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Why Do Positive Affirmations Fail?

Updated: Oct 15, 2021

The world of coaching is awash with advice that positive affirmations will change your life. That they're a must do if you want to "level up" and feel awesome. But, some of us actually feel worse after doing them. As if our affirmations have failed, or even backfired. If you’re in this camp - don’t worry. There’s nothing wrong with you and you’re far from alone! In this post, I'll explain why affirmations sometimes fail, as well as 5 things you can do to get them to work for you.

1. Start with What You Believe

Research has shown that positive affirmations tend to be most effective if you ALREADY BELIEVE what you’re telling yourself to a certain degree (the key is in the word - we are AFFIRMING!), or ALREADY have high self-esteem. There isn’t a huge amount of mental work that needs to be done to bridge the gap from where you are, to what you're telling yourself with your affirmation.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀


Starting with something you already believe will give your self-esteem a boost. Try something like, "I am a good listener".

2. Build up Step by Step

Remember that believability is key, so build up your affirmations in increments. For example, if you feel your ability to listen also makes you a good friend, you can step up your affirmation from, "I am a good listener", to, "I am a good listener which helps me be a good friend". Another point is to keep affirmations specific - being too broad can also create believability problems for your brain.

3. Avoid the Unbelievable

Don't say affirmations you don't believe, at least on some level. If you are using an affirmation that just feels completely unbelievable to you, or have low-self esteem, your brain won’t buy it. Instead, it will reject the affirmation with reasons why what you’re telling yourself isn’t true. This is what can lead to your mood lowering and resulting in you feeling worse than you did before. As one study puts it - “affirmations can backfire for the very people who 'need' them the most”.

4. Get Help

If you're struggling to bridge the gap when increasing your affirmations, or feeling that you're unable to tell yourself anything positive at all, coaching - either self-coaching or working with a coach - can help get you to where you'd like to be. This could involve looking at limiting beliefs, thought and behaviour patterns, among other things, to help you pinpoint and resolve the issue.

5. ...Or, Don't Do Affirmations At All!

Despite their popularity in the personal development world, there's no law that says you have to do affirmations. If they're not your thing, skip them! There will be other things that work for you.

Positive affirmations can work under certain conditions. If these conditions aren't meant, then the affirmations are likely to backfire. To avoid this, affirm what you already know to be true. Be specific in what you affirm to yourself and gradually step up what you're telling yourself. Remember, the key is that your brain has to believe what you're telling it so avoid anything that's hard to believe. If you're struggling with finding anything believable, enlist some help - be that of another person or a self-guided exercise. Above all, remember that there is no law saying you have to perform affirmations in the name of personal development. If you don't vibe with them, ditch 'em. There will be something else you can do instead!

Visit my website to read more about my coaching mission and how you can work with me!


Source: “Positive Self-Statements. Power for Some, Peril for Others” by Joanne V. Wood, W.Q. Elaine Perunovic, and John W. Lee

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