Positive Affirmations

Posted in Personal Development at 4:07 pm by Haider

(To read a summary of this post click here)

Positive affirmations make an appearance in a lot of personal development programs, and are recommended by many psychiatrists to overcome limiting beliefs.

But do they actually work? And is their affect a positive one?

Positive affirmations are usually used as the starting point for personal transformation. If you experience low self-esteem, you are told to repeat affirmations like: “I value myself”, “I’m an important person”, “I am special”, “I am unique”, etc.

These affirmations, it is hoped (or claimed), will lead to positive results in one’s life.

However, such affirmations should never be used as a basis, and when they are used as such, their influence is short lived, and possibly damaging.

Positive affirmations are meant to affirm what we already know and accept. They cannot be used to convince ourselves that what we are saying is true.

No matter how many times we repeat an affirmation, we cannot convince ourselves that it is true, if we do not believe that it is in the first place. You cannot convince yourself that black is white and white is black, even if you repeat that statement a thousand times to yourself.

Conviction, in the sense of accepting that a statement is true, doesn’t develop through repetition. You cannot suspend the tie between a statement and reality, and hope that if you can ingrain the statement in your psyche that it will become true in reality. Conviction, in this sense, can only be achieved by looking at the evidence, and validating your interpretation of it.

For example, suppose a psychiatrist is trying to convince a patient of his to increase his self-esteem. His patient my suffer from low self-esteem because he has experienced many failures in his life. A positive affirmation along the lines of: “I will succeed in life” or “I can do it!” will, most likely, not produce the desired effect. This is because the patient will not, and should not, believe the affirmation, simply because he has stated it. You will succeed, on what basis? What have you based your conviction on?

However, if the psychiatrist was to point out to the patient that most success stories begin with a string of failures, or if he can get his patient to recall successes in his life, or even perform small exercises to demonstrate to the patient how competent the patient is, the patient can form a better understanding of reality, how success works, and how capable he is of achieving it. What this type of thinking does is bring to the patient’s awareness the facts that will help him achieve success, and allow him to focus on the possibility of success rather than the potential for failure.

Positive affirmations can then be used to maintain this focus. Given the facts, the patient can either think about all those who have failed, or all those who have achieved success. He can either focus on his own failures or his own successes. A positive affirmation seeks to direct one’s attention to the facts that will serve him. If I want to succeed, I don’t want to read about failures, or recall my personal track record of failures.

I would want to repeat to myself: “I can do it!” and have in my mind the incidents in which I succeeded, or remember all those who have persevered in the face of overwhelming odds against them.

If you wish to use any positive affirmation, ask yourself what it means to you, and what evidence do you have in support of this affirmation? (i.e. what fact(s) does the affirmation affirm?) Make the affirmation a trigger to recall the facts you wish to focus on.

This way, you will be able to respect the facts, base your convictions on reality and, therefore, be certain of the statements and affirmations you make. You will also force yourself to address the incidents that have led you to your present convictions. You cannot ignore your failures and hope to become successful. Accept that you have failed in the past, but you are still capable of changing for the better. If you wish to evade facts that your consciousness is already aware of, the positive affirmations you utter will not work to bring your focus on some facts, but will be used to drag your focus away from facts that you do not wish to confront, but your psyche would like to resolve.

In other words, you should never use positive affirmations to avoid thinking and dealing with the negative experiences that have shaped your present self. Use them to confirm your belief in the possibility of changing who you are and what you can accomplish.

Summary of "Positive Affirmations"

Positive affirmations are often used as the starting point to personal transformation. However, when used this way, their effect is usually short-lived.

Positive affirmations should be used to affirm what we already know and accept. However, they are used to bring our focus to the facts that can serve us and our development.

We can choose to think about our previous successes, or our previous failures. By accepting that we have experienced success before, and that it is possible to re-live those experiences, positive affirmations can then be used to act as reminders of what we can accomplish.

We do not simply accept that we can achieve success by repeating affirmations. Affirmations do not, and should not, create convictions, in the sense of accepting that a statement is true or false. Repetition doesn’t determine how true a statement is.

Positive affirmations should be used only to bring our attention to the facts that we accept to be true, and awareness of which can help lead to positive results in our lives.


  1. Ralf said,

    May 29, 2008 at 8:50 pm

    Oh, Thanks for raising this issue. I agree with your thoughts.
    I think positive affirmations are useless and and more: they are mind threatening.

    They undermine your independent thinking capacities because it makes you just repeat things without knowing why and thus it is not based upon reason. Undermining reasoning capacities…is not likely to make you very happy on the long run, I suspect.

    Questions: how do you define unique? How do you define special? Why should you be unique? Why are you unique? Are there non-unique people too? Why? and so on.


  2. Haider said,

    May 31, 2008 at 5:06 pm

    Actually, Ralf, you’re the inspiration behind this post 🙂

    I read your comment on positive affirmations on Dr Branden’s site, and I left a comment there, but for some reason Dr Branden didn’t approve it. Therefore, it developed into a post on my blog, where I don’t need approvals 😀

  3. Ralf said,

    June 20, 2008 at 2:08 am

    Ops..I only read this now. I’ve been out of my blogging habit for a while.

    Well, I feel honored.

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