Affirmations don’t always work. They just don’t. I use them and I believe in them but I also know that sometimes they don’t work.
Why don’t they work? One of the biggest reasons is that you simply don’t believe them. When an affirmation is too positive, too much, you just can’t convince yourself to believe it. And when you don’t believe it, naturally it won’t work because belief is how it works.
When your current belief is “I’m ugly and worthless,” telling yourself “I’m beautiful and worthy” is going to be tough to swallow. And yet everyone wants you to think it’s as simple as telling yourself that, right? So when it doesn’t work, and people just keep telling you that if you just keep affirming it to yourself it’ll change, you just get more and more frustrated, right?
There is a solution. It’s a simple one, but it’s often overlooked when it comes to affirmations.
I like to suggest what I call “bite-sized affirmations.” When you’re struggling to make an affirmation work for you, it’s too big. It’s too positive, too much, too whatever you want to call it. And that’s why you’re struggling.
So instead, find a bite-sized affirmation you can believe. For example, if your current belief is “I’m ugly,” maybe the bite-sized affirmation you can use instead is “I have pretty eyes.” Or if the current belief is “I’m worthless,” the bite-sized affirmation might be “My paintings bring my grandmother joy.”
Bite-sized affirmations are the smaller bits of truth that are easier to believe than the huge ones that you find yourself discounting immediately. They’re a stepping stone to believing something bigger and better.
Think of affirmations like a map
If you’re going on a road trip from Florida to California, you’re not going to expect to get from Jacksonville to San Diego in an hour, right? Of course not! You know it’ll take a few days. So you look at the map and plan hotel stays, meal and restroom stops along the way.
Affirmations are much the same. You’re starting at Point A (Jacksonville) and want to get to Point Z (San Diego). So you need affirmations in between for Points B through Y (the hotels, restaurants and rest areas). And because each of those affirmations only needs to get you to the next, they can be small and easy instead of huge and overwhelming.
There’s no deadline
While you’re breaking affirmations down into bite-sized pieces, keep in mind that there’s no deadline on them, either. Too often, we expect them to work too quickly — instantly, even. But that’s not how it works.
As magical as affirmations may seem, they’re not magic. They’re the result of you consistently putting in the effort to train yourself to believe something different, something better. And that takes time. Depending on how negative your initial thought/belief is and how deeply ingrained it is, it may take a short time or it might take a long time.
But it’s not a race. You’re not in competition with yourself or anyone else. If it takes a long time, so be it. The point is not how long it takes, but that you get there.
Build it up
When you’re ready to find your bite-sized affirmation, look at where you are and where you’d eventually like to be. Then ask yourself, “What’s the smallest change I could believe?”
If you want to get to an affirmation such as “I forgive those who have harmed me in the past,” maybe the smallest change you can believe right now is “I recognize that hurt people hurt others.” Or if you want to get to “My body is healthy” when struggling with a health problem, maybe the smallest change you can believe is “I am starting a journey toward better health.”
Determine the smallest thing you can tell yourself that you’ll be willing and able to believe. And then start telling yourself that thing. And when that feels real and natural, build on it with the next small thing you can believe. And then build on that with the next.
Keep going until you finally reach the ultimate affirmation that was your goal to begin with.
Affirmations only work when you believe them. So make them believable for you. Don’t worry about what other people use or spend time trying to force yourself to believe pre-packaged affirmations that you bought or got for free or your coach gave you (hey, we try but you know yourself best!). Create your own, simple, bite-sized affirmations that you can believe.
Once you start doing that, you just might find that they work better than you ever dreamed they could.
Wendy Miller is a Single Mom Coach & meditation teacher. She helps moms use mindfulness and meditation to create the life they really want. She lives in Florida with her two sons, where she homeschools while solo parenting, while surrounded by what feels like a zooful of animals.
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