Are Positive Affirmations Bullsh*t?
Claire Fountain—celebrity yoga teacher, personal trainer, and wellness expert—founded #TrillYoga with her unorthodox approach to breaking stigmas and stereotypes in the yoga and wellness space. After getting into yoga for depression and anxiety, she has always been a mental health advocate beyond all her fitness endeavours. She also has an e-book series called Built and Bendy that promotes strength training, flexibility, mindfulness, and positivity-led health goals.
Growing up, I learned about positive affirmations in therapy. Now, they seem to be everywhere as your quick fix to making everything right. Want to change something, just think your way to a better life by ridding yourself of negative thoughts and thinking all positive things.
But I can’t be the only one who starts to roll my eyes now with some of these motivational lists or how to affirmation guides. Most end up sounding superficial or seemingly empty, others feel too idealistic, and the rest just sound pretty corny to me.
Let’s start with what an affirmation is: An affirmation is a quote or phrase that affirms something about who we are, what we do, etc. It can help to reprogram the subconscious mind, be transformative, or at least inspiring. It feels best when it also effects behaviour change, but we will talk more on that later.
Affirmations can be good at times. Positive thinking and taking control of our self-talk IS a good thing. However, this doesn’t happen instantly, nor can it, as most thought patterns that center around our self-esteem and the idea of ourselves are ingrained in us as early as childhood. These subconscious thought patterns are what make us feel like fakes when we repeat stock positive affirmations. Forcing ourselves to repeat things we innately do not believe can actually make us feel worse, not better, as they act as a reminder of our flaws and shortcomings we already believe about ourselves. What an exhausting inner battle that can create.
How then can we find a way to create affirmations that don’t suck, and that might help us instead of hurt us? How can we change the underlying thoughts and create a lasting impact instead of a fleeting falsity?
Some of this has to do with learning how to correctly create affirmations. The rest centres around what you’re saying and how you’re posing the affirmation. So let’s get started.
ASK INSTEAD OF AFFIRM
As we learned earlier, affirmations target the conscious mind instead of the subconscious. There is a way to fix this though, according to a study on the “effectiveness of declarative versus interrogative self-talk.” Basically, the participants who asked themselves questions instead of creating blanket declarative statements that were negative or positive, i.e., affirmations, solved twice as many problems during the study’s final test. The test was given after they could write down “I will…” or “Will I…?” 20 times.
The reason this works is because probing questions require you to dig up some of the deep negative thoughts that might not be so great, but bringing them to light allows you to work through them.
To remedy this, ask yourself questions instead of creating declarative statements. Explore answers as a means of lasting thought change. Keep a notebook and write down these revelations. From here you could create strong statements that work on healing your subconscious mind and keeping your conscious mind in a supportive mode.
USE THE PRESENT TENSE, AND SAY WHAT YOU WANT, NOT WHAT YOU DON'T
Let’s say affirmations do help you feel inspired. Keep them in the present tense and highlight what you’d like to accomplish or how you’d like to behave once you get your interrogative work of self-inquiry done.
Say them at the right time and act accordingly
When I learned about affirmations, I was taught to do them right when I wake up before any stresses of the day could interfere, and right before I went to sleep so as to have them on my mind during sleeping hours which can be transformative for learning and memory. I would also say these have to extend to your day and should be aligned with actions that support the affirmation. There’s nothing more defeating than not behaving in a way that supports your goals. I would also refer to "Ask Instead of Affirm" to get to the bottom of why behavior change is a struggle if you find this component not lining up.
GET OFF PINTEREST AND HONE IN ON YOU
I find it way too easy to get discouraged when you look around and can’t find a good fit with what everyone else seems to say works. You are not everyone. Your childhood experiences that shaped you and your life are yours alone. Channel any affirmations you decide to use from a place of authenticity by way of the "ask not affirm" exercise. What you end up with might not look like fluffy social media posts or motivational pages. Maybe they only work for you, maybe they are unconventional, maybe they aren’t giant feats for success defined by society standards. But if they work for you and touch on areas you’d like to improve or rewire, that’s all that matters.
Next up: Learn how to "reboot" your brain when you're feeling wildly unproductive.