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Old July 23rd, 2009, 18:30   #1 (permalink)
GilesC (Offline)
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Smile Positive Affirmations - Negative Results

Hi All,

Positive Affirmations - Negative Results
Panthau raised an interesting point about Positive Affirmations on the "Who am I? meditation this Sunday" thread...
"Who am I ?" Meditation this sunday

I felt this warranted a thread in it's own right, so that we don't deviate too much on the other thread. I'm putting it in the Law of Attraction forum, because positive affirmation are all about attracting those positive things to you and it seems the most appropriate forum to me.

Pan said
Thanks for your hints on affirmations! Few weeks ago i read about a new
scientific research regarding positive affirmations and how they can turn around into something negative for people with less self esteem. Thats exactly what i experienced when i tried it with affirmations for a while (twice so far) im a little afraid to try it again :-/

This is the article (only bad google translation):
Google ‹bersetzer
Reference to the same study can also be found by searching the web, but here's a couple of links I dug out myself.. (The study itself cannot be obtained without paying for it so we'll have to go on what information can be gleaned from 3rd party reports about the study)

BBC NEWS | Health | Self-help 'makes you feel worse'

Now, obviously the BBC report on this is limited due to the space limitations they place on individual journalistic articles and also their need to summarize stories to keep public interest. (Why bore people with all the factual details eh! )


The peril of positive thinking - why positive messages hurt people with low self-esteem : Not Exactly Rocket Science

This second link offers a more in depth scientific look at the study and what it showed.

The general concensus of the study seems to be that saying positive affirmation is not really beneficial, apart from when they are used by people who already have high self-esteem, and even then the effects are minimal.

Now, I admit, I'm not a big fan of (statistical) studies, not that I'm anti-science or anti-anything really, but one of my favourite saying is "Statistical studies show that statistics are completely accurate 50% of the time". (think about it! )

So, let's look at this in a bit more detail (this is going to sound like rant, but it's not, let's just think of it as a critical review )...

Firstly, What is a positive affirmation?...

Ok, a positive affirmation is where we take something that is an issue for us, or some desire in our life and then create a positive statement, ensuring it is said in the present tense (as if we already have that positive outcome) and repeat that statement to ourselves over and over. That's fairly straightforward and simple, so what can possibly go wrong?

What appears to have been done in this study is that a group of (random?) people were asked to take part and they were told a positive affirmation to use. But it didn't seem to work and, in fact, seemed to make some of them feel worse. Why?

Point 1: 249 students (random? people) were used in the study.
Point 2: The study group were given a mantra: "I am a lovable person"
Point 3: A questionnaire was used to assess their self-esteem, scoring themselves from 1 to 8

Query 1 : What was the motivation for these people to take part in the study? Were they paid to take part? Were they doing it as a favour? Or did they actually come forward with a view to seeking to improve themselves?
Query 2 : The mantra/affirmation was not tailored for the individual person. It was a simple generic statement given to each. Why were the statements not tailored to an individuals needs?
Query 3 : Self scoring is easily influenced by the ego. Some people will do their best to give completely honest marks. Some will want to appear "better" than others so will mark themselves more highly. Some will not want to admit to having issues (as well as perhaps distrusting confidentiality of studies) and may not mark themselves as low as they should. Some will deliberately mark themselves lower so that they can "see if" the affirmations make a more noticable difference. Some will deliberately sabotage their answers if they are not completely interested in the study (again this comes back to the motivation for taking part). So why would a controlled scientific experiment allow itself to be open to so many differing and conflicting factors?

Here, you can see, are the first issues with such a study.
On a one-to-one holistic/complementary therapy basis, for starters, the "client" has come to us because they want to get better. (If I get interest from someone who has not contacted me of their own accord i.e. they're partner has made them contact me, I always ask them if they truly want my help themselves and if not, there's no point in them coming to see me). Their motivation has to exist on the level of their own well-being, not because of someone elses desire to see if they can be improved, which more often than not, would lead to them being obstructive to such treatment/assistance. Next we would discuss the individual's own issues, how they perceive themselves and what they believe is wrong and what they would like to do about it. The client isn't being given a rigid set of questions, but they are being allowed the opportunity to be honest; after all they are there for their own benefit, not the practitioners. A good practitioner will understand and use NLP type techniques to interact with the client in order to be able to dig into details where the client may be a little shy or where they are skirting around the details. From this we get as much of an honest and open picture of the client and their issues as we can, and the practitioner will have noted down key words or phrases used by the client in describing themselves. No scoring mechanism is required. (there is for things like EFT and FreewayCER, but it's a sliding scale that is created by the client as they see fit, not one dictated by the practitioner).

From this "picture" of the client we can use the words and phrases of the client to derive a suitable affirmation, or more like, let the client create a suitable affirmation for themselves. It's important to understand that the affirmation should be reasonable so, for example, if the client weighs 20 stone (280 pounds for our US friends or 127Kg for our European friends) then it wouldn't be reasonable to use an affirmation of "I have lost 10 stone in 2 weeks". In the study that was conducted the affirmation of "I am a lovable person" may be perfectly reasonable to some of the participants, but completely unreasonable and unbelievable to others.

Because it was seen from the study that some people found the affirmation made them feel worse, a sub-set of people took part in further experimentation.
To find out why, Wood asked 68 students to write down anything they felt or thought in a four-minute period. The recruits included equal numbers of students with high or low self-esteem and half of each group were told to say to themselves, "I am a lovable person", every 15 seconds, to the sound of a doorbell.

Afterwards, they completed a battery of questionnaires. Two of these were designed to assess their mood, including questions such as "What is the probability that a 30-year-old will be involved in a happy, loving romance?" and "Would you like to go to a party?" Another set of questions rated their current self-esteem by asking them to say which of two adjectives they felt closest to - valuable or useless, nice or awful, good or bad, and so on.
The problem, again, with such an experiment is that it is assuming all other factors about a person are identical across the group. If a person doesn't wish to go to a party, does that mean that they have low self-esteem or could it be that they have a lot of studying/work to do and can't afford the time, or perhaps they prefer quiet social gatherings to loud parties? As for a 30 year old being in a happy, loving romance/relationship, this could also depend on factors such as religion, family peer pressure etc. and does not necessarily have to relate to low or high self esteem. For example, someone with high self esteem may prefer to "play the field" and enjoys non-commital one night stands.

I could go on, but the rest of the study follows similar lines, studying a whole group with preconceived perceptions of what is high self esteem and what is low self esteem as well as not being able to take account of the many other influencing factors that would have been involved.

And science wonders why complementary therapists aren't interested in attempting to prove the efficacy of their treatments.

The fact is that, yes, there will be people will differing levels of self-esteem, and that is why it is important that positive affirmations are created on and individual basis. It's all very good getting the latest self-help book (and some of them are beneficial, no doubt about that), and just using the affirmations or techniques "as is" from it.

So, should people abandon using positive affirmations? In my opinion, no they shouldn't.

If you use a positive affirmation and you believe that you are starting to feel worse, then it could simply be a case that your negative back-talk is overriding the effectiveness of it. I believe it is completely unrelated to "self esteem" and relates more to learnt beliefs and present mood. You can have a really high self esteem, think you are a wonderful and outgoing person, but if you've just had some bad news, somebody telling you to "be happy" is only going to remind you of how unhappy you are at that moment in time.

So, what can we do about it?

Let's take an example, and assume your positive affirmation is "I am full of happiness all day long".
You're negative back-talk is replying with "But I'm not really, I'm dead unhappy, especially with all this work I've got to do and that argument I had with my girlfriend last night and...."

What's happening is that your affirmation is bringing up associated memories and beliefs. So, the thought of happiness brings up related happy and unhappy things in your mind, with the most current often dominating; the fact that your affirmation is about happiness suggests that the unhappiness will be the most current and dominating. These memories, thoughts, feelings of unhappiness will be brought to the surface by the discurive (chattering) mind and thus into your consciousness.

So, the options to lessen this negative side effect...

1. Change the affirmation to make it more reasonable. In our above example we could use "I am happier than I was yesterday". If said repeatedly first thing in the morning there is likely to be little to be unhappy about at that point in time, so it will be more effective still.
2. Change the affirmation to make it a choice. This is perhaps one of the most effective methods. In our above example we could change this to "I am choosing to be happy". This works because even if, underneath, we don't believe we are happy, we can still make choices, and choices are a positive thing. A choice doesn't have a negative side to it. We would never beleive that we would choose to be unhappy. This therefore reduces the amount of negative back-talk in the mind.
3. Use the affirmation with a clear mind. By this, I mean to repeat your affirmation just after meditating, when the mind is in a state where it is not being bombarded with the thoughts of the day. If the mind is clear, there will be no back-talk to be returned from saying the affirmation.
4. Say the affirmation out loud, repeatedly, very fast, without even listening to what you are saying and then move straight on to getting on with whatever you need to do in life. The principle behind this is a distraction technique. If someone talks to you very fast and repeats what they are saying over and over (I have had some therapy classes given by an excellent teacher like this), then the conscious mind does not have time to process or interfere with the information being presented, and it will go straight into the unconscious mind. It is said that the repetition is necessary because, the first time awakens the unconscious mind, the second time instructs the unconscious mind and subsequent times make the unconscious mind act on it. Getting on with something else after repeating the affirmation will also act to prevent the conscious mind from interfering and bringing up anything associated with what was said.

I hope this is of benefit and I'll leave it at that for now.


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Old August 25th, 2009, 04:30   #2 (permalink)
purplevibe (Offline)
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Hi, I think all of what you say about this kind of study is true. In your responses, yes, to say affirmations after meditation, when the mind is clear must be the best kind of time, and to use the affirmation, like a mantra, to programme the mind in a positive way, rather than in the kind of 'monkey mind' we all tend to have at times, has to have the best results. When one has meditated, one is so much more intuitive too, therefore the positive affirmation will probably bring up results we wouldn't think of otherwise.

Interesting points, having worked in market research myself, the way that questions are constructed and the order of them can definitely alter the results, in true market research this is though about very deeply in constructing a questionnaire in order not to sway the respondent in any way, and thus produce 'true' results. I cannot really comment on this survey without seeing the whole thing, but we always need to bear this in mind when looking at any survey results. I think your questions are valid. I also think affirmations are very good, but once again, we have to be in the right mind-set in order to receive them. hugs to you too x
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Old August 25th, 2009, 12:10   #3 (permalink)
GilesC (Offline)
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Thanks for your feedback purplevibe. And there was me thinking nobody had read all my waffle. LOL!


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Old August 27th, 2009, 01:31   #4 (permalink)
Edwin (Offline)
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Don't worry Giles, I have read it.

It just is a lot to take in at once, so I re-read it a few times. And will re-read it again, and then maybe react to it.

However, I too agree with what you said. And I found that it makes a world of difference if you know exactly what to say, or how to say your affirmation.

Maybe there should be LoA counselors, who know what kind of questions to avoid
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Old October 1st, 2009, 00:09   #5 (permalink)
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I'll talk through my own experience here. Affirming things categorically only made me frustrated when I compared what I experienced with what I said. Mostly, when I do achieve anything in my life is when I do something expecting nothing. It's like I have nothing to lose, so why not? When things do work I generally raise the bar and get frustrated with what I achieved, and things start to backfire. I'm trying, through meditation, to achieve things by doing them and expect nothing or to make my expectations more realistic.
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Old October 1st, 2009, 01:48   #6 (permalink)
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If random people are asked to repeat an affirmation for a survey, I have no idea how that would work - I cannot see how it would because I don't think there would be any heart, soul and purpose in it.

I believe the why you do something or how you say something is the vital key - you have to feel passionate about it. It has to have great purpose - or you'll give up at the first hurdle.

It's not easy to change negative thinking and self talk patterns initially and I think you can have a dual conversation (or battle even) going on for a while.
It takes persistance and the kind of determination that says I will until.

It's also hard to change through positive affirmations if you live in a negative environment - it's amazing how many people are afraid of you changing.

Like anything, affirmations, once you've commited to them, take time, consistancy and persistancy.

Just realizing that you have negative thoughts is a great step however because this allows you the choice to change or not.

A funny thing happened one day about 6 years ago. A friend and collegue of mine called by and when I asked how he was, he answered "Outstanding and improving" Now some may call me positive Polly but that's not my kind of answer. The same day I asked my now, future son in law how he was and he said "Oh ploddin along you know" I burst out laughing at the comparison I thought of Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh Six years later, he reminds me more of Christopher Robin as he is really thoughtful and kind - and now, thankfully, he answers "great" or "brilliant" We still have a laugh about it now and again. Anyway that's my experience of positive affirmations - good stuff in - good stuff out ---garbage in - garbage out. Peace and joy in abundance
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