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When Positive Affirmations Don’t Work

Positive thinking word cloud

Several years ago I was introduced to the use of affirmations as a way to overcome negative thoughts or behavior patterns.  I learned that I was to write out positive statements stating how I wanted to be or what I wanted to accomplish; they were supposed to be written in the first person and in the present tense.  I was then supposed to repeat these affirmations hundreds of times a day (or at least as often as possible) from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to bed. While repeating them I was supposed to feel and behave as if the statements I was making were already true.

If you’re anything like me you know that this is easier said than done.  Remembering to do the affirmations throughout the day was a challenge of its own, but actually feeling as if the affirmations were already true was the real kicker.

When using affirmations such as “I have all the money I want and need” or “I have an abundance of money at my disposal,” acting as if they are already true does not come as easy as positive affirmation gurus make it sound, especially when your bank account is about to reach below zero temperatures, you are knee-deep in debt and are staring at a pile of bills, and your car is complaining that it doesn’t feel good and may need a trip to the car doctor.

I thought that making those positive affirmations was supposed to help me feel better and help me manifest my fondest desires, but instead they left me feeling like a deluded pathological liar.  Instead of raising my spirits they managed to heighten my awareness of my real situation, and this in turn made me feel angry, frustrated and hopeless.

I read and re-read the positive affirmation material to make sure I was doing it correctly.  I watched and re-watched the videos showing people who had used positive affirmations successfully.  Apparently I was doing everything right, yet this was not working for me for some reason.  There were many times when I thought that something must be wrong with me, because no matter how much I did this positive affirmation stuff I was not feeling any better, let alone “manifesting my fondest desires” like the gurus claimed to do.

It wasn’t until much later that I realized that I was, in fact, doing something wrong.  The emotional jump that I was trying to make from feeling hopeless to feeling awesome was far too great.  At first I thought I didn’t have enough momentum to make that big of a jump from one emotional state to the other, but then I realized that the issue was not the momentum, but the gap.

Allow me to illustrate.  Imagine that you are you are standing by a river and you want to get to the other side of it.  The side that you are standing on represents a very low emotional state such as hopelessness, and other side represents the ideal emotional state that you want to get to, such as joy, excitement or exhilaration.  The river is about 300 feet wide.  So to get to the other side you decide that you are going to take a few steps back to gain momentum, run as fast as you can and attempt to make it across the river in one big jump.  What do you think might happen?

Unless you have some form of secret superpower that allows you to make that big of a jump, you’ll likely end up in the river.   The distance between where you are and where you want to be is far too great and you’ll likely not make it dry.  That’s the equivalent of trying to instantly transition between two emotions that are so far apart from each other.

So I decided to modify my approach a little bit. Instead of trying to get to the other side of the river by attempting a single jump, I decided to make multiple smaller jumps by using the protruding rocks across the river.  Each of these rocks represents an emotion that is just slightly better than the emotion I’m currently standing on.  So I would jump from hopelessness to sadness, for instance, and stand there long enough to regain my posture.  This type of a jump would certainly be a lot easier to make, and it wouldn’t take a lot of effort.

“Wait a minute!” you might say. “There is nothing positive about sadness!”  But you’d be wrong.  Maybe in the big scheme of things sadness is not considered a positive emotion per se, but it certainly is less negative compared to hopelessnessAnd remember, we’re not making sadness the ultimate goal.  We’re simply using it as a stepping stone (pun intended) to make it across the river to the emotion that we really want.  We stand there just long enough to regain our posture and make sure we don’t slip, and then we make the next jump.

So we go from hopelessness to sadness, and from that to the next emotion that is just slightly better than sadness, and so on and so on, stepping from rock to rock until we get to the other side of the river.  You can see how this approach is much easier to implement and requires much less effort than trying to make it to the other side in a single jump.

I know what you may be thinking.  Wouldn’t moving from one negative emotion to another (even if it is less negative) only perpetuate those feelings?  And the answer is, not if you do it in the way I stated.  While it is true that you don’t want to wallow in negative emotions, you also don’t want to attempt to make a huge transition in one fell swoop because that is almost always guaranteed to fail, and then you will definitely continue to wallow in those negative emotions.  The trick is to keep your affirmations kind of real, so that the resistance created in your mind is small to none.  Rather than trying to deny how you really feel, you acknowledge the current emotion and play with your words just enough to move up to the next less negative emotion.

When I tried this approach, it made a world of difference.  It did take me longer to get there than if I had been able to do it in a single jump.  But the truth is that I never managed to do it in a single jump and I remained in that negative emotion longer; however, with this new approach, I was able to transition to my desired emotion every single time.  So overall, the “longer route” was definitely a shortcut for me.

Positive affirmations do work but some of us need a more gradual approach, and that’s perfectly okay.  If you have struggled with positive affirmations the way that I have, don’t give up just yet.  Give this approach a try first and let me know how it goes.  Also, if you have any suggestions of things that you’ve tried and have worked for you, please share in the comments below so other readers can benefit.  I’d love to hear from you!

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