Affirmations can be very powerful tools for personal, emotional and spiritual growth. Many motivational speakers, holistic health practitioners, self-help books and online articles boast the benefits of using affirmations each and every day.
Although affirmations can be beneficial, if used incorrectly, they may not work. In fact, they can even backfire, making it harder for you to create the desired change.
Creating Cognitive Dissonance
Have you ever used an affirmation, but then ended up feeling even worse after? Or you felt like it didn’t really work?
When using affirmations, many people unintentionally choose phrases that create cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive dissonance occurs when there is a discrepancy between your beliefs, ideas and values. This causes stress, and results in not making the desired change.
In the case of affirmations, it means your desire for change is not matching up with your subconscious beliefs. The attempt to change actually increases stress because there is too big of a gap between where you currently are and where you are trying to go.
So you likely abandon the affirmation altogether because it causes increased stress and tension by directly confronting your beliefs.
An example of how cognitive dissonance plays out is, when you say a phrase like, “I am full of energy and in perfect health,” when you’re actually sick with the flu.
Focusing on being full of energy when you are sick isn’t likely going to help. But what will help is honoring and respecting the needs of your body.
An affirmation like “I allow myself to rest so my body can heal” is much more likely to work…and it will naturally lead to increased energy.
Another example is saying, “All is well and in perfect order,” when you’re feeling a lot of pressure and stress from an important deadline at work.
Pretending that things are in perfect order when they are not, is likely to just increase stress and anxiety, possibly leading to complete overwhelm, and even procrastination and avoidance.
But saying an affirmation like “I break this goal into small steps and take action on the first step” is much more likely to help you get started on what needs to be done to meet your deadline.
Once you take action on one thing, you will feel less stressed, which will motivate you to take action on the next item on your list. This is much more helpful than ignoring the reality of the situation and telling yourself things are in perfect order when they clearly are not.
As Danielle LaPorte wrote, “self-deception creates a cognitive dissonance so that, despite the positive-sounding phrasing, you’re creating inner tension and conflict.”
Although it is important to keep a positive and compassionate mindset, when you use affirmations that completely mask the present truth or situation, they can backfire.
Affirmations are most helpful when at least part of the phrase you use is believable.
For example, instead of saying, “I have financial freedom,” when you are in debt, saying, “I take steps toward financial freedom today” would be more helpful.
This gives you a chance to acknowledge what is going well in the present moment (“you are working towards financial freedom”) even if you aren’t quite there yet.
And more importantly, doing this allows you to break your goal up into steps. Creating financial freedom in one day is unlikely for someone who is in debt (unless they win the lottery!).
But taking 2-3 steps towards financial freedom today feels much more doable. For example, you could round up any purchases and deposit that amount into your savings account, make coffee at home instead of buying a fancy coffee at a cafe every morning, and track daily expenses in a budgeting app.
Using specific affirmations, anchored in the present moment, that take you to just the next level of success in any given area, is the way to make affirmations work for you (and with you), instead of against you.
Once you achieve this level, then revise your affirmation accordingly to get to the next level. And keep going until you achieve your goal.
Benefits of Using Affirmations
Affirmations can be very empowering if used correctly! In fact, the word “affirmation” comes from Latin word affirmare, which means “to make steady, strengthen.”
With daily practice, they can plant the seeds to help you to shift your mindset from one of fear, scarcity, self-doubt and negativity to one of positivity, empowerment and gratitude.
Here are some benefits:
- Affirmations help you cultivate a more positive and grateful mindset
- Saying daily, believable affirmations allow you to stay in the present moment
- They help you reach and manifest a specific goal
- Affirmations can inspire creativity and promote self-confidence
- They encourage personal, spiritual and emotional growth
- You begin to manifest and create more abundance
- They provide an anchor for you as you move through your day
Affirmations for Stress Relief
An affirmation is a positive statement to yourself about yourself. One of the ways people go wrong with affirmations is by being “too” positive. Sounds funny, right? But it’s true! If your affirmation is too much of a stretch it will work against you.
With stress reduction, if you feel overwhelmed throughout most of the day and then try to tell yourself, “I feel perfectly calm and relaxed at all times” it likely will not work and even worse, may lead to frustration, self-sabotage and even shame.
So please remember that at least some of the phrase should be believable, so no cognitive dissonance occurs and then you’ll be more likely to create change.
And it may need to be neutral before it gets positive. For example, someone who is really struggling with self-care would likely have a hard time saying to themselves “I always take great care of myself.” But it will probably be much easier for the person to say “It’s okay to take care of myself.” Then down the road this can transform into “I deserve to take care of myself daily.”
Here are some examples to get you started. Remember the key is to match your affirmation to where you are currently at, and then take it just a step or two further.
And as always, these examples are just meant to get you started. Please use them as a springboard for coming up with your own affirmations.
- I make time today for self-care practices
- I spend more and more time feeling calm and relaxed
- I listen to the wisdom of my feelings
- I am capable of taking care of myself
- I align my thoughts, words & actions
- I nourish myself by eating fresh & healthy foods
- I accept my imperfections
- I love myself fully and completely
- With each exhale, I release my doubts, worries and fears.
- I accept that the only person I have control over is myself.
When it comes to affirmations, and any type of change you are trying to create in your life, please remember, big changes are the result of small steps repeated consistently over time.
Close your eyes, while breathing deeply and take a moment to identify one area of your life where you’d like to see positive change.
Knowing what you know now about how to make affirmations work for you (and with you) instead of against you…
What affirmation will you plant today?