Affirmations Alone Will Not Work

“Words are events, they do things, change things.  They transform both speaker and hearer; they feed energy back and forth and amplify it.  They feed understanding or emotion back and forth and amplify it.” (LeGuin, Ursula K. 2004. The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer the Reader and the Imagination. Boulder: Shambhala.)

This quote exemplifies why communication is essential to establishing and maintaining meaningful connections throughout your life.  And, while most of the time, the focus is on your ability to communicate with others, it’s how you speak to yourself that really matters the most.  

Napoleon Hill, in his book Think and Grow Rich (1937) said, “Whatever your mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve”.  This particular quote has gained momentous traction over the years as a testament to the power of positive thinking.  

Most recently, positive affirmations and personal mantras have been the go-to self-help tools to shift this theory into practice. They are daily phrases said either out loud or in your head which, when repeated regularly, can shift negative thought and behavior patterns.  

“Affirmations help build and improve your self-esteem.  They can also act as a way of challenging and replacing your negative and anxious thinking when it comes to stress, depression, physical pain, and anxiety.” (

But affirmations alone are not the answer.  There are additional considerations that you need to be aware of…

First, your mind cannot truly embrace affirmations (or any new thought pattern) as a belief without evidence to support it.  So, referring back to Mr. Hill’s quote, you can conceive it, but you cannot progress to achieving it until you first believe it.

Simply repeating the mantra/affirmation “I am successful” will not, in fact lead you being successful unless you can provide evidence to support this.  If you were to reflect on how you were successful in the past or even just that day, you now have proof to back up the affirmation “I am successful” and your mind gets excited about this.  

Once your mind gets excited, it will begin to look for additional proof and, all of a sudden, you’re finding more and more ways in which you are, in fact, successful.  

Now, “I am successful” becomes a belief for you. Because, beliefs are repeated patterns of thoughts over time.  And, once that belief is in place, you’ll start taking action based on your belief as a successful person.  

The second consideration of affirmations is that of toxic positivity. 

“Toxic positivity is the excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state across all situations.  The process of toxic positivity results in the denial, minimization, and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience.” (

While it would be great to only acknowledge and have positive/happy thoughts, it is when you deny or minimize feelings that are not happy or positive that you feel forced to bury them due to shame (feeling that your feelings are wrong) or fear of not being accepted [resulting in isolation because you feel you’re the only one that feels a certain way which forces you to keep your feelings to yourself] which can later manifest in dis-comfort or physical dis-ease.  

Additionally, research has shown that affirmations can cause people with low self-esteem to feel worse because there is a disconnect between the positive thoughts they are attempting to implement and the negative feelings they are currently experiencing.  (Zhu, X. and Yzer, M. (2021). ‘Understanding self-affirmation effects: The moderating role of self-esteem,’ British Journal of Health Psychology).

It is imperative when using affirmations that you a) acknowledge the reality of your current situation, b) find the correct words to verbalize your feelings about your situation (because what you are feeling determines how you will respond), and c) commit to not storing these emotions long-term by finding a way to move them through and out of your body.  

You can absolutely acknowledge your current situation as being tough or not ideal while maintaining hope and faith that things will change.  It is by allowing yourself to experience the full range of thoughts and emotions, not just the positive ones, that brings your human existence into perspective and balance.

Amy W. Barbour, MS

Certified Hypnotherapist & Life Coach