I've never been a big fan of affirmations. Many spiritual people are, and I respect that, but I'm just not certain they work. The first time I ever tried doing affirmations, probably 15 or more years ago, I felt, well, incredibly fake telling myself something that just didn't seem true. As they say around here, you can dress a pig in a bonnet, but you still got a pig (you just gotta love rural America). So, I rarely if ever used them. And I never use them now.
Of course, affirmations are probably the most ridiculed aspect of the entire self-help movement. Remember Stuart Smalley? I loved Al Franken standing in front of the mirror on Saturday Night Live and saying, "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and dog gone it, people like me!" There seems to be a almost cultural bias against affirmations. So, maybe it isn't just me.
So what isn't quite right about affirmations? It seems to me that affirmations are fundamentally flawed. They always have an underlying assumption that says "something is wrong with me." For instance, lets say that you are Stuart Smalley and you think you aren't very smart. Every time you look in the mirror you say to yourself, consciously or otherwise, "God, I'm stupid." You have come to believe this statement, deep down, with all the attached emotions and feelings associated with it.
Affirmations would have you start repeating to yourself, "I'm smart enough." The idea is to counter the negative statement with a positive one. But does it work? Not for most people. Let me give you an illustration to show you why I say that affirmations don't work. (Thanks to Hale Dwoskin for the following illustration which he often uses at Sedona Method retreats.)
Affirmations start with the negative statement, "God, I'm stupid." Let's represent this negative statement with a frowny face:
When you say an affirmation, you are attempting to change the negative to the positive belief, "I'm smart enough."
Everything should be good now, right? Well, no. While you may repeat the affirmation, the negative belief hasn't gone anywhere. It is still firmly planted in your mind. So what you get, in fact, is this:
And if you keep repeating the affirmation, day after day, it will get more and more in conflict with the old belief until you end up with a mess:
Is this what will always happen with affirmations? No, of course not. Sometimes they are successful. But millions of people have attempted to make changes in their lives with affirmations and, unfortunately, they quite often do not work. You simply end up with a subconscious mess. So, what can you do?
It seems almost obvious to me now that the better approach is to root out the negative belief instead, to let it go. If you look in the mirror and say, for instance, "God, I'm fat and ugly," you are making a whole series of judgments about yourself that may, in fact, not be true.
Have you ever questioned these basic assumptions? Have you looked at the feelings that hold these judgments in place? Have you asked yourself what you might be gaining from believing that you are fat and ugly? Have you looked at your fears about being overweight, or your fears of being thin? What messages did you hear as a kid about being thin or good looking? You could ask a dozen more questions about yourself and thereby call into question your mantra, "God, I'm fat and ugly."
In fact, you may discover that there is absolutely nothing wrong with you. Nothing. You aren't skinny. So what? I mean really, right at this moment, are you any worse for wear? Are not all the negatives you've heard about being overweight somewhere off in the future? Are any of them here right now? Are you going to die right now if you don't lose 50 pounds?
Whenever I get firmly rooted in right now and out of the fearful future, I quite often find that I'm far more capable of acting, far more motivated to make changes. I'm more open and more willing to try, to risk, to dare. And you probably are, too. Losing weight, exercising, whatever your personal challenge may be, suddenly becomes less daunting and more doable.
In a recent article, I wrote about the Sedona Method, a great program for helping to undo the negativity and judgments that we carry. Another program that I'm a fan of is Byron Katie's "The Work". Both of these techniques can be useful tools in letting go of the judgments and negative beliefs that keep us stuck. And they are, in a certain sense, valuable tools to have on the spiritual journey. They help us to uncover a much truer perspective about ourselves that helps us to see the fundamental truth about who we are.
And one last thought for you: I have a hunch that every time affirmations seem to work for someone, it is because at some level the person actually let go of the original negative belief. The success stems from the letting go, not the affirmation. That's just a hunch, so I could be wrong. You never know!
I'll leave you with a funny video that I watched this morning that got me thinking about affirmations. If affirmations work for you, then by all means, use them. But if not, I think you will get a kick out this video. Enjoy!