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The Negative Side Of Positive Affirmations

positive affirmations, stay positive, remain positive

Positive affirmations can definitely be beneficial; they can assist us in feeling better, especially when we’re feeling down and in the dumps.  However, they also have the potential to pose a great danger to anyone working to manifest their desires; my goal in this article is to explain what this danger is and how we can avoid it so that it doesn’t get in the way of our manifestations.

This great danger is that positive affirmations, if not used carefully, will tend to disconnect us from our real emotions and launch us into a game of pretend that will ultimately be counterproductive to our manifestation efforts.  If you’ve read Greg’s book “Grow a Greater You,” you know that our emotions are a key element in playing the manifestation game successfully.  But as Greg states, the emotions in and of themselves are not enough; we must be completely connected to them. We must feel them and own them without masking them with other positive emotions, or pretending that they are not there.

Simply using positive affirmations when we’re feeling a negative emotion is like driving a car when the fuel gauge is pointing to “empty” and slapping a happy face sticker over the gauge to avoid seeing it.  While the happy face sticker will in fact prevent us from seeing the fuel gauge registering “empty” and will probably distract us little because we’re not looking at it, it’s not likely that we’ll make it to our destination because our car will eventually run out of gas.  We’ve only masked the situation; we haven’t really changed it.

According to Greg, it is during the times that we experience negative emotions that we have the greatest power and greatest opportunity to grow a greater version of us; this is where we can experience real growth, rather than pretending that we’ve grown.  And we do it by acknowledging and owning our emotions while at the same time telling the best feeling believable story that we can tell at the time.

The problem with just using positive affirmations is that every time we use them we become a little more disconnected from our emotions, and therefore we lose some of our power to grow, and we miss out on taking advantage of the growth opportunity that these situations present to us.

Generally, positive affirmations do help us to feel good in the moment, and that’s probably the reason why we keep using them.  However, positive thinking gurus commonly suggest an unrealistic way of using positive affirmations. Let’s take weight loss as an example.  Let’s say that we’re doing everything we can to lose the extra 20, 30, 50 lbs. We’re eating healthier and we’re moving more.  However, as it is often the case when we’re trying to lose weight, we may tend to dislike what we see when we look in the mirror, or get upset because we can’t fit into our clothes, or become disappointed if we find ourselves out of breath when going up a flight of stairs.

At this point, the positive thinking gurus recommend using affirmations such as “I have my ideal weight!” as a way to move away from the negative emotions and the negative thinking patterns.  They recommend saying this affirmation (or others like it) over and over dozens of times, in front of the mirror if possible, visualizing ourselves at our ideal weight and incorporating our emotions by feeling the feelings of being at our ideal weight.

The problem for some people – and I’ve experienced this myself – is that, while we may be able to make ourselves feel better in the moment, our subconscious has not accepted that statement as being true.  As I understand it, our subconscious says to us something like this:

“OK, I can see that you feel badly about your weight and you’re attempting to use this affirmation to change your situation. However, this affirmation goes completely against the belief you asked me to store in here for you as your truth, so I can’t let this one through.  There are tons of evidence to support your truth (your existing belief) that you do not have your ideal weight, and this evidence contradicts your current statement (affirmation).  However, your feeling better is our common goal, therefore I’ll allow you to feel better now while you repeat that affirmation to yourself; but know that I’m protecting your existing belief and I’ll soon bring it up again and point out the supporting evidence to you so that you don’t feel like you’re going crazy.”

Do you see what’s happened?  We have simply masked the situation with a story that was “too good to be true” so that we could make ourselves feel better in the moment. In other words, we’ve slapped a happy face sticker over the fuel gauge in our attempt to not look at the warning that our car is running on “E” but we haven’t really dealt with the real issue.

So what should we do instead?

The first thing we need to do is understand that emotions, no matter how negative they are or feel, are not bad.  Emotions are nothing more than a feedback mechanism to alert us of how aligned or misaligned our current beliefs are with our desires.  In other words, if my desire is to have my ideal body weight but my underlying beliefs regarding my weight are “I can’t have it; it’s very difficult if not impossible; I’ll never look good; everything I eat makes me fat; I don’t deserve to be thin or to look good; other people can but I can’t; if I so much as look at food I get fat”… or any variation of these beliefs, I will experience negative emotions in relation to my weight.  But as I said, this is not a bad thing. These emotions are my feedback mechanism telling me that it is time to upgrade my underlying beliefs!  Without this mechanism in place, how on earth would we know that there is an issue with our beliefs and that they need to be upgraded? We just wouldn’t know! Isn’t this a wonderful mechanism?  Isn’t this something to be grateful for? Sure it is!

It seems obvious then that our primary goal should not be to just make ourselves feel better in the moment, but to tackle the underlying limiting beliefs and upgrade them. And while many positive thinking gurus tell us that that is exactly what affirmations are supposed to do, the truth is that rarely do these limiting beliefs get upgraded by the use of positive affirmations alone; additionally, we have to remember that we run the risk of masking our beliefs and disconnecting from our true emotions, which in the long run will prove counterproductive to our growth efforts.

Another thing to remember is that the successful upgrading of our beliefs – as explained by Greg – takes place gradually.  So we have to be wise on the approach that we use to make sure that we don’t end up against a wall as in the example I gave above.

So how do we do it?

In a previous post I talked about my experience with positive affirmations and explained that the reason they don’t seem to work sometimes is because the jump we’re trying to make from where we are emotionally to where we want to be is just too great (read the full post here). Without knowing it, I had stumbled upon one of the key elements of Greg’s approach to upgrading our beliefs, and that is our gradual movement up the emotional scale; and the way we do that is by making statements owning our current emotions, and appending to these statements the best feeling believable story that we can muster up at the time.  I’ll repeat this because this is important:  we have to make statements where we own our current emotions and also add to these statements the best feeling believable story we can muster up at the moment.  Notice I did not say “add a good story,” because the best feeling believable story may not necessarily sound good.

As I mentioned in the post I referenced earlier, a better feeling believable story may cause us to move from depression to anger in the emotional scale. I’m sure we can all agree that anger is not necessarily a good emotion, but we can also agree that it is definitely a better emotion than depression.  So the statements that we make owning our current emotional state must include statements that help us to move up the emotional state gradually.  Sometimes this process may take a day or two, and sometimes it may take longer.  But however long it takes, we must be aware of our improved current emotional state and revise our statements to tell the best feeling believable story from our new vintage point. As we do this we’re going to the root of the issue (our beliefs) and making the necessary changes there.  Will we still feel good in the moment? Maybe, maybe not; but we will definitely feel better because 1. We’re owning our current emotions rather than denying them; and 2. We’re upgrading our emotions gradually so that slowly but surely we will be moving up the emotional scale.

I was of the mentality that as soon as I became aware of negative emotions I was supposed to do everything in my power to change them, since negative emotions would interfere with manifesting my desires.  Feeling any negative emotion sucks; it’s painful, and we don’t want to experience that pain.  I would therefore do what I had learned was the best thing to do in these cases: reach for my positive affirmations and repeat them over and over again in order to not feel that pain, but not realizing that all I was really doing was denying my true feelings and doing myself more harm than good.  Why? Because as a result of all the masking and denying, I’ve now had more difficulty connecting with my true emotions, which as I have already stated are the primary mechanism that alerts us when our beliefs need to be upgraded.  In other words, I’ve had to work extra hard to be able to identify my limiting beliefs.

I hope this revelation is as helpful to you as it has been for me.  If you have any input on this subject, or any questions or comments you would like to share, please do so in the comment box below, or email me directly at jc@effect180.com.

To your success!

JC

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How Our Thoughts Affect Our Reality

When I began my self-improvement journey several years ago I came across a book that inspired me and gave me much needed clarity about how to change my life for the better.  In my opinion this book is a must-have for anyone looking to understand how our thoughts affect our world and shape our reality.  It is written in plain English without the jargon commonly associated with the study of the mind, so it’s easy enough for anyone to understand.

I still revisit this book now and then because from time to time I need a reminder of how important it is to be mindful of what we entertain in our minds.   The book is a very short read, and it can be found in audio form as well.  The audio version of the book is less than an hour long, so I can easily listen to the entire recording in a day just driving to and from work.

The book I’m referring to is “The Strangest Secret” by Earl Nightingale.  There is great information in the entire book but there is one segment in particular that always grabs my attention for its truthfulness and simplicity.  The segment begins by stating this:

Let me tell you something which if you really understand it, will alter your life immediately…Here’s the key to success and the key to failure: We become what we think about.

The author then proceeds to explain exactly how this works, and gives the analogy of a situation that parallels the human mind using a farmer and fertile soil.  In his example, Earl asks us imagine that a farmer has a piece of fertile land in which he plants a seed of corn and a seed of poison.  The land, being impartial to what is being planted, will invariably return to the farmer exactly the “fruits” of what he has planted, a plant of corn and a plant of poison. He compares this fertile land to the human mind and the seeds to our thoughts because the mind – like the land – does not care what you plant in it; it will return what you plant, but it doesn’t care what you plant.

While it’s true that the mind is far more complex and mysterious than the land, the principle is the same.  Whether we plant thoughts (seeds) of success (corn) or thoughts (seeds) of failure (poison) the mind (land) will return to us exactly what we plant in it in the form of our experiences in all areas our lives such as work, family, love, finances, etc.

For me this was a wake-up call.  If this was true (and I had no reason to believe that it wasn’t) it meant that I needed to become aware of my thoughts throughout the day.  I needed to make sure that whatever thoughts I was entertaining were seeds that would produce the type of experiences I wanted to have in my life.

This proved to be easier said than done.  It was easy at the beginning of the day because I would start off with a clean slate and a positive attitude, but as I gradually got busy and distracted with my daily activities, I found myself repeating old thought patterns that were sure to produce unwanted results if left unattended.

At first I would get bummed up about it, because I thought that no matter how hard I tried I somehow managed to end up back at square one.  This would only cause me to feel more like a failure and, you guessed it, negative tapes to start playing again.

But I later learned that it is impossible to watch what we are thinking 24 hours a day (or however many hours we spend awake), so getting temporarily distracted was perfectly normal.  In fact, a recent study revealed that, astonishingly, humans are on autopilot nearly half of their waking hours!

Our mind is designed to jump on autopilot whenever possible in order to automate mundane tasks.  You do something long enough and it eventually becomes a habit, making it a task that you no longer have to think about.  If you’ve ever driven from one place to another and had no recollection of how you got there, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  I can certainly relate to that.  There were times when I suddenly realized I had arrived, and thanked God I was alive and prayed that I hadn’t committed any violations while driving.  Yikes!

Whenever I think of this I realize what a wonderful design the mind is.  I’m speechless when I think of all the intricate wiring and programs that are running to ensure that we follow all the traffic laws and make critical decisions almost unconsciously!  Of course this works to our advantage when our mind is engaged in something positive or uplifting, but it can just as well work against us when it’s engaged in something negative or undesirable.

But the good news is that we can change our thought habits just like we change any other habit: with repetition and persistence.  How do we know this?  Because that’s how our negative or pessimistic thinking became so natural to begin with.  It all started with thoughts that we entertained, then entertained some more, then recalled and entertained again, until now those thoughts just seem to naturally come to us on their own, and when we least expect it we find ourselves on a train to Looserville.

Like everything else, making a change in thought patterns takes practice and persistence, but it all begins with awareness.  If you’ve determined that you want to change the thought seeds that you’re planting in your mind, make it a point to become more aware of your thoughts throughout the day; whenever you catch yourself thinking less than favorable thoughts, don’t beat yourself up for it.  Instead, be glad that you caught yourself and reach for a better thought.

But if you are feeling a strong negative emotion associated with the thoughts you’re thinking, remember our river analogy from a previous post and make the jump gradually so that you don’t end up in the river.  With practice and persistence you’ll soon turn your new thought patters into a habit, and the less than desirable thoughts will fade away.

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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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