Positive self-affirmations are probably the most narcissistic, attention-seeking, and useless activity one can engage in. And what’s worse, it doesn’t help, it only exacerbates the problem.
There’s a growing fad of “affirmations” where every ‘helpful activity’ engaged in or repeated is met with a self-pat-on-the-back to provide encouragement. People use this as a motivating tool to get themselves out of a negative habit or build a positive one through small, self-conscious, self-congratulatory steps, which eventually leads to a bigger change. Based on positive reinforcement, this mental parlor trick aims to create an internal reward system where you create self-appreciation, build positive feedback-loops and hence ‘reinforce’ a habit, either through avoidance or pursuit. “You didn’t smoke today, good job,” or “you went to the gym today, keep at it,” are examples of the negative prevention and the positive encouragement of ‘affirmations.’
While at the face of it, affirmations seem to be helping you, I’d argue, they are hurting you even more.
Affirmations is the latest tool used in ‘modern self-help,’ a growing genre of improvement techniques selling millions in books, podcasts and documentaries. While only a few of them have a genuine urge to ‘help’ most of them are all about the ‘self,’ putting themselves at the center of the world. To further their selfish claim, these so called ‘self-help’ gurus advocate ‘affirmations’ as a way to strive for better habits, but what it ends up doing is insulating you from the real world, a world that isn’t going to clap for you if you walked on the treadmill for 10 minutes, or didn’t take that extra puff.
Creating a ‘safe-space,’ as is so popular nowadays, is the only goal of affirmations. By appreciating your actions despite its minor magnitude, you give yourself an out; a pass for avoiding criticism. You know your efforts were minimal, too small to make a difference, and just a matter of show. Yet you acknowledge them, appreciate them, and even affirm them out loud, as an act of bravado. This kind of mentality only builds a sense of ‘fake confidence,’ so weak and fragile that it falls apart the minute it meets resistance, because its not backed by actual effort just a personal sense of appreciation that doesn’t mean squat to anyone but you.
When things go bad, and the negative habit is engaged in, or the positive habit is interrupted, what do you do? Wallow and sulk, because you don’t have something nice and fake to tell yourself? You finally realize that what you were engaging in was just a facade, a fake show-and-tell for yourself in front of the mirror to justify all the bad you hid beneath the surface and the good you let pass. Yeah, the realization sucks!
The next time you stand in front of the mirror, thinking about repeating hollow ‘affirmations’ and putting yourself up for inevitable failure or worse a fake sense of success. Why not admit failure before you begin? Why not tell the truth? Engage in the opposite of affirmations, engage in ‘the truth.’ Focus on the negatives, pick apart your flaws, call yourself out and stand back and stare at what’s on the other side of the mirror. Instead of affirming yourself for good deeds engaged in, call out yourself for bad deeds forgotten. Because deep inside we know we’re worse than we are better, and when we finally admit it, it takes us by storm.
It’s not “reliving,” “freeing,” or “uplifting” but it does two things that ‘affirmations’ have never done, and never will. The very admittance of negativity, out in the open, as uttered words, written letters, or contemptuous stares, is hurtful at first, but you soon realize it is the truth, and the truth does hurt, especially when you’ve kept it hidden. The first time you tell yourself the truth, instead of beating around the bush, instead of mollycoddling yourself and instead of lying to yourself, it feels like reality just punched you in the stomach. If you have a problem, the first step is admitting it, not conveniently propping it up to seem excusable, giving yourself and out, or worse, layering it deep down through minimal efforts devoid of actual change; that’s what your doing with ‘affirmations.’
When you do tell yourself the truth, its not just the words that hurt you, it who uttered them that hurts even more. The mere expulsion of words you once thought were unimaginable becomes a watershed moment in how you look at yourself. No more are you a weak, feeble person, easily broken by the mildest of remarks. No more do you sugarcoat every excessive flaw, or insufficient good. No more do you lie to yourself. In this maiden truth-telling tryst you finally realize you have something in you, you never thought you did. You can call this “internal being” what you will, people have various iterations of it, the optimists call it “potential,” the pessimists call it “a lost cause,” either way, this ‘inner self’ is a form of monster. Why a monster? Well, a monster because its who you could be if you give it enough control and ‘realize your potential’ as they say, or it’s who you could descend into if you give it all control, and get lost. A monster is something which needs to be controlled, tamed, and caged; to hone when the time is right, and to hold when it isn’t. You shouldn’t completely let it go, or completely let it take over, but you should call upon it when required. Regardless of when or even if you can summon this monster, you won’t realize you have it in you until you tell the truth to yourself. So, tell yourself the truth even if it’s hurtful, harsh or horrific, at least it isn’t a lie to make yourself fell better.
Affirmations can never bring out this internal being, because affirmations make you believe in crap like ‘you’re great just the way you are.’ You never realize your ‘true potential’ if you look in the mirror and keep painting over ever flaw, ignoring the truth and pushing your monster deeper and deeper till it eventually disappears. Don’t lie to yourself, don’t let your monster die, don’t affirm yourself. Tell yourself the truth.