• Wendy Bradfield

Affirmations Don’t Work, Upcycle Your Thoughts Instead

Updated: Jul 1, 2021

Here are 6 ways to do it




“If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.” — Lao Tzu

I used to be a diehard affirmation junky. I had a positive affirmation mantra-du-jour for everything. But the truth is, saying positive affirmations to yourself and hoping you will believe them one day is like buying a shoe that doesn’t fit and hoping you will grow into it later. You won’t feel better, do better, or be better. Like dog poo squished between your toes — it feels awful.


How many people do you know who like themselves? I don’t know anyone who says they like themselves. Is that bizarre? Sad? Weird? All of the above? The best thing I used to say about myself was, “I’m an okay person.” And frankly, that's not okay. The relationship I had with myself oscillated between — you’ve wasted your life, to for fuck’s sake, why can’t you be more disciplined??


Bold affirmations pinpoint how you want to feel in the future, but what about now? If you’re using affirmations to change something and choose a thought you can’t believe today, you won’t change anything. Dr. Leena S. Guptha of Psychology Today states that for affirmations to be effective, you must break through the iron wall that is your subconscious mind — an uphill task to be sure. Releasing deeply held beliefs about yourself is a mind-bending process, and unless you are Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn, clearing your psyche is going to be one of the hardest things you’ve ever done. But, in all fairness — I am sure Mr. Hahn faces equal difficulty.


If you climb the mountain relying on positive affirmations alone, you will slide right back down. I wish I could say I knew someone who said positive affirmations changed their life — but I don’t. Your inner dialogue is a steady source of recycled feelings and thoughts. What if you could upcycle your thoughts instead of recycling them? After 15 years of dutifully employing positive affirmations, I cannot say they changed my life — but I discovered something that has…a better relationship with myself. Queen’s University researchers discovered humans have more than 6,000 thoughts per day. That is a lot of thought juice. So I invite you to explore some methods you can use to upcycle your thoughts TODAY.

1. Investigate your default settings. If you don’t determine which thought patterns you recycle most, you cannot change them. You already know what they are and how they make you feel. These thoughts demoralize you. You know the ones — you will never be a successful writer because you’ve started too late. You will never be thin again; you don’t deserve it… Write them down. Let them sink in. Consider how rampant they run throughout your mind in a day — likely, it’s a staggering amount. How do these continuously recycling thoughts make you feel? Beat down, depressed, anxiety-ridden, and more. Every time you default is a missed opportunity to feel better NOW.

2. Neutralize your thoughts. How you package things matters, especially when you are trying to convince yourself of something. Your subconscious mind doesn’t know which thoughts are positive or negative, but your conscious mind does. Here is where an affirmation of sorts comes in handy — but not the obvious kind. Consider trying a “bridge” to neutralize your thoughts. It can give you pause when the old thought-mill is cranking out negativity. For instance, you still haven’t lost any weight for the last month despite a consistent diet and exercise routine. Here we go again. You’re not working hard enough. You’re a failure. What is wrong with you? Try this: I am working hard at losing weight. I am doing okay. I’m not going down the rabbit hole of telling myself I’m a failure, again — because I am not. A bridge - thought is invaluable because it keeps you moving towards your goals instead of defaulting. It feels foreign at first — being kind to yourself. But then, it feels good, like you've accomplished something. And you have.

3. Ask questions. Clinical psychologist Dr. Sophie Henshaw maintains that asking yourself questions is a more fruitful approach instead of affirmations. Bold affirmations create an all-or-nothing game where you either win or lose — no wiggle room. Asking questions instead of feeding yourself grandeur statements is a solid opener for creative solutions and flexible thinking. In turn, questions provide fertile ground for engagement that deepens your belief in your ability to change. Why do you value what you value? Do you value your damaging thoughts enough to keep recycling them? People often speak of what kind of person they want to be in 5 years. I say consider who you want to be today — because it brings things into razor-sharp focus. Today is now, and now is all that is promised. Can you build a better relationship with yourself today? Cut yourself some slack and gift yourself a few supportive thoughts right now.

4. Actions devoid of positive intention bear no juicy fruits. Follow-up your thoughts with actions and see what happens. But don’t just do the thing — do the thing and take joy in it. Going through the motions because you think you should — not a great idea. It breeds resentment and creates an inner-war dialogue. Tangible changes consist of all the seemingly small actions you put forth in the universe, driven by your emotions' intensity.

5. Be consistent. Show up, and SHOW UP. Show up and give it the old college try. Commit and get cracking. Morale spike guaranteed! 6. Adjust your behavior and thoughts to encompass more as you go. You are modifying your thoughts and behaviors in real-time — go easy and layer accordingly. Remember — you have more than 6,000 thoughts per day, and you design every single one. You are the director and the actor. You can change the scene at any time you wish. Takeaway Reaching the subconscious depths of your mind is a tricky business. In and of themselves, affirmations are powerless. Do they work for some folks? Sure. But you can finesse your thoughts today and feel better now instead of waiting for an idea meant to make you feel better in the future.

  • Address your default settings and be accountable.

  • Disarm your thoughts in real-time — the payoff is immediate and maintains the momentum of what you’re developing.

  • Be curious about yourself and ask questions — What could you do to like yourself more? Why do you value what you value?

  • Your payoff is present when you do something or think a thought makes you feel better today.

  • Show up for yourself — because the job is yours alone.

  • Layer accordingly — go easy on yourself as you explore the undiscovered path of knowing yourself.

You may not love yourself overnight — it’s a process and a long one at that. But liking yourself is dawning in the right direction. The mundane bits throughout your day are where the magic happens. Those tiny malleable thoughts are ready to be reshaped and sink into your subconscious. Enter Greek philosopher Socrates: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” — Socrates The relationship with yourself is the most profound one you will ever have. The benefits of forging a deep connection with yourself are immeasurable. Your mind is a powerful, mysterious muscle that churns out more than 6,000 thoughts a day. Wield your thoughts well and wield them wisely.

If you're into this, you might really like How to Master the Grand Poobah of Personal Development: Self Discipline.


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