I’m a big fan of affirmations and they’ve gained a lot of attention in the past few years as so many people struggle with holding on to positive thinking with so much negativity in the world. But the problem with positive affirmations is that they are not a fix-all for mental health.
Where affirmations come from
Affirmations have a long history in spiritual and religious groups as they are often used as prayers or ways to manifest good fortune in your life. In more recent decades, thanks in large part to the positive psychology movement, affirmations have gone mainstream as helpful ways to boost self-esteem and practice self-compassion.
There’s nothing wrong with that! But, why is it often so hard to make them stick?
Why Positive Affirmations Don’t Always Work
First, it should be said that anything that helps one person with their mental health may not work for another and that’s not about having some sort of character flaw. People are just different, and that’s OK. But I think that one of the biggest problems with positive affirmations is that they feel too unrealistic or uncomfortable. This is particularly true if you’re trying to force yourself into thinking great things about yourself when that’s not how you’re feeling at all.
That is, most often positive affirmations that sound like “I’m great! I’m the best! don’t work for a lot of people because it feels too far from how they actually see themselves in that moment. Those affirmations seem too disconnected from reality, therefore they don’t stick.
Here’s what to do instead
If you’re finding it difficult to use affirmations that work for you – I have a suggestion! Instead of thinking up something “positive” try instead to think of something more neutral or descriptive of the situation. Instead of “I’m going to be great at this new thing!” maybe try something like, “I’m working really hard to make this thing good.” Instead of, “I’m the smartest person in this room!” try “I’ve been hired to be here too and I’m doing what I can to contribute.”
How do those feel?
Not really “positive” but a lot more grounded, right?
The next time you’re trying to incorporate more positive thinking in your life moving forward, try not to push it so hard even if it feels like you want to. Instead try settling in with something that feels a bit more “meh”. Over time you’ll start to see that inner critic soften more and more until it becomes a lot easier to say “I’m good at this!” without your skin crawling.