The Power of Negative Thinking

AffirmationAre you familiar with affirmations? I’m assuming that you are, but in the unlikely event that you have been immune to a little something known as the Self Help Movement for the past three decades, affirmations are succinct statements that reflect positive conditions, qualities, and circumstances we wish to be true in our lives. They are usually worded in the first-person and present-tense, e.g. I am healthy, wealthy, and wise. More often than not, affirmations are written down, spoken aloud, stuck on post-it notes around the house, and repeated frequently. Some other examples of affirmations include: It’s easy and natural for me to weigh 125lbs. I attract loving relationships into my life. My income is constantly increasing.

Using affirmations can bring about powerful healing and personal transformation, no doubt… but this is not always the case. Many people who try affirmations end up frustrated (and with a lot of dusty post-it notes to toss in the recycling bin, too) when those magical sentences don’t seem to bring equally magical results, no matter how many times they are repeated with earnest in front of the mirror.

Why do affirmations work sometimes but not always? Why do some people succeed with affirmations but other people do not?

The answer boils down to one simple factor: what we (truly) believe.

What do you truly believe?

What do you truly believe?

Consciously, we might really want to be slender and gorgeous. (Who wouldn’t, right?) Consciously, we might burn with excitement at the thought of rolling in money and enjoying outrageous levels of wealth. (Yeah, hello!) Consciously, it makes total, perfect sense to wish for vibrant health, a soulmate who practically shimmers with angelic perfection, and maybe a well-behaved Golden Retriever to boot. (Look at how picture-perfect my life is!) Health, wealth, family, career, confidence, relationships, spirituality– check. Our conscious, rational minds deem all of these things to be desire-worthy.

But what about our subconscious minds?

Are they also on board the luxury yacht of our conscious intentions, dreams, and goals for ourselves? Do our subconscious minds really believe it’s possible for us to attain washboard abs, a golden tan, a private jet, a jaw-dropping partner, and an adorable dog?

Well, if your day-to-day existence isn’t quite a carbon copy of your lofty affirmations, then the answer is, ah… no. (I’m sorry to break your heart.)

Like a giant refrigerator humming in the background of our lives, our subconscious minds run up to 95% of our cognitive activities and programs each day, at a rate that is up to a million times more powerful than our conscious minds. All of this happens on auto-pilot, too, or just barely in the periphery of our awareness. Our subconscious programs develop very early on in life, usually settling into distinctive patterns by the time we are six or seven years old. (See Bruce Lipton’s mind-blowing work on epigenetics for more stats.) What this means is that our subconscious beliefs and programs totally trump our conscious intentions, at a rate and a magnitude that is almost embarrassing. So much for “intelligent beings”, right?

Going back to affirmations now– these are consciously crafted, carefully worded statements, unfortunately setting up camp in the 5 percent/one million times less powerful section of the brain. (Gotta live somewhere.) If these affirmations don’t align with what our dominant, subconscious programs have to say about life, it’s easy to see how they can be dismissed as inconsequential and how, ultimately, nothing will change. Our bad habits will persist, and even worse– we’ll have an added layer of disappointment to deal with when affirmations don’t prove to be the magic bullet we hoped they would be.

(Don’t worry– this post will get less depressing shortly. I promise.)

Here are some typical (conscious mind) affirmations about our bodies and weight:

  • My body is fit, graceful, and slender!
  • It’s natural for me to weigh ___________lbs/kgs!
  • Losing weight is easy!
  • I enjoy being at my perfect weight, effortlessly!
  • My body craves healthy, fresh foods!
  • I love moving my body every day!
  • I am a picture of perfect health!

For clues about what our subconscious minds have to say in response, refer to your journaling exercise and the themes you teased out of your personal story:

  • Losing weight is hard.
  • Nothing ever works for me.
  • I hate exercising.
  • I’m a horrid, sloppy, fat, good-for-nothing excuse of a woman.
  • I have no willpower or self-discipline.
  • I’m a failure for eating _______________.
  • This is hopeless, nothing will ever change.

No matter how many times you try to convince yourself: Gosh! Losing weight sure is easy and fun! –or- Whee! Exercise is my favorite thing to do EVER!, if your subconscious mind is running the Yeah Effin’ Right soundtrack on repeat, you’re facing an uphill battle, sister. This is why “willpower” will only take you so far before you find your face inexplicably stuffed into a box of cookies. It’s also why positive affirmations, no matter how well-intentioned they may be, sometimes don’t seem to work.

The subconscious mind is much, MUCH more powerful than the conscious mind.

Your conscious mind is the ship at sea. Your subconscious mind is the laser-wielding mega walrus. Make sense?

Your conscious mind is like the ship at sea. Your subconscious mind is like the laser-wielding mega walrus. Make sense?

Subconscious beliefs don’t respond very well to being over-written with oppositely-worded, conscious affirmations. That’s like trying to play soft, classical music over pounding heavy metal music and still expecting to be able to enjoy your favorite symphony– it’s just not going to happen.

However, one of the easiest ways around the brute force of your subconscious programming is to effectively trick your mind (both the conscious and subconscious parts) into doing what it naturally does best: searching for relevant information and gathering evidence. How can you do this, you might be wondering? Well, asking yourself questions instead of affirming statements to yourself activates your innate curiosity, and your mind simply can’t resist trying to answer questions. #Fact.

A gentleman named Noah St. John has written entire books around bypassing affirmations in favor of what he calls “aformmations“. Essentially, an afformation is a question worded in such a way that assumes what we want is already true. (Like a question-format affirmation.) Afformations, like all questions, activate your mind to search for “answers” or evidence to confirm what we assume is already true.

Confused? I thought so. Let’s try some examples. Looking back at the themes you uncovered from your journaling exercise, first try flipping the negative phrases back into positive, standard-format affirmations:

  • e.g., “Losing weight is hard” becomes “Losing weight is easy for me”
  • e.g., “I’ll never succeed at keeping the weight off” becomes “I’m successful at maintaining my slender weight.”
  • e.g., “I’m a bad person for eating bad foods” becomes “I’m a good person, no matter what I eat”

(You might have to play around with the wording of some of them, but the next step is the more critical one, anyway.)

Now, take your positively-worded affirmations and phrase them as questions (afformations), asking why they already exist for you in the present tense:

  • e.g., “Why is losing weight so easy for me?”
  • e.g., “Why am I successful at maintaining my slender weight?”
  • e.g., “Why am I a good person, no matter what I eat?”

Then what happens? Magic!

Rather than trying to wrestle your subconscious mind and your deepest, programmed beliefs to the ground, you “sneak through the back door”, as my teacher likes to say. Suddenly, your mind (on both the conscious and subconscious level) is busily occupied, trying to collect evidence to effectively and convincingly answer your questions about why losing weight is so easy, maintaining a slender weight is no big deal, and you are essentially a good person, through and through.

I know this sounds a little ridiculous,

and I realize that you might feel skeptical, if not flat-out hostile, to the idea that asking yourself simple questions can really help you where no diet, program, or exercise routine has been able to so far. It does seem silly, yes, but what have you got to lose by trying it out? (Um… aside from weight?)

Clearly, conventional diets and sheer willpower haven’t worked. Neither has being overly critical of yourself. Maybe even Louise Hay-style affirmations haven’t yielded your desired results yet, either. Try using afformations for the next week and see what shifts for you. Remember, to create your customized afformations:

  1. Refer to the themes you teased out of your journaling exercise.
  2. Change the negatively-worded beliefs into positively-worded statements (affirmations).
  3. Put a “Why” in front of your affirmations, place a question mark at the end, and transform them into powerful afformations.

You can engage with your afformations by writing them down, reading them silently to yourself, or speaking them out loud. I like to coax myself into an exaggerated state of wonder when I use afformations, partly because I am a giant nerd, but mostly to communicate clearly to my brain that I’m genuinely curious about these questions and excited to discover the answers. (Picture your mind as a playful puppy and you as the one asking, Who’s a good dog?)

Speaking of good dogs, I LOVED meeting "Achilles" in San Diego. CUTE!

Speaking of good dogs, I LOVED meeting “Achilles” in San Diego. CUTE!

If nothing else, by creating and using afformations, you’ll be training your conscious mind to open up to curiosity and wonder more. You’ll also be encouraging your subconscious mind to loosen its death grip on programs and beliefs that might have served you well when you were five, but that are outdated and incompatible with your needs as an adult now. Try it out. See how you feel. And let me know how afformations work out for you. I’d love to hear about your experiences!

 

5 responses

    • Do eet, Emily! (So good to see you here!) I’m pretty amazed at how much asking questions “unlocks” my mind. (Marty and I have a great– and nerdy– time asking each other exaggerated afformations on a non-stop basis now, too. We’re so cool!)

      How is Canada?! Aside from the freezing-ass coldness right now, I hope that everything is going well with your family! 🙂

  1. I love this. Truly. I do. ❤ The first question that came to mind is one that my mind seems to be having a great deal of fun with, and I gotta tell ya, my laser-wielding mega-walrus (lol!!) is good at ignoring affirmations, but you're right about not being able to resist a good question.

    I recently read something else about affirmations and why they don't work. I don't remember the ins and outs of it, but there was a suggestion that instead of using "I" you should try coaching yourself by using "you." As in, "you can do this!" rather than "I can do this!" Apparently the mind doesn't shrug off coaching the way it will statements it doesn't believe. I found it works wonders for me when I'm exercising, so why not in other endeavors?

    • I’ve heard something similar in terms of recognizing your inner guide vs your inner critic: the critic phrases things in terms of “I” and “me”, whereas your inner guide or highest self is a witness, talking in terms of “you” and “your”. Super interesting!

  2. Pingback: Are You Criticizing Yourself for Criticizing Yourself? | zona pellucida

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