Affirmations That Work

Moving in ‘personal development’ circles, I tend to hear a lot about affirmations and how to make them work.

Basically, an affirmation is a carefully constructed statement that you repeat to yourself in order to create a positive change.

The idea of creating change through affirmations comes from the ‘positive thinking’ movement and is a fairly old idea.

However, few people can agree on how this seemingly magical phrase should be worded. The most commonly stated criteria are that it should be present tense, positive, personal and specific. So, in NLP terms, it must be a well-formed outcome.

However, there are certain difficulties with creating effective affirmations. The major problem is that in essence you’re supposed to tell yourself something that isn’t yet true.

Let me give you an example. Let’s talk about Mildred. Mildred weighs about 300 pounds and wants to lose weight. So she stands in front of her mirror and says “I weigh 200 pounds and look great”. That is the intended affirmation. However, she knows deep down that this isn’t true and her internal voice says something like “Oh no you don’t. You’re a big fat liar”. This is the actual affirmation.

Think about it like this: If someone in the supermarket told Mildred that she weighed 200 pounds and looked great, she would probably smack them in the mouth. It’s just not believable to her.

So if you do affirmations that way, you may spend a lot of time beating yourself up.

We all have a ‘reality strategy’ – in essence, a way of knowing what is real and what is not. We can stretch this a bit (expand our comfort zones through a learning experience) but if something falls too far outside that statement of reality, we reject it as untrue.

And affirmations that just stretch your reality a little bit run the risk of being underwhelming.

Reality Sandwich

So how can we use affirmations for something useful? My take on it is this:

In one sense, an affirmation is a form of self hypnosis. It’s a suggestion you make to yourself that you want your unconscious mind to accept as a directive or as a new ‘truth’. That sounds like self-hypnosis to me.

If you disagree, that may be because I use a broad definition of hypnosis.

So how can you make a more useful affirmation that is acceptable to your unconscious mind?

There’s a three part structure in hypnosis that is often referred to as the ‘baloney sandwich’. It goes like this:

  1. I am/have X
  2. I don’t want (to be) X
  3. I want (to be) Y

So Mildred would say “I weigh 300 pounds. I don’t want to weigh 300 pounds. I want to weigh 200 pounds and feel great.

So how does this work? It’s like a form of hypnotic goal-getting.

You start by stating where you currently are. This is completely acceptable to your unconscious mind because it is verifiably true. This is what hypnotists call a pacing statement.
You finish by stating where you want to be instead. This is also verifiably true because you do want that. So you are pacing the outcome too and you’ve set up the change as a journey with reasonable starting and finishing conditions.

Next, the structure contains the basis for motivation. The middle statement “I don’t want X” is affirming that you want to change from the current state of affairs – engaging your natural motivation to move away from unpleasant things. The final part contains the positive component of your motivation – the thing you want to move towards – especially if it contains how you will feel when you get there. In Mildred’s case, the towards motivation was to ‘feel great’.

Will your mind accept this chain of suggestion as an affirmation? If it’s all completely true and you’re sincere, it certainly will work.


Yet another way of looking at affirmations is to define them more broadly. I see them as a set of principles or assumptions we consciously choose to live by.

For example, I believe that things can be easy when you know how. Think about it. Any fool can make something seem complex and difficult – by adding needless jargon, creating new levels of complexity or requiring you to take the long way round.

It takes genius to reveal the simplicity in seemingly complex things. Look at chaos theory. The fundamental idea is that there are a small number of simple rules that underlie the complexity of nature.

Look at the most famous equation of all:


Simple, elegant, pure genius.

So the affirmation – the principle I chose to affirm this belief – is something I look at every day on my computer screen. It says:

If it’s difficult, you don’t really know what
you’re doing. Find out.

This is not a suggestion per se but a reminder of what to do if life fails to match my expectations. I’ve made a conscious decision about how I want to interact with the world and this statement affirms that choice.

My advice is to look beyond the surface. Go deeper into the idea of affirmations and you will find something more profoundly useful: well-structured self-hypnotic suggestions and ways you can choose the rules of the reality you want to live.

So choose your methods carefully – you could stand at the mirror and lie to yourself or you could instead affirm a deeper truth than you ever imagined.

You decide.

Affirmations That Work by
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