Do Positive Affirmations Work? (And What to Do if They Don’t)

Positive Affirmations: True Power or New Age Gibberish?

Do positive affirmations work?

Or is it just an alternative thinking approach popularized by self-help gurus and life coaches, one that will fizzle out when the next hot thing comes around?

buddha-born-grow-to-be

I was standing in the kitchen the other day, brewing my tea, forcing a smile and repeating to myself in a low voice, “I’m a good person. I’m a good person. I am a GOOD PERSON!!”

Then I waited to feel better. Naturally, you wait a few seconds, everyone knows that. Even magic is not instantaneous. (Right?)

Nothing. I still felt judgmental and full of rage about something that has had me in tight knots for a while. Don’t fret, I won’t bother you with that, it’s not relevant.

What’s relevant here is whether positive affirmations work?

I love the idea of affirmations. I write about it, read books and articles on it, and say them without tiring. They are soothing to my heart and pleasant to the ear. I share them with my coaching clients and we come up with custom affirmations fit for their particular struggle.

The other weekend, I even got my husband and father-in-law repeating “I’m a great golfer. I hit the ball well. I putt like nobody’s business.” over and over before their golf tournament (and what do you know? They won against major golfers … but that could’ve been just a coincidence, right?).

If you’ve been in love at least once, you know that loving the idea of something is quite a different thing than loving something itself. To love something, you must believe in it.

Do I Believe in these Affirmations Now?

At first, I didn’t want to believe in affirmations at all. Between us, much as I hate admitting such things on a blog all about positivity, when I first learned about affirmations, they seemed nothing more than stupid little phrases that you say to yourself in the hopes of just feeling better.

Even if it worked, I didn’t want to FEEL better. I wanted solutions to my problems!!

What made the affirmations even more ridiculous to my beginner mind was that you use the present tense – such as I am beautiful and strong – to affirm their power in the now and not in some distant future.

This made them sound even less believable. I mean, when I feel rotten, it’s easier to believe “I will be a good person.” as in, someday, way down the road, as opposed to “I am a good person right now”, when you clearly don’t feel like one.

So Do Affirmations Work or Not? Just Tell Me.

How exactly are mere little phrases supposed to change a bad situation around or prepare us better for the ups and downs of life?

And you can’t answer that fair and square if you have only tried them on a happy day. On bright days, when life is lovely and the sun is shining, well of course affirmations are only going to make you feel good. You’re already feeling great. You just feel greater!

But it’s on that rainy Tuesday afternoon, when you have had a tiff with your beloved, and feel trapped in your cubicle job, it’s in that moment that you really need something to work and work fast. You want to feel better AND be dealing with a better situation.

You know, I would have loved nothing more than sticking to my first stubborn thoughts such as:

- Affirmations are too simple to work.
- They won’t work for me.
- I am different and so is my situation.
- I need a more serious approach to my problems.
- Leave me out of your new age nonsense.

And on and on and on. Oh the silent damage of negative thoughts!

Thankfully, I decided it would be ignorant to dismiss something without really giving it a try. So I started applying these 100 positive affirmations to my life and my daily situations without pause, and this is what happened:

The moment I started to believe that they work, they did.

A 4 Step Shortcut to Applying Affirmations Right Away

Let’s get practical for a minute. The mind can play tricks on us so it helps to ground ourself with a process (so we outsmart the mind naturally ha ha!).

If you are a new or a beginner to affirmations, use this 4 step simple shortcut to applying affirmations to your daily life:

1. Remove the negative affirmation from your vocabulary.
2. Replace with nothing at first. Get used to saying nothing at all.
3. Replace with the opposite, the positive affirmation.
4. Repeat the process. Once or twice is not enough. Rinse and repeat.

Example never hurt: If you are going to do yoga for the first time, your mind will likely blurt out one of these annoying negative (and completely untrue) phrases such as “I’m not flexible!”, “I can’t touch my toes.”, “Yoga isn’t for me.” Those are your negative affirmations. Your first step is to shut them up. Don’t say them out loud or to yourself. When you are used to not saying that and saying nothing at all, then slowly add your positive affirmation – the opposite of the negative – such as “I AM flexible.”, “I CAN touch my toes.” and, that’s right, “Yoga IS for me!”

yoga-camel

Here’s the thing. If you go into affirmations “expecting” them to work, if you are there to “see proof” first before you believe, you will not only be disappointed, you will be sick of hearing your voice repeating what will sound like nonsense to your brain.

But if you believe first without proof, which is another way of saying if you have faith, complete faith in the power of positive affirmations and in the magic of believing first what you want to manifest, you will surpass your own highest expectations of yourself.

That’s the shift.

For the mind that inquires some proof, well, it just so happens that science tends to side with affirmations. Dr. Mona Lisa Schulz worked closely with the beloved Louise Hay and shares her thoughts on why affirmations work from a science perspective.

Why to Believe in Affirmations First

It is your mind you need to get onboard here, my dear, not your heart or your body. It’s that stubborn head resting on top of the shoulders that rules and it’s the very thing that should be quiet and listening sometimes.

Start by listening and observing your body, your overall sense of well-being, even your breathing, after you have done your affirmations.

Start observing how you behave towards others and how they perceive you.

Start by nudging out the negative voice that creeps from the background to drown out your affirmation, acknowledge it without giving it power.

Start by all of this, one small step at a time, one tiny little affirmation per day.

Start your day with these morning affirmations before you get out of bed or these safe driving affirmations before you get in your car. Or make up your own.

And then, don’t be surprised when you wake up that inner voice that has wanted to come alive for a long time, the inner voice that says to you exactly what Marianne Williamson said many years ago. You know the words. You know the message. But now you will begin to believe it:

It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?

Listen you wonderful thing, I am not saying this is easy, or that affirmations fix everything with a poof of magic. I am saying you are a beautiful confident person – that’s a fact – and the only work you have to do is believe it. I made you a FREE confidence building course to help you on this journey, and I’m taking my own course along with you, because we can all use more of that inner confidence. Grab it below:

Get Confident in 21 Easy Steps


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  • Melly Deen

    Thank you for writing this post, Farnoosh. I have been skeptical too but I wouldn’t have admitted it like you ;)) Now too late. And I think it’s really important to ask these questions because it’s natural to wonder if the affirmations work or don’t work. They are so popular now but do they really work? I like the final assessment you came up with …. They work as long as we go in believing them.

    • http://www.ProlificLiving.com Farnoosh

      Dear Melly, it’s okay I won’t tell anyone hon! And do come up with your own assessment by trying them to see if you get the beautiful results that I talk about here…. and keep me posted. Thanks for sharing your insights.

  • http://www.siviking.com Ragnar

    It really depends on what you want to focus on. Sometimes affirmations can be vital for mental health. But if you use it to distract yourself from the original goal, like giving up early on weight loss by telling yourself you look good, that’s not a good thing in my eyes.

    Universally healthy positive affirmation, to me, goes along the lines of “I can do it, I can change” or “I CAN lose weight.”. Or simply “I am unique, awesome, a genius and INVINCIBLE” (Well maybe that last one should be used with utmost caution.)

    (The following is just a semi-crazy theory, read for entertainment purposes only.) Also I think it can lead to completely unfounded arrogance if you overdo it. I’ve met some people that are completely unable to interpret themselves at fault, even when they blatantly did something wrong. And while I never managed to become close enough to these kinds of people to ask what was actually going on, I used to imagine that they’ve achieved semi-brainwashing through positive affirmation.

    • http://www.ProlificLiving.com Farnoosh

      Ragnar, great to see you again … I know what you mean but I don’t see affirmations that way – sure it can be misused just like everything in life and that’s a great warning – I suppose we should add affirmations are for SMART people ;)! Okay I am being clever, but really, affirmations don’t mean poof-magic and they certainly don’t absolve us of doing the work. Well-said Ragnar.

      • http://www.siviking.com Ragnar

        Just let me clarify, my theory was that their surroundings had always been excessively supportive. So much so, in fact, that it lead to instinctive positive affirmation the minute they’re accused of something. But that’s another discussion entirely I guess!

        I’m still in the middle of trying out positive affirmation. While I sometimes feel it working, what has worked best for me are the ones about change, and general ability. If I try to tell myself that I’m happy, for example, I end up in a 1 man silent argument, which is far from as entertaining as it sounds.

        So that’s how I got my perspective. I can be a little outspoken, sometimes unfortunately even when I don’t 100% know what I’m talking about! Sorry for always being so long-winded.

        • http://www.ProlificLiving.com Farnoosh

          Think you are confusing affirmations with spoiled upbringing perhaps ;) I see the distinction too, Ragnar. And I can’t stand it when parents just pump up their children with false nonsense when they need to hear the truth … I think affirmations come into play when we are being harsh and unfair to ourselves despite our greatest effort. Note: the effort still has to be there ;)!

        • Jennifer

          I have had similar experiences as Ragnar when it comes to accepting positive affirmations on an emotional level. I was raised feeling so awful about who and how I am. I literally believed that I had some kind of dark Self who deserved nothing but sadness and pain. Even a husband who has always been my cheerleader and 2 sons who love me could not change my ❤ about this. When I said affirmations I literally felt nauseated and angry! I felt like it could work for other ppl but not me. Then I went to a hypnotist for help with anxiety & being able to access the how, why, and whence of my self-negation opened my whole mind up. I can’t put the experience into words, but it was very powerful and life-changing. I began to use affirmations and my 💗 accepted them and things started to happen. It’s not like I’m a millionaire with a mansion, but my life is healing — I wish I had learned this in my 20s and not my late 40s!

  • http://www.selfstairway.com/how-to-make-a-good-first-impression/ Vincent

    My experience is that it only works as effectively as you let it. You can be “using” it but at the same time doubt it by telling yourself how stupid you find it. Then nothing gets done and you feel the same, just as horrible as before.

    However, if you consciously put a lot of weight into it, man doors open up and you feel like screaming with joy.

    • http://www.ProlificLiving.com Farnoosh

      Bingo! As you let it = magic words….. I love the simplicity of your explanation, Vincent, and that’s so true with everything in life. Thanks for being here.

  • http://sagegrayson.com Sage Grayson

    I think affirmations work if you actually want them to work. I do positive affirmations as part of my morning routine. It really sets the tone for my day, and I feel like something is “off” on the days I forget to do my affirmations. I don’t expect them to instantly change my life, but I have noticed shifts in the thoughts I have and the way I handle problems.

    • http://www.ProlificLiving.com Farnoosh

      Sage (pretty name), I know what you mean – whenever I get into a routine, skipping changes the whole tone of the day … and I love your mature perspective on affirmations. Thanks for dropping in and adding so much to the post.

      • http://sagegrayson.com Sage Grayson

        Aw, thanks for the compliment about my name. I think your name is lovely too, Farnoosh. :)

  • http://ReverseDiabetesHolistically.com Nicki

    Great food for thought, Farnoosh. It reminds me.. In my master’s program in Spiritual Psychology, my teachers, Ron & Mary Hulnick used to say, “It’s foolish not to win in our own fantasies.” I mean we might as well make the best of it, think the best of it, and act the best of it. It simply feels better.

    I have experienced on many occasions the power and influence my thoughts carried. Whether it is a telepathic phenomenon or pure inspiration, we may not know for sure. But why not go for what we desire, what we feel is in our best interest and in the best interest of others? Makes sense to me to pay very close attention to our thoughts, our speech, and our actions.

    • http://www.ProlificLiving.com Farnoosh

      Right, Nicki, we gotta be heroes of our own fantasies. I love LOVE the questions you pose. They are beautiful, poetic and so true. Thank you so much for affirming (no pun intended ;)) our whole point about affirmations, Nicki and welcome here.

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  • http://www.soulmix.com Alex

    I’ve tried using affirmations on several occasions (usually when I am having a tough time with something), and I have found that they do work! However, it can get tricky, and as you mentioned, they aren’t guaranteed to magically fix anything.

    I’ve found that this is the important part: you have to really believe the affirmations! Even they aren’t true at the moment, you need to be taking actions as if they are true. The actions are what make it all work, because once you take action, it reinforces the thoughts within your head. In other words, it is a fake it until you make it type of thing.

    That said, the choice and wording of affirmations is super important also. Don’t be negative, and don’t be delusional. I can tell myself I am going to grow wings and fly all I want, but some things just aren’t going to happen ;)

    • http://www.ProlificLiving.com Farnoosh

      No magic here, no guarantee that affirmations do anything at all, that’s right Alex. And you couldn’t have said it better: you have to believe in them first before they work. I love your attitude, Alex, and so glad you stopped by to share it with the community here. Come back anytime.

  • http://www.gracefellowshipfl.com/ Susan

    Thank you for being so honest about your initial skepticism and reluctance to believe in positive affirmations. I have been reading up a lot on positive affirmations and most of what I’ve read makes it sound like everyone is seeing the benefits and I thought I was the ONLY ‘non believer out there. It is refreshing to read your views on it and the challenges you had to overcome and your suggestions on how to proceed to overcome these early-stage issue. As you so rightly said, ‘one small step at a time, one tiny little affirmation per day’ – it’s just a question of hanging in there and I am now convinced that that’s what I’m going to do.

    • http://www.ProlificLiving.com Farnoosh

      Hi Susan, of course. It’s only fair to share how skeptical I was at the beginning. You are not the only non-believer at all :)) I hope that my honest account helps you embrace affirmations one tiny step at a time, even if you still have some doubts … but give them an honest go. I think they might surprise you. All the best, Susan. Thanks for sharing your insights.

  • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com Vishnu

    I’ve found affirmations to work Farnoosh, as long as I really believe it and not just give it lip service:) A good friend just reminded me of the power of affirmations too. She started using them after a protracted job search. A week after she started affirmations, she got an interview and the job she was affirming! I told (and myself) we better start or continue everything we want in our lives:)

    • http://www.ProlificLiving.com Farnoosh

      Love the vote of confidence on this from you, Vishnu. I am going to use this as a reminder to do them more often myself too. They work, that much we have established… :) Thanks for sharing your insights dear friend.

  • http://www.pickyourgoals.com Pooja

    Thanks Farnoosh for an inspiring post. I like your 4-step approach, and I think on a micro-level I am doing something like it.

    I don’t use literal affirmations, at least I haven’t until today where I have a statement and I repeat it to myself.

    BUT — I do have a subconscious process (which goes un-noticed unless I pay deliberate attention to it) of how I am forming beliefs about things in life.

    I guess, that is what an affirmation is for me — it is a form of “knowing” in my gut that I CAN do this as well. It seems I’ve been automatically applying it to a lot of things in my life.

    So in a nutshell:

    I have a new challenge –> I “gauge” it and let it marinate in my thoughts for a while with the overall “I think I can do it” theme –> I take Action –> I get results –> A new “Reference Point” is formed –> I repeat the process for a new challenge (past reference points help!).

    Does that make sense? ;)

    Pooja

    • http://www.ProlificLiving.com Farnoosh

      You use the power of proof to reinforce your future behavior and success. I do this with my clients especially if affirmations are not within their comfort zone. For instance, I remind them of something they have done in the past – which they have conveniently forgotten ;) – and use that as proof that they can definitely handle this new challenge which generally pales in comparison to their earlier feat. All the same, I throw in some affirmations just for good measure. Lovely to see you here, dear Pooja.

  • http://heathergeowriter.com Heather

    Hi Farnoosh,

    I’m a newbie to affirmations – I started doing them because I was seriously let down by my corporate career and was going through a lot of negative and bitter feelings about myself and my work. I’m a writer, so I know that rejection comes with the territory, but for some reason corporate rejection stung harder. It went deep.

    When I started my own copywriting business I wrote a simple affirmation that I read each morning. Here it is:

    Say goodbye to the past
    List the things/feelings I’m letting go of
    Today, I want to feel grateful, at peace, inspired and productive.

    I start with this format and ad-lib as necessary. I also think about who I can help today. This simple affirmation helps chase off my negative thoughts and gives my spirit a boost for the day!

    • http://www.ProlificLiving.com Farnoosh

      Hi Heather, corporate career you say? Negative? Welcome to my ex-world, my dear. It was crushing my spirit, to say the least, one of the many reasons I left … and now you are a writer. I love it.
      Heather, you are no newbie if you wrote that affirmation. That’s wonderful. One thing I read about affirmations is to use present tense and use words as though it is happening – so not desires and wishes and wants so much as it is happening. “I AM grateful, at peace, inspired and productive.” It’s subtle but tell me if you don’t feel the difference? And thanks so much for sharing your beautiful insights…. keep up your affirmations.

  • http://speculationsimpressed.wordpress.com/ Glynis Jolly

    I know that I need to do affirmations more often, making them a regular habit. Thanks for the push.

    • http://www.ProlificLiving.com Farnoosh

      Glynis, we all do. Let’s start today. And thanks so much for stopping by. Come back anytime.

  • Linda

    Hi Farnoosh,

    I believe that when any thought that is negative is replaced with a positive the result is a positive, thus positive affirmations are wonderful. Positive good feelings bring smiles…….that says it all……who doesn’t love a great smile!

    • http://www.ProlificLiving.com Farnoosh

      Hi dear Linda, welcome here. Thanks for sharing your insights. And great smiles back to you Linda. These affirmations have brought many smiles to me.

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  • Eli

    I’ve had experience with affirmations and visualizations, which are similar but are done with images rather than words. I wrote about a very deep experience I had with a sort of religious affirmation, during a difficult time: http://rabbielimallon.wordpress.com/2011/06/15/6-15-11-a-meditation-at-wave-hill/
    But my point was about the power of repeating the words themselves, not to prescribe what specific words anyone should use.

    • http://www.prolificliving.com/blog Farnoosh

      @disqus_GvEsCK2pMR:disqus I can’t agree more with you in the power of the repeating the mantra – or the words – over and over, thanks for sharing.

  • http://your-own-free-website.com/ Jason Matthews

    It’s
    wise to never bend the truth and simply figure out a smart way to phrase things
    that keeps them positive and believable. For example, you’re not saying
    something like, “I’m a genius with
    technology.” Instead you’re saying something that is entirely true, “I’m constantly learning new technology.”
    This is important so you don’t create an inner conflict that your mind has
    trouble accepting.

    • http://www.prolificliving.com/blog Farnoosh

      Such a great distinction, @disqus_7BptNCKuYx:disqus Yes to telling the truth in your affirmations (and all the time preferably)!

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