Screw positive affirmations

Positive affirmations are the cornerstone of a lot of self-help programs. Just repeat some positive phrases and you're going to feel better about yourself.

There's a problem. For a lot of people, they don't work that way.

Here's some science mutha-trucka!

What the science says about these affirmations

  1. If you already feel good about yourself, repeating a positive affirmation will probably reinforce that. But really the effect is very small
  2. If you have negative self-esteem, and need a boost, repeating positive statements about yourself makes you feel worse.

What's up with that?

In my experience, lying to myself doesn't work. Being incongruent, leads to conflicted feelings. Conflicted doesn't feel good.

I can say to myself, "you, my good sir, are a rich, handsome, movie star." And another part of my brain goes, "well, you may be handsome, but you're a lying sack of ..." You get the picture.

Further, researchers found that people with low self esteem felt better when they were allowed to think negative thoughts.

I'm not a psychologist, but my guess is that this is akin to the "processing" that's done in therapy. You have to feel that stuff honestly to take away the emotional charge.

Ultimately, I'm not a big fan of brute-force techniques like affirmations. There are lots of effective and comfortable ways to change state, or get a desired effect. Anything I would use in coaching would respect a client's values and vision.

Since positive affirmations suck, what do I do?

Well, if you're going through a rough patch, there are a few things. If you feel like you need professional help - get it. There is no shame at all in seeking out therapy or medical help. Take care of yourself.

I'm fond of the work of Dr. Kristin Neff on self-compassion.

She has an awesome exercise that takes just a few minutes. It's called a self-compassion break.

This HuffPo article by Carmen Isáis suggests taking a neutral approach. It seems like recognizing where you are and putting it into perspective is key.


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