I Tried Affirmations And Realized That They’re Kind Of Like Drugs
Affirmations have fascinated me since the first time I heard about them, when I was 12 or 13 years old, watching Sex and the City in my parents’ living room with the sound turned down low and my finger hovering over the remote control, ready to flip to another channel at a moment’s notice if I thought I heard my parents walking down the hall.
In episode two of season five, Charlotte Yorke has finally come to terms with the fact that her marriage to Trey, the gorgeous doctor with an apartment on the Upper West Side who unfortunately had an impotence problem, is over. She decides to attend a self-help seminar, which involves writing affirmations in lipstick on her bathroom mirror, stating that, yes, she will find love again.
At the time, Carrie is also single and has nothing better to write about that week, so she tags along, although she does little to hide the fact that she thinks affirmations are bullshit.
Even though at the time I was still years away from understanding the desperation that being single can wage on an adult woman’s soul, I too had decided that affirmations were bullshit.
After all, how can a handful of words you write on a bathroom mirror, or repeat over and over to yourself, actually make a difference in your life? Isn’t that just like what happens every New Year’s Eve when we tell ourselves we’re going to start dong yoga every day and finally give up on mixing vodka and emotions?
Still, now that I’m older, wiser, and open to the possibility that not everything is bullshit, I decided that in the name of health, wellness and fixing all your problems without having to pay for years of therapy, that I’d give affirmations an honest try.
Surprisingly, after just three days of repeating positive affirmations to myself in the mirror, I was convinced they actually worked, and after five days I was ready to start telling my friends about my miraculous discovery.
And then I kind of forgot to do them for two days, and I instantly felt like my old self again, which was both disappointing and kind of a relief, because being a person who believes in affirmations is very contrary to my personal brand.
The way I see it, affirmations are just like drugs.
They feel really good when you’re doing them, and sometimes they let you think that you’re gaining crucial information about who you are and how you relate to the world, but then you come down from the high and realize that you weren’t getting the secret answers to life, you were just tripping.
Still, even though they’re mostly bullshit, here’s how they could kind of work for you, if you can get over the embarrassment of talking to yourself for five to 15 minutes at a time.
Believe it or not, there’s actually a science behind affirmations.
We all have this filter in our brains called the Reticular Activating System (RAS), whose one job is to let in all the information we need and filter out everything else.
For instance, imagine you’re outside, waiting for a green light, passing the time by looking across the street and you suddenly see that there’s a really hot guy four feet away from you wearing a green button down shirt, black jeans, and a pair of black and maroon Puma sneakers.
All your brain really needs to process is that there’s a hot guy across the street from you, which is why you probably didn’t even notice his shoes, even though your eyes most definitely saw them.
Anyway, when you say an affirmation over and over again, you send a message to your RAS that whatever it is you’re trying to affirm is actually important information to you, and not bullshit, so over time your RAS makes sure to help you start noticing things to achieve your goals.
For instance, if like Charlotte, your goal is to find love again, your body will supposedly start making note of every single attractive man you pass on the street and begin to filter out every average looking Joe who’s not fit to kiss the ground you walk on.
Or at least, that’s what’s supposed to happen.
Honestly, even while I was in the process of reading all these scientific explanations, I still had my doubts, and then I came across something Dr. Ronald Alexander said that really got me thinking.
“There are both positive and negative types of affirmations. I’m sure many of us can remember as a child being told by a teacher, parent or coach that we didn’t have the ability to do something, or we were fat, clumsy, etc. These unwholesome statements can stay with us in the conscious or unconscious mind, which we then reinforce throughout our lives.
I know from firsthand experience that this is true, and it occurred to me that if we can actively make ourselves believe that the worst possible things about ourselves are true, then it’s definitely possible that we can make ourselves believe the opposite is true.
And with that in mind, I set out to figure out how I was going to choose my affirmations and what was going to be the most effective way to make them come true.
After much deliberation, I settled on four affirmations:
#1: “I am interesting and engaging enough to tell a good story”
#2: “I’m a smart person with something to say”
#3: “I know how to have fun, and I do”
#4: “I’m a bad ass bitch that people want to know”
I chose these affirmations by writing out a list of mean things that I say about myself on a daily/weekly basis, and then flipping them so that they were written in a positive voice.
I also chose them because even though I don’t like to admit it, they’re all true, and as Anneli Rufus pointed out in her article about why affirmations don’t work for some people, you’re setting yourself up for failure if you try and reinforce a value that you don’t have.
For instance, it doesn’t really do any good if you try and tell yourself that you make beautiful eating choices if all you eat are flaming hot Cheetos and pizza with an an occasional side salad.
Now, the only thing left was to take the plunge and start saying them.
On the first day I began my affirmations, I didn’t feel much more than awkwardness. Diligently, I repeated each separate affirmation to myself for a minute, but I had a hard time committing each phrase to my memory, even though they were super short, and I kept glancing down at the timer to see if I was almost done.
I repeated them again at the end of the day, because I’d read that it takes 21 days for affirmations to start working and I had only given myself seven days to write this story, so I figured I should double up on my sessions.
When I repeated them at the end of the day, I still felt vaguely stupid the whole time, but I was also smiling and laughing while doing them, which felt like it was maybe progress. Maybe.
On the second day, I began to feel powerful and noted that, it’s hard not to smile when you’re doing affirmations because you’re just giving yourself positive reinforcement, and at the end of the day, you’re the only one who can ever really do that for yourself, you feel?
Can you tell that I used to do a lot of drugs?
On day three, I had a breakthrough.
This time, as I was doing my affirmations I felt my heart release as warmth spread throughout my chest.
I couldn’t deny that the affirmations were making me feel happy, and were feeling more and more like true statements and not things I was trying to convince myself were true.
I decided I wanted to start saying each affirmation for three minutes at a time, because that’s how much I as enjoying them.
By day four, things got deep.
As soon as I finished with my affirmations, I immediately launched into writing a long essay to myself in the Word document I was using to keep notes about how ever since I moved to New York four years ago, I’ve allowed myself to lose sense of what my definition of fun is, choosing to instead compare myself with people who go out all the time, strike up friendships with strangers, and stay out until four in the morning on the regular.
And I even used the sentence, “As the wise philosopher Aubrey Drake Graham once said, know yourself.”
I then launched into another essay about how affirmations are the secret to pretty much every single rapper’s source of confidence, since half of mainstream rap is made up of boasts that so and so is the greatest of all time at sex, life, drugs, or in the case of Lil Wayne, eating pussy.
Like I said, things got deep.
But what can I say? I was feeling the affirmations and feeding off the love.
This feeling continued the next day, and I made sure to note to myself that I was noticing a change in my personal life as well.
And then on the sixth day, I accidentally took a three hour nap. And then on the seventh day, I was kind of over the exercise and sort of embarrassed that I’d allowed myself to be brainwashed by the power of positive thinking for a hot second.
It’s not that affirmations can’t work for you. I’d be lying if the exercise hasn’t made me feel a smidgen more self-confidence, but it’s important to remember that they’re never going to change your life.
Maybe I was wrong before. Maybe it’s not so much that affirmations are like drugs, but rather that they’re like stretching.
So long as you keep doing them, they work, but once you stop, you slowly lose everything.
Either way, unless you’re really committed to devoting five to 15 minutes of your day to saying nice things to yourself in the mirror, you can do yourself a favor and save affirmations for the professionals on assignment.