Do Self Affirmations Really Work? Not The Way You Think…

“I am loved.”

“I am powerful.”

“I am disciplined and motivated.”

Feeling empowered yet?

We’ve all read about self affirmations. Supposedly, you can say something about yourself so much that you actually become who you’re claiming to be. 

Except… if you’re anything like me, it doesn’t work. 

You say good and happy and empowering stuff while looking in the mirror, but… crickets. 

You don’t feel any better. You don’t feel like you’re going to seize the day. You don’t feel like all of the stuff you’re claiming to be. 

Okay, okay. But this is a process, right? So you do it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. Still nothing. Eventually, you give up the practice because it’s proven about as effective as patching a bullet wound with a bandaid. 

The good news is, self affirmations do work, maybe just not in the way you thought. 

Using self affirmations can actually make things worse.

The goal of using self affirmations is to feel better about your life, to demand more of yourself, to usher in a new level of discipline, joy, empowerment, and excitement… not to feel worse. 

And yet, one study revealed that using basic mantras as self affirmations (I am loved, I am powerful, I am awesome, etc) can actually backfire, triggering disempowering thoughts about how you’re not any of those things. 

Which kind of defeats the purpose of using self affirmations.

But self affirmations don’t always make the situation worse. Sometimes, they don’t do anything at all (again defeating the purpose of using them). Psychology Today references a study where the first group of participants was given a choice to use self affirmations and the second group was forced to use them. 

Participants in the first group who used affirmations of their own free will experienced a boost in performance and self-confidence. Participants in the second group who were forced into using affirmations experienced far fewer benefits. 

This indicates that, for self affirmations to work, you have to want it. You have to believe they can work. You have to trust that they’re going to work.

If this isn’t the placebo effect running its rounds, I don’t know what is. But that’s okay — there’s nothing wrong with tricking your mind into believing more empowering things about yourself, especially if those beliefs create long-term self-confidence and improve performance. 

Fortunately, self affirmations can have just that impact on you if you add a little specificity and credibility. 

Let me explain. 

How to use self affirmations the right way. 

Repeating short, meaningless matras to convince yourself that you are “loved,” “powerful,” and “tough” doesn’t do much good. Actually, those types of affirmations can backfire and make you think about how you’re not those things.

Which is why you need to add a little credibility to your affirmations. 

For example: “I woke up at 6am this morning and I am powerful.”

We can even add a little specificity to make it more impactful…

“I woke up at 6am this morning and I am going to seize the day like never before.”

Now we’re talking. We’ve added credibility to the affirmation; that is, evidence that you really are the way you’re claiming to be — you woke up at freaking 6am! You must be ready to seize the day like never before!

This helps to remove any negative “I’m not really that way” thoughts that usually negate the power of self affirmations. Now you have something tangible to cling to which proves that, yeah, you are a badass. 

Similarly, adding specificity to your affirmations (“I am going to seize the day like never before” vs. “I am powerful”) makes the whole thing feel a little more real and a lot less cliche. 

After all, what does being “powerful” look like? What does it mean?

Who knows! But “seizing the day like never before” — now we’re getting a sense of productivity, efficiency, and even power. Adding that specificity increases clarity for how you’re supposed to feel and what you’re supposed to do after repeating the affirmation (rather than just “Yeah! I’m powerful! But what now?”).

I’ve found that the two (admittedly oversimplified) ingredients for creating an effective affirmation, then, are adding evidence for the claim you’re making and increasing the specificity of the affirmation. 

Here are a few affirmation templates you can use that I recently shared on Get Your Gusto Back

  • I [action you took] and I accomplish anything that I set my mind to.
  • I [action you took] and I am experiencing immense fulfillment.
  • I [action you took] and my mind is perfectly healthy.
  • I [action you took] and I am great at making others feel good.
  • I [action you took] and I am committed to accomplishing my financial goals.
  • I [action you took] and I treat myself with the utmost respect.

Let me know how it goes! 

Mike Blankenship

Mike is a writer for SUCCESS, AdWeek, and Addicted2Success. He’s been quoted on Forbes and Entrepreneur for his expertise in marketing and personal development. He’s also the owner of Get Your Gusto Back where he helps people reignite their inner fire.


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

20 Responses to Do Self Affirmations Really Work? Not The Way You Think…

  1. Ikechukwu says:

    Great piece here…I read an article somewhere that says: The POWER is not in the WORD. It is in the ENERGY.

    I have been thinking about the above statement since I saw it.

  2. angalf says:

    Thanks for writing this!

    I like to do this little mental exercise of noticing how my butt feels against the chair and my feet against the floor whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed.

    It’s always been a good start in breaking free from negative self-talk for me—–

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