Why Affirmations Don’t Work for Me (and Maybe You) and What to Do Instead

Thoughts and affirmations

Affirmations are carefully crafted positive statements that address unwanted limiting beliefs and negative thought patterns.

I’ve worked with affirmations for years and tried them in different areas of my life—from self acceptance, confidence and dealing with fear, to financial freedom and success—they never worked for me.

I tried saying them repeatedly, meditating on them, and writing them down. I went one step further and created multimedia affirmations with images and music. Nothing changed. My mindset didn’t shift, and I didn’t feel any different.

Affirmations have been around for a very long time, and they’re still talked about. So they must work. The question that I kept asking myself is: what’s wrong with me? Why can’t I benefit from affirmations?

And like the human being that I am, I kept looking for ways to fix what I was doing. I thought I was doing them wrong, or I didn’t fully understand how they work, or I wasn’t trying hard enough.

The more I kept digging, the more confused I felt. After a while I gave up. There was no point in feeling worse while I was trying to feel better.

In order for me to move past affirmations, I needed closure. I wanted to answer two questions:

  • Why have I not been successful with affirmations?
  • What can I do instead to deal with limitations and negativity?

And before I answer these questions, let me just say one thing here. Affirmations work for some people. And if you’re one of the lucky ones, by all means, please continue using what’s working for you.

If you’re like me and have tried affirmations, but can’t get results, read through and see if you can relate to my experience.

Why affirmations don’t work for some people

Looking into my own thinking and experience, I can surmise the following reasons.

1- Skeptical mind

Some people are optimists by nature, and others are skeptics. I tend to lean towards the latter.

My mind cannot be easily swayed into the positive. So adding a new positive statement is going to empower the skeptic to question more.

2- Can’t fake feelings

One of affirmations’ prerequisites is injecting the statement with all the positive feelings one can muster.

Emotions are the anchors of memory and beliefs. They are what makes an experience or a repetitive thought sink in deeply.

Because of my innate skepticism, I could not bring myself to project a positive feeling when I wasn’t really feeling it.

The feelings usually come on their own after either a shift in thinking, or a positive experience, but not before.

Trying to repeatedly state something positive didn’t improve the situation. It created another negative aspect in my case. There was an inner voice that kept nagging: this is crap, you’re deluding yourself, you’re lying to yourself. And this voice is quite strong and awfully familiar.

If you ever heard of fake it till you make it, I can tell you it works—but with actions, not emotions.

You can act without clarity, or courage and see what happens. But you can’t pretend to be happy, or to love yourself and get results. At least that’s what I’ve experienced.

3- Compounding the weight of thoughts and beliefs

Adding a new layer of thought on top of all the other thoughts felt like more work, and not a release from limitation and negativity.

Here is what happened:

  • A limiting belief/thought is deeply rooted in memory and running in the background all the time.
  • A newly added positive affirmation floats on top of that. And,
  • A newly negative argument against the new positive is floating on top of that and empowering the deeper beliefs.

In effect I ended up adding two new layers of thoughts without any benefit.

As you can see none of the above gave me any relief or improved my life. So the next question is what can we do instead?

Practical alternatives to affirmations

The following steps will address the above issues and help us grow in spite of limitations.

1- Accept what is instead of affirming the opposite

If we work from a place of surrender, we eliminate the struggle with reality and accept life on its own terms.

Let’s say I don’t like myself. Instead of repeating I love myself a thousand times, while every cell of my body screams I don’t think so, I can simply decide to be okay with how I feel in this moment.

I don’t like myself. So what? Let it be and see what happens.

There is tremendous release in just being okay with negative emotions. We won’t add to the negativity by resisting and fighting, and we won’t waste energy on a losing battle (fighting with deeply rooted beliefs and feelings).

If we accept where we are and how we feel, we can move forward.

2- Act in spite of limitation—but without expectations

I’m a true believer that action without rigid expectations is the best cure for a lot of our mental and emotional struggles.

When we have negative thoughts and emotions, and keep affirming the opposite, we’re not really doing anything.

But if we let go of the need to change how we feel, we let our minds and hearts be. Then we can calmly act. This is when change happens.

And that’s what makes a big difference. If I feel lazy and not up to doing much, I just let myself be. I feel lazy right now, so be it.

Then I calmly sit on my desk and start a document and tell myself I’m just going to type a few words … just one line. That’s it. No expectations of success or failure, and without effort to concur my laziness.

I end up writing one, two lines, a paragraph. Maybe I’ll do more, or I’ll do less. That’s fine. I started and did something, and that’s all that matters.

3- Practice reality-based gratitude

I found this to be the most beneficial tool to alleviate innate skepticism and conditioned negativity.

Instead of trying to focus on a hypothetical positive to affirm, why not focus on all the good things that are here right now?

In this case we’re not trying to reverse thoughts or beliefs. We’re refocusing our attention on what’s actually working and all the positives in our life.

The mind might try to refocus on negativity, but it cannot question what’s working.

Turning gratitude into a daily practice can be life transforming. Over time, we build the habit of appreciating what’s working. And this in turn will reduce the effect of the subconscious obsessive focus on what’s not working.

Affirmations can be a wonderful tool for empowering a more positive mindset. But like most things in life, they don’t work for everyone.

For the skeptics, like me, a more effective approach is to let go of trying to change how we feel, act calmly, and remember all the blessing of life and reality as it is.