Why Affirmations Don’t Work

February 8th, 2010

A friend of mine told me not to post this.  A lot of people, he said, swear by affirmations.  He said some people might think I’m being too negative.  But sometimes life is not full of sunshine and if you have to shoot the messenger, go ahead.  So here goes.

Affirmations suck.  They don’t work.  At best, they’re a well-intentioned device taught by well-meaning people that really want to help people improve their self-esteem.  At worst, affirmations are a way for false hope salespeople to get you to turn off your poop detector and put the blame for your failure squarely on your shoulders when in fact you’re not the problem…they are.

I remember the character Al Franken used to play on SNL who said,. “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough and gosh darn it people like me.”

Well, he may have been affirming, but if I had to choose a Saturday Night Live character to listen to, it would be the guy who says if you take drugs you’ll be “living in a van down by the river.”

Why Affirmations Don’t Work

People supposedly do self-affirmations to feel better about themselves.  But self-esteem depends on a couple of things:

  1. Our sense of how likeable and loveable we are
  2. Our sense of how competent we are in areas that require skill

The problem with the two things that make up our self-esteem is that they depend on the feedback we get from the people around us: bosses, teachers, friends, etc.  And their opinions DO matter.   They matter much more than what your self-affirmation is telling you. I wish it weren’t the case, but those pesky scientists that do all that research stuff say these things.

And what’s worse is if you already have low self-esteem then you simply don’t believe the affirmation.  It’s like telling yourself a lie.  Who believes lies?   And lying to yourself will only make you feel worse.

Without My Daily Affirmation, How Do I feel Better?

If you stop doing affirmations, the thing to do is change your life–more specifically change the feedback you’re getting from the people around you.

In a bad relationship?  Get out of it.

Job sucks?  Leave it.

A coward?  No problem.  Cowards can be assertive too.

You’re not stuck in who-moved-my-cheese land where you have to scurry to where the food is and accept whatever is thrown at you.

Sometimes you’re not the problem…your environment is the problem.  It’s like a guy I know who does affirmations all day, hoping to “make money work for him” by selling MLM products.  He keeps affirming away every morning in his car to the affirmation tapes he buys regularly.

He’s good enough, he’s smart enough, but stuck in a bad system where he can’t make money.

Not making money…well, that feedback is much more powerful than any affirmation.

So, if you are thinking about doing an affirmation or if you’re an affirmation-holic, ask yourself this:

What is the fastest way to feel better about yourself: telling yourself you feel better or actually doing something to make you feel better?  Is it better to tell yourself you’re worthy or surround yourself with people who think you are worthy?

You know the answer.  Come on.

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