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Positive affirmations – Why they don’t always work

So you’re sat at home in your PJ’s, snacking on a tub of ice cream whilst watching garbage on the TV. You feel inadequate, unsuccessful, unlovable –  basically like nothing.

You feel so unmotivated, that you just cannot be bothered to change the channel. Your life is not the way you imagined it. You hate your job, your weight. You hate the food you’re eating, your relationship with your spouse and family. You’re falling into a world of inconsolable darkness.

You decide you’ve had enough of feeling low so you do a little research and come across the term ‘positive affirmations’. So you begin to repeat ‘I am amazing’, ‘I am successful’, ‘I am worthy’, and so on. Only to feel even worse.

Sound familiar? On my quest in finding WHO I am, I went through all these positive notions. I sat down everyday in front of a mirror and tried to convince myself that I was amazing. When in fact, I felt like a fraud.


Affirmations are not the reality

Yes, positive affirmations do work for some people. It works for people who already have great confidence and a high level of self-esteem. But if your self-esteem is real low, chances are you will end up going back to believing the absolute worst about yourself. In fact research shows that people with low-self esteem found that saying things like, ‘I am amazing’, only made them feel like  a joke.

Repeating affirmations only taps into your conscious mind, not your subconscious. Your subconscious mind is where all your thoughts lie and actually controls your thoughts. Your conscious mind just acts upon them.

So when you repeat these affirmations, your subconscious gets triggered and reminds you of all the times you felt inadequate. It will bring up your history of mistakes and failures, screaming “Stop lying, it’s not true”! That’s why you are left feeling worse than to begin with.


Affirmations don’t address the real issue

For those with low self-esteem, affirmations are like a band-aid; they only cover the issue, not go to the root cause. As the saying goes ‘treat the problem rather than the symptoms’.

Telling yourself that you’re successful over and over again, is like taking medication for a headache. It works the first time, but after the third or fourth time, your body becomes immune to it so it’s no longer effective.


Asking yourself is better

You probably thought I was slating people who tell themselves daily that they’re amazing. No, that isn’t the intention of this post. I’ve struggled with confidence issues all my life, until I studied NLP.

See when you ask instead of tell yourself, your subconscious automatically opens the ‘achievements’ cabinet and brings out dusty files and goes through all the times you felt great. It begins to remind you of all the resources you have, to address the problem.

In NLP that’s called internal representations; we all have images, words, sounds, feelings etc that internally represent how we feel about success, failure, our talents, abilities and so on.

One thing I’ve noticed when I ask myself a question, I get a better reaction to the situation. For example; I don’t feel like I’m a good enough writer, so I’ll procrastinate from writing a post. When I feel like this I ask myself ‘how can I become a better writer?’ ‘What resources do I have to write?’ ‘When did I feel like I was a good writer”? I ask myself until I’ve built enough confidence to write again.


So when you ask yourself instead of TELL yourself; your internal representations quickly shift from a negative state into a positive one. Try it, see how you feel after.


Accept the negativity

One thing that works for me, is accepting the negative feeling.

For example; you have to deliver a presentation about your skin care business in front of 100 entrepreneurs and your nerves have gotten the best of you. You buckle under the pressure and are ready to cancel.

In a situation like this ask yourself  “Am I really that bad at presenting?” “Has a presentation ever gone wrong”? You could go even further and accept that you’re ready to quit but then ask yourself how you can change these feelings;

“I know I’m nervous but how can I feel a little more confident”? “Will I give a speech that will inspire my audience”? “How can I expand”? “What if I have cue cards to help me when I feel nervous”? and so on.

Once you get used to asking yourself problem solving questions, you are more likely to be able to deal with negative thoughts more effectively. You could follow this process

  • Pay attention to the negative thought
  • Turn “I am” into “Am I”?
  • Try and solve these “Am I” questions with “What if”? until your thoughts become an enquiry.

By doing this, you are no longer battling with your feelings and thoughts. Instead you begin to productively use that inner sense of curiosity to build self confidence, which in turn brings out a better you.


I hope you enjoyed reading. What do you struggle with when trying to build your confidence? Comment below.

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