I have always been uneasy about the notion of affirmations. A recital of a statement repeated over and over again. Some people say their affirmations to themselves in their mind as a comforter like a safety blanket a child would take everywhere. Others stand in front of a mirror, staring at themselves and state their affirmation almost as though it was a war cry.
I would read books that declared you must have your favourite affirmations in order to boost confidence, increase wealth and find lasting happiness. All singing, all dancing motivational speakers would tell stories of how they created a habit of saying affirmations each day and suddenly they became more successful.
It sounds great and for a portion of the masses who are seduced by the easy wins, affirmations are great fodder; discover what you are unhappy with in your life (I am always broke) , construct an affirmation or steal someone else’s (Everyday I am becoming more and more open to having money in my life) and repeat until, in theory, the unconscious make it a part of you and the ‘reticular activating system’ guides your attention to things that can make it a reality.
The Problem with Affirmations
The problem I have with affirmations are two fold;
- Any attainment of a goal or project has to be with a bias towards action. Affirmations are statements, which on a good day may make you feel better but isn’t necessarily creating a bias to act.
- Complete this little experiment. Say out loud a little biography of yourself. In my case I would say ‘My name is Aaron Morton, I live in the UK and I have brown hair and blue eyes’ (all true). Now I want you to say a couple of statements that are a complete fabrication about yourself. I would say ‘I am female, I have given birth to 2 children and I have long hair down to my backside’ (all false I promise). Notice the difference in feeling between the statement you know as true and the one you know as false. There is a different sense, the body knows when you are not being true.
People Felt Worse
And this is my point; with affirmations you are attempting to affirm something that is not true…yet. This was shown in a study conducted by a group of psychologists at the University of Waterloo who found that people who were currently experiencing low self-esteem felt worse after saying their affirmations. This would normally come in two forms. Either they had a felt sense what they were saying was not true or they had become very good at providing counter-examples of why the affirmation was not true (which for anyone that has worked with people with self-esteem issues knows, they are typically very good at counter-examples).
So what do I prefer instead and what do I work with my clients to get better at?
Asking better questions
The brain is a goal seeking mechanism. It is always seeking to achieve something whether that is fulfilling ingrained automated habits or seeking to solve a problem. It is expert at this, so when you ask questions you are giving your brain the opportunity to do what it does best. Instead of ‘I am becoming happier with each day’ you can ask ‘What is it that makes me feel happy?’ and then see what answers come up. When answers do come up you can then set a bias towards action and ask “Which of these can I do today’?
For the next month begin to ask yourself questions more frequently in order to direct your attention and see the difference it makes to both your behaviour and the results you get.
Now your turn! What do you think? Does affirmations have a place in getting success?