherwise (briefly) is important.

By doing so you could force yourself into action by taking an impulsive decision, one that wouldn’t be possible without a positive affirmation.

Under these circumstances, you could argue that positive affirmations are useful, and I would agree.

The power of simple belief

A placebo is a type of treatment that is meant to deceive the patient.
It’s a type of pill that actually does nothing, but the patient is being told about how strikingly helpful it is to their condition.

Yet, placebos tend to work just as well as regular medicine at times.
Why is that? Because of the patients’ sheer faith and nothing more.

You may be doubtful, but even Harvard had to recognize the effects of the placebo, the power of believing in something.

To put it into perspective, when a placebo was compared to an antidepressant, only 43% of test subjects showed any preference of one over the other.
The remaining 57% failed to recognize which is which.

Why am I telling you this? Because of the fact that positive affirmations can and will help you if you believe in them, the process of faith is mostly unconscious, though.

Keep in mind, they won’t help you directly, but simply believing that you are making your condition better is already a positive step to take.

Why don’t positive affirmations work?

Truth be told, I wanted to write a bit more about how positive affirmations work, but there is nothing really more to say.

From a purely researched point of view, positive affirmations can be helpful under somewhat specific conditions only.

Conditions that may never be met.
The basis for my argument against positive affirmations is much more vast.

You aren’t the boss of your brain

That’s one reason that I discuss often.
The truth is that you can’t control your mind in any direct way.
As I have said in that article, most of your processing power isn’t in your control.

In fact, you only control your consciousness and your conscious mind.
To put that into perceptive, your unconscious mind is five to six times larger.

With the unconscious mind, the one responsible for repressed memories and behavior, being almost as large, you really don’t stand a chance.

As such, simply telling yourself time and time again that you are doing well means relying on your willpower.
Considering how badly the conscious mind stands up to the unconscious and subconscious… yeaaahhh…

Positive thinking comes from positive experiences

That’s another thing that I believe in.
You see, whenever we experience something positive we tend to feel happier and more satisfied.

If you feel happy, and then do something that makes you feel less happy, then you are going to feel pretty bad.
That pattern doesn’t work the other way around, and that’s the real kicker.

Like I said before, your thoughts are fragile and are subject to change.
Your actions and behavior are unconscious in nature and will dictate what you feel.

That premise doesn’t work the other way around because of that – you can’t just say something to yourself and feel better because of it over time.

Even if you do, the slightest smack from reality will destroy that notion.
If you told yourself that you need to get to know a few people, and they are being complete jerks to you as soon as you try, you are going to lose your confidence, yeah?

On the other hand, if you walk up to those people willingly and they insult you, you will walk away and the damage will be far lower.

You can’t just fake it until you make it, it’s obvious if your confidence is real or if it’s not.
The same applies to taking action when compared to positive affirmations.

So how do you learn to improve your mental condition? By developing the right habits of course!

The sheer disappointment of failure

There was a time that I believed that both optimists and pessimists had an idiotic viewpoint about life.
I still do, but for very different reasons.

Optimists don’t account for failure, while pessimists don’t account for anything but failure.
In this case, your normal mindset is likely pessimistic, while positive affirmations give you a supposedly optimistic mindset.

Trying to go from one extreme to the other is kind of dumb since neither is good, to begin with.
Here’s the deal, if you tell yourself something fail to follow through with it, your condition will become worse.

Back in the circus elephants are being raised from a young age into a very strict environment.
At an early age they try to escape but are too weak to do so, so over time they simply give up.
Even when they grow into their physical prime, to become fine specimens, they still don’t try to escape.
Why? They don’t believe that they can.

When they were younger they tried to, they wanted to, but they grew to escape their “reality” even though it has vastly changed since those days.

They never challenged the circus and their cages again. For that reason, that excuse-based mindset is called “elephant thinking”.

What does it have to do with anything? Positive affirmations are the same!
As we discussed before, you don’t control your brain (directly) and you don’t become happy over time because of that.

If you tell yourself that you improve and how very capable you are, and then fail, you won’t find it in you to stand up again.

Telling yourself lies in order to accomplish your goals (“I can do this!”) will only prove you wrong and knock your confidence down.

Success is systematic, it builds up, it’s not an event and shouldn’t be treated as one. Do yourself a favor and be realistic, avoid both ends of the spectrum since neither will do you any good.

Success takes actionSuccess takes action

I am not telling you to drop them

Look, positive affirmations are worth a shot, yet if you base your entire treatment around positive affirmations…
Well, you might have a problem there.

Although they can help, and you shouldn’t consider them your main weapon. Many online gurus would claim otherwise, but I am keeping it real.

I got a lot of pretty nasty backlash for my no-nonsense approach, but my facts are yet to fail me thus far.
Hopefully, they will serve you just as well.

Here’s a quick question, though – What was your last accomplishment?

By that I mean, what was the last thing you tried and succeeded in? We all need to be reminded of how awesome we are, so why not remind yourself that?

The law of attraction isn’t complete nonsense, so make sure to write your answers in the comment section – I read every single one of them!

If you got any questions you would like to ask me personally make sure to write an email and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

Email: [email protected]

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6 Replies to “How Do Positive Affirmations Work? They Mostly Don’t”

  1. Hmmm this was an interesting approach. Although I’m not sure I 100% agree with you, it’s an interesting way to see things.

    I agree that people are not intrinsically negative. Something has to have happened to them to put them in such a foul mood all the time. Often these traumas can be difficult to rise above to learn to again see the world in a more positive manner.

    However, I do believe that positive affirmations have an effect. Probably not the “cure”, but baby steps in the right direction is still progress, right?

    For example…. people are often weighed down by their physical appearances. Whether it be weight, blemishes, or body shape – most people have some sort of insecurity about their bodies. When I have days where I look in the mirror and think, “Ugh.. you’re disgusting” I generally clothe myself in something baggy and ugly not giving a second thought to the rest of the world and their miserable thoughts about me. That act in itself puts me in a bad mood for the rest of the day.

    Other days, I’ll look in the mirror and again think I’m disgusting. But instead of wallowing in it, I put on some nice clothes, do my hair, and make myself look as good as I can. Then I’ll look in the mirror and say, “Not to bad, eh? You clean up nice!” These days I’m guaranteed to be in a better mood.

    It’s all up to me and how I want to talk to myself and treat myself. So I think there’s a lot more to this positive self talk thing than meets the eye.

    Just a thought, anyway. 🙂

    1. Sup Christen?

      I agree with you that positive affirmations may be useful, but they are just empty words unless you take action to back them up.

      In the case you discribed, you can take a bunch of different steps to correct your problem. Here are a few ideas.

      Cheers, Vlad!

  2. Interesting post! I tend to agree with you about most of it. I know that I am being highly sarcastic with myself when I say things like “I can do this!” and I know there is no chance of it, but at least it makes me laugh!
    I have the “daily affirmation” via the lovely Alexa dot, and it at least makes me feel good for a couple minutes, but it’s hard to remember to repeat it through the day.
    I enjoyed reading about the way the mind works in your post, good job!

    1. Hello Abrielle!

      It’s great to hear about your experiences!
      It’s true, though, sticking to “tell yourself that” as a method is a pretty bad tactic overall.

      Cheers, Vlad!

  3. Hello there.
    I do like your insights into affirmations. Your take on it is slightly different to what most people tell and what most people believe.
    But I got to give you credit for that.
    I do think that people read into the concept and put their own twist on things.
    I am interested in these things, such as spirituality, ‘law of attraction’ etc.
    I have also read books on hypnotherapy and a system called NLP (neuro-linguistic programming).
    I do believe the affirmations you put there will be better for some people, as everybody is different.
    Also to put ’emotion’ behind the affirmations as they can seem dull and useless. And put in consistent practice.
    NLP concept explains this, and I’ve tried this personally and they work.

    1. Hello,

      That is actually a pretty interesting idea, I don’t know much about NLP but I’ll be sure to look into it.

      Cheers, Vlad!

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