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What to Do When Positive Affirmations Feel Like They’re Not Working

by | Oct 10, 2022 | Creative Relaxation, Mindset Shifts for Relaxation, Music for Relaxation | 0 comments

Last updated on September 11th, 2023

Effective affirmations, both positive and negative, use strong emotions to turn your thoughts into beliefs. Your beliefs ensure consistent habitual reactions to recurring circumstances, thus requiring a keen awareness to override them. Once you understand how affirmations work, you gain a way to consciously regulate your own thoughts and emotions.

With any new activity, motivation remains high through the first bumps in the process. That being said, flooding your mind with positive thoughts takes some getting used to. Your brain prioritizes negative thoughts over positive ones, after all.

The way your brain sees it, a continual state of preparedness for negative circumstances keeps you safe. Naturally, feelings of resistance or tension may surface as you clash with this survival instinct.

When frustrated by ineffective affirmations, you don’t need self-doubt. It only gets in the way of establishing positive self-talk. You need a troubleshooting plan to work from instead. Before dismissing positive affirmations as a waste of time and effort, try the six tips that follow (or watch the video and get a bonus tip).

What to Do When Positive Affirmations Don’t Work

Tip #1:
Really Feel What You’re Thinking

The underlying purpose of reciting an affirmation is to turn a thought of your choice into a subconscious belief. In turn, your future thoughts and habitual actions will automatically reflect this belief. There’s a catch, though. Beliefs form in the presence of strong emotions, not meh ones.

Recall a time when you felt the emotion that you want to attach to your affirmation. With the emotion activated, allow it to linger while you recite your affirmation. Your brain falls for this trick because a thought attached to an emotion morphs into a belief over time. It doesn’t matter where you picked up the pieces that you want to string together.

As a side note, this phenomenon also occurs during the formation of phobias. When fear distorts thoughts surrounding a particular experience, it produces a misconstrued belief. Altering the thoughts and intensity of fear surrounding an event gradually, through the process of desensitization, lessens the impact of the belief. Again, positive affirmations work from the same general principles to bring about constructive changes in perspective.

Tip #2:
Break It Down and Be Kind

You won’t go from thinking, I can’t do anything right, straight to, I succeed at everything I do, in a day or even a week. You’ll have more success starting with an affirmation like, I am a great listener, or, I am proud that I am focused on what’s important.

Slowly work your way up the mountain of change. Once you establish a process that works, anything goes. Feel free to entertain your wildest ambitions about re-inventing the way you think about yourself!

Tip #3:
Recruit a Cheerleader

Far too many self-defeating thoughts originate from hearing someone else say them. Make the psychology behind this phenomenon work in your favor.

Ask someone you trust and respect to set a new affirmation by inserting it into casual conversation on a few occasions. Let it be a surprise. If you know when to expect the statement, its effect dwindles.


Sports fan's 'we're #1' foam finger

Take a hint from OMI’s song and find yourself a cheerleader, too.

Tip #4:
Double-Check Your Values

Consider the destructive thought, Why does every one have it out for me? If you try to offset the thought with, Everyone loves me, it will most likely make you cringe.

First, ask yourself if you even care about what people think of you. If you do, create an affirmation grounded in circumstances that you control. Whether or not people like you doesn’t fit that qualification. Instead, start with statements of self-worth like, I am worthy of love and respect. I am everything I need to be.

If you don’t care about what people think of you, I accept others’ actions, values, and uniqueness, better fits your values of individuality and feeling heard. Work from the assurance that there’s more than one way to state an affirmation.

Tip #5:
Borrow Affirmations from Sources of Inspiration

Music taps directly into your mood and sets up favorable mindset conditioning, the recipe for superb affirmations. First of all, listening to music stimulates dopamine production, the chemical in the brain that makes an activity feel rewarding and fun.

Secondly, song lyrics function as amazing sources of positive self-talk. Since songwriters generally write what they know, lyrics encompass the broad spectrum of life’s experiences.

In addition, listening to music creates an emotional experience that matches the lyrical message presented in a song. Since songs, like affirmations, just as easily focus your attention on negative thoughts as positive ones, pick an affirmation song that meets all of the following criteria:

    • It makes you feel confident
      It should cause you to stand up straighter, raise your chin, strike a pose, or picture yourself with a hero’s cape blowing in the wind.
    • It makes you smile
      Simple enough, right? Don’t force a smile. If it happens naturally, you’ve found a keeper of a song.
    • It contains positive lyrics
      Any mention of negative life experiences should reference triumphing over them. No woe-is-me moping.
    • The lyrics promote independence and self-reliance
      ​Positive affirmations should empower your thoughts and feelings, owing success and strength to no one but yourself, with the exception of drawing on a higher power.

I created a whole playlist on YouTube around these four guidelines,  called “Daily Lyrical Affirmations.” Explore the playlist to get inspiration for your own musical, positive affirmations.

Tip #6:
Practice, Practice, Practice

Yes, you need to practice saying nice things to yourself. Flooding your mind with positive thoughts takes some getting used to. Your brain instinctively prioritizes negative thoughts over positive ones. In fact, research suggests that you need to respond to a negative thought with three to five positive ones to counterbalance the effect of the original negative thought.

Repeating your affirmations out loud several times or for several minutes creates a speech-to-rhythm illusion. This phenomenon affects how you perceive spoken words, making them sound more song-like and pleasant. Even if you don’t say your affirmations aloud, repeating them to yourself reduces neural activity throughout the brain, producing a wave of relaxation that quiets competing thoughts. Your brain also ramps up serotonin production and stimulates its reward center to give you an all-natural “high.” These effects last long after you stop reciting the positive affirmations.

As mentioned previously, practicing positive affirmations throughout the day counteracts destructive thoughts. Dedicating a specific time of day to create a ritual around reciting your affirmations strengthens the habit. Over time, the repetition provides a sense of familiarity and comfort that enhances the relaxation effect.

Incorporating affirmation practice into your morning routine sets your attitude for the whole day. Your brain needs about 20 minutes to fully wake up after sleep. During this time, it lowers its defenses against suggestibility and presents the perfect opportunity to re-program it with positive affirmations.

To establish consistency of your affirmations, use an already-established habit to remind yourself to practice. Americans, for example, spend more time on digital devices and computers than any other daily activity, more than 10 hours a day. Take advantage of this habit by  displaying your positive affirmations on your wallpaper, or background, on your computer, tablet, or smartphone screen.

Treat Your Positive Affirmations Like Fine China

Positive affirmations are like pieces of fine china. If you leave them to sit in a cabinet, they blend into the environment and you forget about them. Use them regularly and they deliver nourishment to help you thrive. 

For the best possible outcome, consume only the affirmations that serve you. Put your affirmations on display for the world to see, or rather hear, as the ultimate statement of confidence. Finally, remember that you control the direction and quality of your thoughts. But you must acknowledge them first.

Meet Brenna

I’m a music therapist, dog mom, nature enthusiast, business owner, introvert, sleep and stress management coach, and research lover. My mission is to help you remove stress as a barrier to better health, greater happiness, and more meaningful connections with the people and passions that make life exciting.

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