Positive affirmations are everywhere.
You know, short phrases you repeat to change yourself for the better.
Like I’m confident.
Have you tried using one?
You want to be more positive. Positive affirmations seem like a brilliant idea: repeat one and.. voilà! All better.
Instead, they feel like big fat lies. So you whack your pillow. Roll your eyes. Grumble.
Why do positive affirmations work for others, but not for you?
Continue reading to find out why and what you absolutely must do before positive affirmations can work for you.
How do positive affirmations work?
According to Louise Hay, positive affirmations send the message to your mind that you’re taking responsibility for changes in your life. External circumstances aren’t always the culprit of your failures.
Your internal dialogue—what you tell yourself on a daily basis—can dictate your success in relationships, family, money, work and health.
Note that some people use the word mantras to talk about positive affirmations. However, mantras are spiritual words or sounds often in Sanskrit that help you concentrate and deepen your meditation practice. Like om, love and peace. They’re not used to consciously rewire your brain towards a certain outcome.
So, the premise of positive affirmations? If you focus on positive thoughts, you’ll attract positive experiences into your life.
Even if you’re not into anything woo-woo, that’s fair enough. It makes sense that if you focus on positive thoughts, you’ll feel more empowered.
But it’s much more complex than that.
The #1 mistake people make about positive affirmations
Louise Hay says that you have to not only repeat or think positive affirmations as much as possible everyday, but you also have to feel good.
That’s a tall order for someone who struggles with their inner critic, that voice in your head that says you’re never good enough.
I remember how hopeless I felt when I used positive affirmations: You’re lying to yourself. Who does that? You’re dumb. I gave up. Then a light bulb went off: What if I embraced those negative thoughts? What could I learn?
If thinking I love myself all day makes you feel like an even bigger loser, please stop torturing yourself. Take a step back. That’s a sign that you have deeply-ingrained beliefs that aren’t serving you. Beliefs like I’m not good enough. I’m not worthy. I’m a failure.
The biggest mistake people make about positive affirmations is slapping them on top of their negative beliefs. According to this Forbes article, positive affirmations work at the surface level of your conscious mind, while your beliefs live in your subconscious.
So if you believe deep down that you’re unworthy of success, anything you try to accomplish will be stained by that belief. Which means that you’ll struggle with attaining success.
However, it’s not the end-all. You can use positive affirmations to highlight parts of you that need to be healed, so that you can live a more peaceful and fulfilling life.
10 steps to make positive affirmations work for you
1. Relax in a quiet spot.
On your sofa, in an office chair or in bed, whatever you like. Make sure it’s quiet enough so that you can hear yourself thinking (you’ll see what I mean below).
2. Pick a positive affirmation.
Some examples are: I love and accept myself. I’m beautiful. I’m worthy. I’m good enough. I’m confident.
3. Say the positive affirmation.
You can say it in your mind or out loud. If you like to write, you can jot it down in your journal. Some encourage saying the positive affirmation while looking at yourself in a mirror.
4. Observe your thoughts.
Right after you say a positive affirmation, thoughts, emotions or sometimes physical sensations arise. (Though don’t beat yourself up if it’s not the case.)
Simply notice any resistance. Do you get a sinking feeling in your stomach? Does your throat tighten? What emotions are you feeling? What thoughts race through your mind?
5. Allow your thoughts to flow.
It’s no use resisting negative thoughts and emotions. If you allow them to just be, they’ll oftentimes float away on their own. Brace yourself though for a barrage of put-downs like You can’t do it. Stop being silly, loser. Give up now.
Feeling overwhelmed? Try these 10 quick ways to calm down.
6. Contemplate why this positive affirmation feels false.
So if you picked the positive affirmation, I’m good enough, ask yourself, Why do I think I’m NOT good enough? Consider the times you felt not good enough.
Did parents, caregivers or teachers neglect you? Did a classmate bully you as a kid? Does it seem impossible to satisfy your boss? Does your partner criticize your body?
7. Accept past hurts.
It hurts so much, but even more so when you hang on. Take it from Anaïs Nin: And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. Reckless sobbing and journaling are encouraged. 😉
Also, take a look at 5 Reasons Why We Hold On to the Past + How to Let Go.
8. Look out for signs that validate the positive affirmation.
With the example of I’m good enough, pay attention to big and small things: I made a healthy breakfast and took a walk (I’m taking care of myself). I strive to do my best at work. I’m learning how to communicate better in my relationship.
Have fun with this! Treat it like a game and see how many moments you can catch throughout your day that validate the positive affirmation.
You can also make a more realistic and compassionate affirmation.
9. Enjoy how good it feels.
You’ve excavated parts of yourself that needed to heal and took care of your emotional wounds. You’ve confronted difficult emotions. And now you’re moving on to better things.
That’s no mean feat! Take the time to acknowledge your progress.
10. Repeat steps 3 to 9 until the positive affirmation feels true.
Old beliefs die hard. It’s normal to cycle through the same issue a million times before you feel at peace with it. Each time you visit an emotional wound, you heal a little bit more.
If you have trouble using positive affirmations…
Are you still struggling? Steps 5 to 8 are the most challenging. Don’t sweat it. Expect setbacks and try one of these tips below.
- Do NOT force yourself to think positively. It seems counterintuitive, but you won’t make progress if it feels fake. Allowing negative thoughts to flow heals, not self-deception (see next tip).
- Embrace your negative thoughts. They come from old emotional wounds and need your attention to heal. Breathe deeply and listen lovingly to your negative thoughts as if you were holding a little child crying over her bad day. Check out my no-nonsense guide on overcoming negative thoughts.
- Reframe your past. It’s not easy to sit with pain from a negative experience. But alas, if you want to move on, you must do it fully. Plain and simple. Ask yourself, What has this experience taught me? Nothing is ever lost. Apply those lessons to your life and harvest the benefits.
- Be patient. Remember, you’re undoing years of old habits. Changing your mindset takes time and practice. As long as you stick to making progress, results will come. Need personal guidance? Check out my 4-week, 1:1 coaching package The Self-Compassion Program.
So, are positive affirmations worth the effort?
Yes! If you use them as a tool to understand yourself better, positive affirmations can shine some light on what needs to heal and which beliefs hold you back.
Forcing yourself to fit into a positive affirmation is like squeezing your sweet body into a pair of too-small jeans. Then having the button fly off and ricochet you in the head.
Please don’t blind yourself.
Instead, use positive affirmations to gauge your mindset.
Accept where you are.
Let the truth set you free.
About the author
Annie Moussu is a mindfulness-based life coach who helps women let go of perfectionism, self-doubt and people-pleasing. Sign up for her newsletter to get blog articles twice a month.