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Why positive affirmations might break your self esteem

Out of breath, Grace was late again for her bus. She juggled her two bags, a cup of coffee, and a bunch of documents as she sprinted down the busy street. Grace had a simple mantra she repeated each morning: "I am always on time and organized." However, the reality of her life seemed to be far from her affirmations. The more she repeated her mantra, the more chaotic her life seemed to get.

Yet, she held onto her affirmations tightly, like a safety line, believing they were her only hope for getting her life together.

But instead of feeling empowered and organized, she felt more disoriented and overwhelmed. It was like she was stuck in quicksand, the more she struggled, the deeper she sank.

Her affirmations started haunting her, becoming a daily reminder of her shortcomings. Instead of empowering her, Her affirmations started haunting her.

They became a source of stress, making her feel like a fraud. It was a cruel irony. The very thing that was supposed to uplift her was dragging her down.

What's the big message from Grace's experience?

Positive affirmations  which are often seen as a universal key to unlocking self-improvement and happiness, can instead morph into shackles that chain us to a flawed perception of self. This isn't just about affirmations failing to work, it's about them backfiring, turning into constant reminders of our shortcomings.

The process of self-improvement is not a fantasy story where we chant magic words and all our troubles vanish.

It's a complex, gritty, and profoundly human endeavor.

But why is this important?
it is important because, when misunderstood and misused, affirmations might not just fail to uplift us, they might instead push us further into the quicksand of self-doubt and frustration.


How do we prevent ourselves from using affirmations in ways that become dangerously self defeating?

I would like to use an analogy of  an explorer going on a voyage to help explain the process of using affirmations correctly.
We'll start first with the map...

1. The Map:

Your affirmations are your map, a crucial element on your journey. But remember, a map is only as good as its accuracy. Your affirmations must reflect a realistic understanding of your strengths and weaknesses, not a fanciful utopia. It's essential because it provides you with an accurate layout of your potential growth areas, not just where you want to go.

Here's how to create a realistic and accurate "map" with your affirmations:

Understanding Your Terrain: Before you start drawing your map, you need to understand the terrain. This means taking an honest inventory of your strengths, weaknesses, skills, and areas for improvement. For example, if you are someone who thrives in creative tasks but struggles with time management, acknowledge this reality as your current terrain. This step pushes us to confront and accept our current state. This breaks the notion that affirmations should be only about idealized versions of ourselves.

Mark Your Current Location: Your affirmations should reflect where you are now. If you are a student trying to improve your study habits, your affirmation could be, "I am improving my focus every day," instead of, "I am the top student in my class." This step encourages us to set affirmations based on incremental progress rather than quantum leaps, challenging the notion that affirmations must reflect grand achievements.

Incorporate Realistic Landmarks: Set realistic 'landmarks' or milestones within your affirmations. If you're working on public speaking, an affirmation could be, "Each speech I give makes me a better speaker." This counteracts the common misconception that affirmations must depict a perfect scenario.

2. The Compass:

Alignment with reality is your compass. It points you to true North, guiding you through the choppy waters of self-improvement. A compass that's miscalibrated can lead you astray, just as affirmations detached from reality can guide you towards false goals, leading to frustration and shattered self-esteem.

Here are the steps to ensure your compass - your affirmations - are correctly aligned:

Check the Magnetic Field: External influences can distort your compass. You need to recognize and resist affirmations that are influenced by societal pressures or unrealistic expectations. If you are feeling pressured to be more outgoing because of societal norms, but you cherish your introverted nature, resist the temptation to create affirmations like "I love large social gatherings." This illustrates the importance of resisting external pressures when creating affirmations, challenging the perception that affirmations should be about conforming to societal norms.

Follow the Compass, But Watch Your Step: Your affirmations guide you, but the journey is yours. For instance, if your affirmation is "I am getting better at public speaking," remember to actually practice public speaking. This highlights the need to act on your affirmations, challenging the misconception that affirmations alone can lead to change without action.

Use Your Other Tools: A compass isn't the only tool in an explorer's kit. Similarly, affirmations are not the only tool for personal growth. Suppose you're struggling with self-discipline. In addition to affirmations like "I am improving my self-discipline every day," you might need to use other tools like setting realistic goals, creating a daily routine, or finding a accountability partner. This emphasizes the key point that affirmations really are part of a wider set of strategies.

3. The Ship:

Your self-belief is your ship, the vessel that carries you on this voyage. Your affirmations should build and strengthen your ship, not overload it with unrealistic expectations that can sink it. A robust ship, built on affirmations that acknowledge your capabilities and limitations, is essential to surviving and thriving in the unpredictable seas of life.

Here are three steps to ensure your affirmations strengthen your ship, not sink it:

Choose Your Material Wisely: Your affirmations should be built on reality, not fantasies. If you struggle with time management, an affirmation like "I am a master of managing my time" might feel false and erode your self-belief. Instead, "I am getting better at managing my time" can be a more effective affirmation, as it is based on growth and progress. This defies the idea that affirmations should project an 'ideal' self, pushing the importance of affirmations grounded in current realities.

Regular Maintenance: Just like a ship needs regular upkeep, your affirmations require occasional revisiting and revising. If you've made progress in your public speaking skills, update your affirmation from "I am becoming more comfortable with public speaking" to "I am confident in my public speaking skills." This challenges the notion that affirmations are set in stone and underlines their dynamic nature.

Sail, Don't Anchor: Affirmations are meant to propel you forward, not keep you anchored in one place. If you have a tendency to procrastinate, an affirmation like "I am taking action today" emphasizes movement and progress. This disputes the idea that affirmations should be passive, highlighting that they should inspire action.

4. The Captain:

You are the captain of your voyage, not the affirmations. It's essential to remember that you steer your life's direction, not the affirmations. They are tools in your hands, not the puppeteer pulling your strings. Letting affirmations dictate your actions, without your critical input, can lead you towards the treacherous waters of illusion and self-deception.

Here are three steps to ensure that you, not your affirmations, dictate your journey:

Read the Weather, Not Just the Compass: Affirmations are tools, but you must also respond to the 'weather' of your life - the unexpected challenges and opportunities. For instance, if you're facing an unexpected job loss, an affirmation like "I am adaptable in the face of change" helps you adjust your sails. This disputes the notion that affirmations are a fixed guide, emphasizing your role in dynamically responding to life's complexities.

Trust in Your Captaincy: You should believe in your ability to navigate, not just the guidance of affirmations. An affirmation like "I trust in my ability to make good choices" can bolster your self-confidence as a 'captain'. This counters the belief that affirmations are solely about the destination, underlining the importance of faith in one's journey.

Let the Crew Rest: While you may be the captain, don’t forget to allow yourself downtime. Your affirmations should encourage balance. An affirmation like "I respect my need for rest" ensures you maintain the stamina for the voyage, challenging the notion that relentless progress is the aim, and reminding us that sustainable travel requires rest and rejuvenation.

5. The Lighthouse:

The eventual goal of self-improvement is your lighthouse. But beware of setting your lighthouse too far into the realms of perfection, making it an impossible destination. The lighthouse should not be an unrealistic ideal self but a better version of your present self. This is essential because chasing an unattainable lighthouse can lead you into a perpetual storm of self-doubt and erode your self-esteem.

Here's how to work with your light house properly.

The Elastic Lighthouse: When setting your goals (the lighthouse), allow for flexibility. The idea is to set goals that stretch your abilities but are not rigidly impossible. For instance, instead of affirming "I am a successful author" while never having written a page, try "I commit to writing regularly". This challenges the belief that affirmations should depict an absolute ideal, highlighting instead their role as elastic guides adapting to our evolving capabilities.

Invent Your Light: Don't rely on common or popular affirmations to illuminate your way. Tailor them to your unique journey. For example, if you're aiming for financial discipline, instead of a generic "I am wealthy", try a personalized "I am making informed and wise financial decisions". This emphasizes the need for affirmations to be custom-fitted, not off-the-rack, highlighting the importance of personal relevance in their crafting.

Beware of the Mirage: Discern a true lighthouse from a mirage. Make sure your affirmations represent authentic aspirations and not societal pressures. For instance, rather than affirming "I am CEO of a successful company" due to external expectations, you might prefer "I am pursuing work that is meaningful to me". This strikes at the heart of authenticity versus conformity in our self-improvement journey, provoking the question, "Whose life am I living?"

The Voyage Recap:

Let's take a moment to recap our voyage and the transformative power of affirmations:

The Map: Your affirmations should be realistic and reflective of your personal journey, acknowledging your current position, potential growth areas, and the path ahead. Remember to adjust your map as you grow and change.

The Compass: Align your affirmations with your authentic self and resist external distortions. Affirmations should be dynamic, guiding you while you take action and employ other personal growth strategies.

The Ship: Construct your affirmations on a blueprint of individual aspirations and reality. Reinforce resilience, and revisit and revise them regularly to reflect progress. Affirmations should inspire action and forward movement.

The Captain: You guide your affirmations, not the other way around. Respond dynamically to life's complexities while aligning your actions with your affirmations. Trust in your journey and don't forget to allow yourself rest and rejuvenation.

The Lighthouse: Set flexible and evolving goals. Your affirmations are not a fixed endpoint but continuous guides for growth. Personalize them, and ensure they represent authentic aspirations, not societal pressures.

The Storms: Use affirmations as anchors in times of adversity, be prepared for stormy weather and remember that affirmations can help build resilience and resolve.

The Power of Personal Relevance and Authenticity:

Throughout our voyage, we've emphasized the importance of personal relevance and authenticity in crafting and using affirmations. The power of affirmations lies not in their grandiosity or in their ability to paint a utopian self-image, but in their relevance to your unique journey and their authenticity to your true self.

Tailor-made affirmations, which align with your authentic self and your current circumstances, are much more powerful and transformative than off-the-rack, idealized ones.

Embarking on Your Own Voyage:

It's now your turn to embark on your own self-improvement voyage. Remember to craft your affirmations thoughtfully, grounded in your reality, resonating with your authenticity, and adapted to your individual journey.

Remember, affirmations are not magic spells but tools. And it's you who holds the power to use them effectively. Use them wisely as you navigate the seas of self-improvement and steer your life's voyage.

It's time for you to set sail.

The rest of the articles in this series:

Why am I such a failure?

Why positive affirmations might be breaking your self-esteem (This article)

How to learn self-value even when the people you love treat you like rubbish

How to learn self-value: The key to an authentic self

Breaking Through Personal Barriers to Reclaim Your Self-Worth

Unlock Your Ultimate Confidence: 100 Game-Changing Self-Esteem Tips

Rewire your brain and rebuild your self esteem

Written by Adewale Ademuyiwa


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