“Affirmations are simply the practice of repeating to yourself what you want to achieve while imagining the outcome you want.” – Scott Adams
For a long time, the word “affirmation” brought to mind, “Every day in every way, I am getting better and better.” When you see it in print like that, it’s hard to believe and easy to dismiss. The phrase was created by Emile Coué (1857-1926), a French psychologist and pharmacist who developed a method of psychotherapy based on autosuggestion.
Later, when I studied the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, I found a broader concept of affirmations and why certain types of suggestions work for certain types of people. In Scientific Healing Affirmations, (1925), Yogananda wrote:
“Imagination, reason, faith, emotion, will, or exertion may be used according to the specific nature of he individual – whether imaginative, intellectual, aspiring, emotional, volitional, or striving. Few people know this. Coué stressed the value of autosuggestion, but an intellectual type of person is not susceptible to suggestion, and is influenced only by a metaphysical discussion of the power of consciousness over the body. He needs to understand the whys and wherefores of mental powers. If he can realize, for instance, that blisters may be produced by hypnosis…he can understand the power of the mind to cure disease. If the mind can produce ill health, it can also produce good health.”
Recently, I found an even simpler testimonial to the power of affirmations in Scott Adam’s book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. Discussing affirmations in an earlier book, Adams drew negative email from people who claimed he believed in magic. In two chapters of his latest work, Adams lays out the principles of affirmations without venturing any guesses on why they have worked for him, with the exception of one simple principle:
“The pattern I have noticed is that the affirmations only worked when I had a 100 percent unambiguous desire for success.”
He then summarizes his experience with affirmations, leading up to the big one in his life: “I, Scott Adams, will be a famous cartoonist.” As the book makes clear, he was already working in the field and committed when he practiced this suggestion.
I recommended How to Fail when I reviewed it, and the chapters on affirmation alone are worthy of another recommendation.
Interesting post, Morgan. Have you looked at the work by Louise Hay or cell biologist, Bruce H Lipton? Affirmations are also part of emotional freedom technique (tapping on meridian points at the same time as making affirmations). Visualization, and total engagement are key parts of the process. There’s nothing particularly weird about any of this as some people think, and the practice is endorsed by eminent psychologists and medical practitioners. E.g. endocrinologist Deepak Chopra. It’s a means of undoing hardwired negative thinking conditioning imposed either directly by others, and by oneself in reaction to how others have behaved towards or in front of you. (e.g. inherited phobias). It’s about ‘tuning in’ to the subconscious reactions (often based on total misunderstanding) that govern how we tend to lead our lives. This is interesting field of thought in all senses. Thank you for writing about it.
I have not studied the work of these individuals in depth, but I agree that uprooting the most harmful negative thought patterns is of great importance, and there are a lot of ways to go about it. Thanks for the references.
This is especially interesting in that my “affirmation” is basically “I can’t handle this” over and over. But I never actually have the intention of quitting, I do it *while* I’m handling whatever it is. It’s basically the only way I can convince myself that whatever’s happening will be over soon. That’s more for things that are happening TO me though, when it’s a project or something that I’ve taken on myself, the positive self-talk is helpful and negative self-talk is harmful, like a normal person would do it. 🙂
That is interesting, Hannah. I remember when my dad was diagnosed with Alzhiemer’s and we saw we were going to be long time care givers, I kept thinking the same thing, “I can’t handle this. We did, however. At the same time, in ordinary circumstances, I remember one thing Dr. Wayne Dyer said on one of his PBS presentations. I used to watch those pledge-drive type programs and derive some inspiration which often didn’t last too long. But one time he said, “Worry amounts to giving mental energy to what you don’t want to happen.” That always stuck with me, though sadly it hasn’t cured the worry habit.
Ah, that’s a good thing to remember. 🙂
Thanks for another thoughtful and though-provoking post. I especially like the quote about worry in the comments. That is something I need to work on.
Me too. I’m considering another post centering on that topic.