Does Positive Thinking Have Negative Results?

Does Positive Thinking Have Negative Results?

Recent research has cast doubt on the traditional affirmations that so many of us have tried to use to change our reality. Affirmations such as: 

"I am worthy,"

"I am getting better every day in every way," and

"I am strong and healthy," 

have actually been found to correlate to negative emotional states and depressed motivation when used by people who have low self-esteem. Kind of defeats the purpose, doesn't it?

Positive thinking alone is not enough

Positive Thinking Isn’t Enough

Should we toss affirmations altogether? Do positive thoughts backfire more often that not? Is The Secret a lost cause?

Or is positive thinking redeemable?

These are the questions raised by Adam Alter in the New Yorker last week (February 19, 2014). Citing research by Gabriele Oettingen, Doris Mayer and Heather Barry Kappes, Alter argues that positive thinking motivates and supports people who are already generally positive with higher levels of self-esteem and further depresses people who suffer with lower levels of self-esteem…

The people that The Secret is meant to help. The exact people who are haunting the aisles of bookstores looking for something, anything, to bring some light and hope to their lives. I know, I've been one of them.

Imagine the devastation that could be wreaked by a well-meaning affirmation such as "I am strong and healthy," used by someone who needs to be strong and healthy and only ends up feeling weaker and sicker because their negative thinking counteracts and nullifies the affirmation.

I have to confess, I've begun to post weekly affirmations on my Facebook page – and I love them. But now I have to wonder… are they causing harm? Harm is bad.

Sure, we don't want to focus on positive thinking if it makes us feel bad and fail at what we want. But we also don't want to sit around beating the crap out of ourselves with negative, shame-based thinking. hmmm…

What to do?

There's Still Hope for Affirmations and Positive Thinking

Happily, there are alternate views of how and when to use affirmations to motivate you to move into a healthier life. Dr. Richard Bolstad, an NLP Trainer and author in New Zealand, gives us a fresh perspective on affirmations to help us avoid the ab-react that can happen when we drop ideas into our unconscious mind that it disagrees with.

Here are my 5 tips for using affirmations to make them work for you as you build a life you love:

1. Let go of the belief that you can control your thoughts and feelings all the time. That just creates more guilt and shame.

Byron Katie, in her fantastic book, Loving What Is, argues that we don't think thoughts, thoughts think us. 

Get good at questioning the story that your unconscious mind spins for you and affirmations will take root much more easily.

2. Make sure your affirmations create possibility.

Instead of saying: "I am healthy and strong."

Say: "I am creating a body that is healthy and strong."

3. Ask a question. We love questions around here. Create curiousity.

Instead of saying: "I am creating a body that is healthy and strong."

Ask: "What could I do today if I were creating a body that is healthy and strong? What would I do if I were serious about creating a body that is healthy and strong?"

See what positive suggestions come up and follow the wisdom of your own body and higher self.

Get Into Action To Get What You Want

Get Into Action to Get What You Want

4.Only use affirmations that 'feel right' in your body. If you say an affirmation such as "I am strong and healthy" and the first thoughts and feelings you have are negative, STOP IMMEDIATELY.

If an affirmation causes guilt, hurt, shame or blame, you're not ready for it.

Investigate your thinking and emotional states and do the healing that needs to be done so that your body can accept that affirmation without stress. Not sure how to clean out the stuff that is holding you back? Contact us for a Strategy Session and we'll work with you to create a clean slate.

5. Take action now. Most important, never use an affirmation that you aren't willing to work for. The biggest problem with The Secret, and the criticism most often levelled at it, is that it encouraged people to sit around and think happy thoughts without taking any action.

While I question if that is actually what it taught, it's a good think to avoid. 

Say the affirmation, then ask what action you could take to make it true. Then DO the action.

Start to create a life you love, one small decision and action at a time and I bet that affirmations will work for you just fine.


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Vanessa Long - Relationship Coach

"Would you like to learn simple ways you can renovate your life, building a life that you love without burning down the life that you have now? Check out my website,, for free articles, resources, and to sign up for my free Special Report: Create an Extraordinary Life Now: 7 Keys to Take Your Relationships from 'Blah' to 'Wow!'

Trainer and Relationship Coach Vanessa Long is the go-to expert for individuals and couples looking to create a life they love.


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