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Rethinking Positive Affirmations

Posted by admin on Aug 21, 2010

By Deborah Bier, PhD, Publisher and Editor of Vibration and maker of the Whole Energy Essences

As we move through life’s challenges, it’s important to give encouragement and affirmation to both ourselves and others.  A popular method is to use affirmations, positive statements to help create positive outcomes.  Many essence practitioners use this extensively, adding affirmation to the essence-taking process. This is often done at the moment an essence is taken to help the user orient themselves on their goals.

20297755.thbHowever, I’ve always been a bit standoffish about the use of positive affirmations.  For some reason, they have always seemed to me like convincing myself or others of something, rather than working towards the desired outcome. While I’m all over having an optimistic point of view every day, reciting affirmations just doesn’t somehow cut it for me… nor has it for many of my patients/clients. The whole thing is often accompanied by a lot of “if you’re not talking positive all the time, you’re messing up your life,” kind of trash talk… hardly positive, but that’s part of the baggage the practice of positive affirmations all too often drags along.

It turns out recent research shows that using affirmative statements to help create positive outcomes is not as effective as many might hope. There is a better way to create the results we’d like, and that is to form the desired outcome into a question. Using the same example as above, “Will I have a great day today?” would be a way to use this technique. I think it would be important to encourage asking such questions in a state of open curiosity, not fearfulness.

One experiment involved subjects solving anagram puzzles, the “non-affirmation (framed as a question) out-performed the traditional affirmation… by over 85%.” Pretty impressive!

qmarkmanflwrscloud-a2dWhy, you may ask, are the research results showing this? I don’t think anyone knows, but certainly we are open to speculate.  My pondering runs something like this:  if we use an affirmation, we might be somehow cutting off our amazing creative energies, focusing only on the outcome.  However life isn’t just about the end goal, but how we get there. A question may allow our creativity to continue flowing, and keeps us in the moment along the way.  What do you think? Please post your thoughts in comments.

For more information on this research, see the blog post in Exploring the Mind: Brain Candy for the Curious Mind by Mitch Lovich here: http://exploringthemind.com/the-truth-about-affirmations/

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Deborah Bier, PhD is co-editor of Vibration Magazine, and a holistic healthcare practitioner in private practice in Concord, MA. She is the author of Flower Essence Practice: For Students, Essence Practitioners & Other Healing Professionals (Windfall, 2008). She is also the author of Healthy Connections: Flower Essences for Better Family, Friend and Work Relationships; The Encyclopedia of Vibrational Essences, and Learning About Vibrational Essences (find all these titles here). She is the maker of Whole Energy Essences, and is the director of the metro-west Boston, MA office of Caring Companion Connections.


Very interesting Deborah! When you phrase an affirmation as a question, I can see a couple things happening (and as long as the question is worded positively). First, it can be believable, and second, a question provides the drive to actually create that reality, so it doesn’t seem like a “lie” hehe! ;-) I like this, and will test out this method!

August 21st, 2010 | 4:31 am

I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s had this experience with affirmations! They actually tend to leave me feeling more depressed than uplifted.

I feel this may be because the question offers a choice, rather than trying to force an outcome (”Will I have a good day today?” – honestly, who would choose not to?) It really gives you the power to make a potential outcome happen. I’ll have to try this – thank you very much! :-)

August 22nd, 2010 | 5:42 am

This is so worth a try, and I will! I have my own theory on why affirmations don’t work. For the most part, people don’t use them in the way I was taught is effective. Before affirming a statement, I was told to create a two-column worksheet. Lined notebook paper works best. The left column is for writing the affirmation. The right column is for writing the negative mind talk that comes up when you do. You write the positive affirmation and negative mind talk 77 times for the “garbage dump” to completely occur and for the affirmation to be set on clean, prepared ground. It seems like a lot, but it really doesn’t take as much time as you’d think–worth it for the purging.

When I’ve taken the time to do this, the affirmation not only works but deeply “sets.” I’ve detailed this process in my post on Hot Flashbacks/Cool Insights called “Affirmations: Part 2, Column 2.” I hope others find it helpful:

Thanks for this provocative post. I love the question mark!

August 22nd, 2010 | 8:16 am

PS – Can you tell Mercury is retrograde? I meant evocative post, not provocative post. It evokes a lot of new thinking for me about affirmations.

August 22nd, 2010 | 8:48 am

Affirmations without action are illusion.
Many think repeating them is all you have to do.
In my work (as a psychotherapist) I use the question phrasing more because it allows the client to connect with their inner guidance rather than leaving it to luck or something outside of them.

August 22nd, 2010 | 1:59 pm

I like this. I use the ‘question’ constantly throughout my journaling and it’s always been a huge support, so why not with affirmations?! “How will I bring in courage?” etc I do like the “How will I…” Thanks!

August 22nd, 2010 | 7:46 pm

I agree. I have stopped using affirmations 15 years ago and only use what I call release statements. The use of the question is even more clever. Life is a mystery worthy of questioning.

August 23rd, 2010 | 5:55 am

I am so thrilled to see the amount of feedback this piece has brought about! I admit: I had some trepidations at first about making my confession so publicly. Best to not try to escape being honest, I thought. I am glad that those here who also question the worshipful use of positive affirmations are speaking up today, too!

Indeed, Ken: Life IS a mystery. A sense of wonder (which questions can be used to express) are a fine response to the Mystery. — Namaste, Deborah

August 23rd, 2010 | 6:15 am

Couldn’t resist coming back to reply to Ken’s comment. I spent several years as a Unitarian, and one of my favorite bumper stickers that was put out back-when as a slogan for the Unitarian Universalist Society sure applies to this conversation: “To question is the answers.” Thanks, Deborah, for bringing to our attention another way and to those who have shared their experience with it.

August 23rd, 2010 | 7:28 am
Kimberly Sabrosky:

My experience using affirmations has always been positive. I see them as a way to truly reprogram myself, not merely trying to convince myself of something. I find that writing out my affirmations, as well as my immediate reponse to it more helpful than verbal recitation.

I’m wondering if it is simply a matter of how each of us best takes in information. Affirmations seem to reach a very deep level within me, while clearly they seem very suprficial to some. From my work with others I am learning that reaching the matrix can be a highly individualized process. I would like to learn more about the different ways and means that the conscious transformation process is triggered.

August 23rd, 2010 | 8:13 pm

You know, I’m not a fan at all of programming, which is a big reason why the way affirmations are often used bother me: they are programming. Here we are with free will, and we can use that free will to take away our free will by programming ourselves, but that’s not allowing us to respond to whatever unique circumstances exist in the moment. Programming or reprogramming just gives us another type of habit, which will never increase our presence in the “now”. Here’s an article from 2008 I wrote about positive thought forms (maybe another term could be programming) and how they are limiting. http://skywriter.wordpress.com/2008/12/26/positive-thought-forms-can-they-limit-us-too/

August 23rd, 2010 | 9:53 pm
Jim Farnham:

I think that this study reveals a deeper truth than the character of self-motivation. Mind-talk, whether negative or positive, is almost always an attempt to protect oneself from what IS, pretending it to be otherwise. To approach life as a question opens one’s heart and allows one to be surprised, to see possibilities that linear thinking won’t allow. Surrender to the present moment is the first step in charting a new course.

August 25th, 2010 | 6:22 am

I don’t think it’s a case of ‘talking positive’ as much as it is feeling positive. If you have no emotional support for what you are saying, they are empty words. However when thoughts help you reach for a better feeling then they are serving you positively.

August 25th, 2010 | 1:05 pm

Myself I prefer setting my intention rather than using an affirmation. I use arffirmations with people who are having problems with negative thinking, primarily, to counter their tendency to doom their prospects rather than enhance them. Maybe I ought to use intentions instead. I’ll give it a try. Thanks for the thought. Also, when I was taught to use affirmations it was with the awareness of the negative feedback likely to occur and that working to counter this with changes in the affirmations worked better then.

August 26th, 2010 | 12:33 am

Although I believe that affirmations work beautifully for reinforcing positive attitudes about ourselves and our lives, I do accept that not all affirmations bring about a desired event and that, it is often neccessary to accompany words with actions to achieve desired results.
Consider however, that whenever we make a statement, have an opinion or make a judgement or have a belief about a thing or person,we have boxed ourselves into a closed space. What we say or think is our truth and often we think it is THE truth. Our energy is stuck too. Affirmations(which are statements of what we judge we want or believe or need) declare to the universe what you want, maybe how you want it.
How much more effective and expansive would it be to ask of yourself the question- How can I make this better?; How can I achieve this? etc So many more possibilities are now accessible.
So I am with Deborah- asking positive questions is liberating and opens us up to receive endless possible suggestions.
How can it be better than this?

August 27th, 2010 | 7:59 am
Kimberly Sabrosky:

Wow Deborah, you opened a can of worms with this subject (which I think is a very good thing)! Lots to think about an dnew ways of seeing. Thanks.

August 30th, 2010 | 7:35 pm