Silly Self-Help Tactic (Mostly) Debunked: Positive Affirmations

Silly Self-Help Tactic (Mostly) Debunked: Positive Affirmations

By Jonathan Roseland

I'm not a doctor, medical professional, or trained therapist. I'm a researcher and pragmatic biohacking practitioner exercising free speech to share evidence as I find it. I make no claims. Please practice skepticism and rational critical thinkingYou should consult a professional about any serious decisions that you might make about your health. Affiliate links in this article support Limitless Mindset - spend over $150 and you'll be eligible to join the Limitless Mindset Secret Society.

Remember when your mom/support group leader/therapist/overconfident self-help guru/The Secret told you that you should practice doing positive self-affirmations to make you better at the things you suck at? It turns out that doesn't really work...

A 2009 study by the University of Waterloo has demonstrated scientifically that positive self-affirmations do very little good and may actually be hurting your mood.

positive affirmation debunked Have you ever found yourself repeating these types of messages in your head?

  • I am an attractive person.
  • I am relaxed and manage my stress.
  • I am in control of my finances and career.
  • I am a good student/wife/husband/employee/lover!
  • I have healthy, respectful relationships.

Or do you repost and re-share positive message photo memes on Facebook or social media?

What the Canadian study found was that unless you have high self-esteem already about the areas of your life you are mentally affirming, doing self-affirmations actually puts you in a negative mood. This makes sense because...

  • Your logical faculty knows these affirmations aren't really true.
  • You are essentially lying to yourself. Lying is morally reprehensible so positive (yet false) affirmations will upset your conscience.

Actionable: The study found that if you have high self-esteem in the areas of the affirmations, which I assume means they are ACTUALLY true (unless you are particularly adept at self-delusion) they do improve your mood marginally, so positive self-affirmations do work if you already feel confident about what is being affirmed.

Motivational Photo Memes: The absurd popularity of motivational photo memes on social media is surely a reflection of positive self-help pop culture. People posting these simplistic memes are doing so because they want to be perceived as positive, confident people. So in the light of the Canadian study, in addition to simply being a waste of time and bytes, posting positive photo memes may actually be hurting your mood.

stupid Facebook memes

Clinical psychologists have long been critical of the positive self-help movement. The conclusion the study reached was that positive self-affirmations may hurt those who need them the most and use them out of a place of desperation. Nice to see common sense prevailing in the murky and sometimes uncertain world of pop psychology.

Positive self-statements: power for some, peril for others.
Wood JV, Perunovic WQ, Lee JW.
Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo, 200 University Ave., Waterloo, Ontario, Canada N2L 3G1.

Abstract: Positive self-statements are widely believed to boost mood and self-esteem, yet their effectiveness has not been demonstrated. We examined the contrary prediction that positive self-statements can be ineffective or even harmful. A survey study confirmed that people often use positive self-statements and believe them to be effective. Two experiments showed that among participants with low self-esteem, those who repeated a positive self-statement ("I'm a lovable person") or who focused on how that statement was true felt worse than those who did not repeat the statement or who focused on how it was both true and not true. Among participants with high self-esteem, those who repeated the statement or focused on how it was true felt better than those who did not, but to a limited degree. Repeating positive self-statements may benefit certain people, but backfire for the very people who "need" them the most.

If a more rigorous approach to mindset is appealing to you, read my book How to Be Cross Eyed: Thriving Despite Your Physical Imperfection...

How to Be Cross Eyed [Second Edition]
Category: Book


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