Positive Affirmations: Do They Work Or Don’t They?

Photo credit: Caju Gomes

Positive affirmations have been claimed to change the way we think, to have some kind of magical power to make us skinnier, richer, healthier, more loved, more confident, more successful, more whatever else it is we so desperately want to be.

But do they actually work? Here are some real-life experiences from our collective she.

Positive affirmations are present-tense phrases you repeat to yourself, and these phrases are things that you want to be true about yourself and your life. Like I am a winner, I am successful, I am free of worry, I am happy, I am a magnet for love, my body is strong, I feel my body losing weight in every single moment of the day, I am a magnet for money, I am worthy of making more money … you get the picture.

Sabine says, ‘Endlessly repeating statements that sound like bullshit in my mind has never worked for me. It’s like being friends with a fake: that person who keeps telling you how much they love you, how beautiful you are, how amazing you are, but all they’re really doing is spouting empty words.
‘What has worked for me is focussing my intent with a gently driving question. At the moment it’s “Am I being good to me right now?”
‘As a writer it’s always worked for me to ask myself a question and then leave my creative mind to come up with her own magic behind the scenes, and I’ve found that it works for me in life too. Asking questions rather than reciting random directives helps to focus my intent, and it allows my creative mind to find the answers that work for me.’

Linda says, ‘As much as I acknowledge the power of my thoughts on my lived experience, I have found that changing thought patterns alone may not always be indicative to changing one’s life. There are a host of unconscious beliefs that need to be consciously deconstructed for real change to occur. There are several quotes that I use to drive mindfulness of unhelpful beliefs – when confronted with a challenging experience, I try and draw on these for guidance and perspective.’
One quote that resonates with Linda most right now is ‘She refused to be broken by the brokenness of this world.’ – Carrie Pratt.

Mathapelo has her own definition of what positive affirmation is. ‘Affirmations, I believe, are a good measurable for personal success. A way of keeping tabs on the progress that you have or have not made. Taking stock of my achievements was a daily occurrence when I was in my 20s. I guess that’s why I managed to reach 90% of my goals at the planned pace. I had a notebook on my bedside table in which I jotted my weekly plan each Sunday, and revisited each day to record all tasks completed and achieved for every day. That to me was the definition of positive affirmation. It worked wonders for me.
Mathapelo changed things up in her 30s, observing a list of quotes that she came across for inspiration. It was not, she says, a good idea.
‘I lost track of what I was really doing and as a result I missed out on celebrating what I had accomplished. I looked back two years later, and I had nothing positive to recall. All I could remember was everything that didn’t work out. When all is said and done, the only productive positive affirmation for me is taking stock of my daily achievements. That to me is more recordable, worth celebrating, and memorable.’

When Caroline finds herself in a dark place, she finds herself shying away from positive affirmations. Instead, she just focuses on her breathing and getting through the next second. Although, during one particularly challenging time at work, she did find that using an affirmation as a mantra quite useful. Hers was, ‘You are strong, capable and calm.’

What we found interesting when we reached out to the women in our circles about positive affirmations, was that there were some who happened to be in a difficult place, feeling emotionally dragged down, and even though we knew some of them had worked with affirmations before, none of them even wanted to think about playing around with positive affirmations while they were feeling so beaten down.

One woman shared that she was pretty cut up about something and that right now she just wasn’t ‘in the mood for false truths.’

Even though we’re pretty sure positive affirmations must work for someone, our circles are telling us that it hasn’t done much for them. So if you’re trying out the whole positive affirmation thing, and it’s not working, it’s not you. Please don’t beat yourself up about it … just keep searching till you find the answer that works for you.

We totally believe there is one.

Read next: Why I Tried A Gratitude Journal And Why I Keep Doing It