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Why Positive Affirmations Don’t Work

Have you ever looked at a list of positive affirmations and rolled your eyes? Yeah. Me too. I have long been a cynic of affirmations. I’d like to share with you what actually DOES work in reframing negative self-talk.  

First, let’s define some key terms:  

Affirmations: positive statements we purposefully think or say to ourselves. The intention of positive affirmations is to consciously override negative self-talk. 

Negative self-talk: critical thoughts we think or say to ourselves. Negative self-talk is often based on deeply rooted internal beliefs. 

On the surface, affirmations sound great. What’s not to like about saying nice things to yourself? Here’s the problem: for affirmations to work, you have to actually believe them. Otherwise, your conscious mind regards them as bullshit, and they don’t stick. For instance, if I have a deep conviction that this flower is yellow and I’m trying to “affirm” or convince myself it’s actually pink, it lands as bullshit. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge advocate of acknowledging negative self-talk, and working to purposefully shift it. But when it comes to shifting those deeply rooted, long held internal messages, it takes far more than a “good vibes only” message to make a real difference.  

So if positive affirmations don’t work…what does? 


1. Identify your negative self-talk.

Bring those beliefs out of your unconscious and into your conscious awareness. Some folks fear that identifying negative self-talk will make it more prolific. Yet, those beliefs are hanging around taking up space whether or not you choose to acknowledge them; bringing them out into the open simply allows you to directly address them.     

ex: “I make terrible choices in dating.” 

2. Question “reality.”

Often, you may find that you are relating to those negative beliefs as facts. Invite yourself to consider instead that they may be simply an opinion, judgment, or interpretation that you have mistaken as fact. Ask yourself: Is this a fact, or is this my shitty interpretation? (Spoiler alert: it’s your shitty interpretation.)     

ex: Depends on who you ask. What I define as terrible might not be, to someone else. It’s highly subjective. This is an interpretation. 

3. Identify your goal belief.

Name the interpretation or belief that you desire to have.     

ex: “I act in alignment with my core values, and can trust myself in dating.” 

4. Take baby steps toward your goal belief.

Consider that your interpretations exist on a spectrum, with your negative self-talk on one end, and your goal belief on another end. You get to take micro movements toward your goal belief, starting right where you are. Choose a new interpretation that is either positive or neutral, that you can actually get behind, already.      

ex: “I make choices in dating, some that support my highest self and others that do not.” 

5. Build self-trust.

This includes taking actions that are in alignment with your goal belief, rather than affirming your old interpretation.      

ex: “I am in the process of honing my discernment and self-trust.”

And then each day, take one action that validates your trust in yourself. Continue this process over time until you have recreated a reality that is consistent with your goal belief.  

I hope you find this to be a practical and supportive set of tools. As always, please reach out if you’d like additional support. I’m here.

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3/16/2021

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Why Positive Affirmations Don’t Work

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