“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me,” said Stuart Smalley on SNL 30 some-odd years ago. He’d look into a mirror and talk himself up before getting on stage.
Positive affirmations are popular.
So is sugar.
Both, interestingly enough, feel great as they’re being consumed. But not long after, you realize something is missing... and you need more.
And, just as with sugar, while there may be windows of consumption that have no apparent negative impact, their addition to one's self-help toolkit requires damage control.
Positive affirmations aim to condition the mind to think differently than it does. When one lacks confidence or self-esteem, proponents would have us believe that repeating positive and self-reassuring things will make us feel confident and self-assured.
Only that’s not how confident people become confident.
And it’s a great way to dig yourself into a deeper hole.
Let me explain.
Affirmations are ego enhancing, by definition.
You’re affirming something you wish to be the case. And that wishing, that desire, comes from your self-centered (meaning that literally, not judgmentally) perspective of ‘the good.’
So with every affirmation, we’re also, ironically, acknowledging deep seated lack.
You don’t repeat to yourself that the sun will rise tomorrow.
You don’t remind yourself on the regular that apples fall from trees.
And you don’t need convincing that vegetables are better than Twinkies.
You don’t remind yourself of those things because you KNOW those things.
So, this should reveal the first major problem with most applications of positive affirmation - you wouldn’t need to do it if you actually believed it. You don’t believe those positive things about yourself. And in affirming them, you wind up carbo loading, stacking feel good atop feel good to conceal the underlying problem - a lack of contentment.
When you tell yourself you’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and doggone it, people like you, you’re not only reinforcing a delusion (something that isn’t currently true), you’re also reinforcing a fear based desire. You’re giving life to, and adding energy to deeply held, self-deprecating judgments.
Judgment and will CAN be extraordinary weapons in life.
No elite athlete, lawyer, CEO, doctor, or any other top performer gets to the top without knowledge and discernment. Without judgment. Without knowing good from bad, better from worse, and without the will to achieve.
Judgement and will can also be extraordinarily crippling when one’s sense of rightness or ‘the good’ isn’t met, and isn’t perceived to be attainable in the interim.
So, while positive affirmations aim to reinforce positive thought, they cannot achieve that without reinforcing the contrary - self doubt and negative self-judgment. Because, otherwise, there’d be no need to do it in the first place.
And, just like those sweet simple carbs, they reinforce that feeling of lack as soon they’re digested. And then you’re not only in the same place, in practical terms, you’re worse off because because you need a larger ‘fix’ to coat the larger sense of lack you nurtured.
You give reality to that which you deny.
There are two effective ways to bypass this conundrum, and neither includes staring into a mirror and talking yourself happy.
The first method is that implemented by the vast majority if high performers - apply enough effort over enough time to cultivate actual, demonstrable skill. This removes self-doubt.
Competence precedes confidence.
Until one is legitimately competent in domain X, it’s perfectly reasonable to be insecure, fearful, and uncertain. AND THAT’S OK. Show up anyway, and do the work.
Which brings us to approach number two - meditation.
If the previous approach embraces judgment and will for the purposes of honing focus and driving ambition, this approach un-acknowledges the YOU that you believe yourself to be.
If you’re insecure because you believe you are inadequate… just stop being you. The origin of your suffering is perceptual. It’s internal to your own mind, and lives and dies between your ears. It only exists because your sense of identify, and by extension, success, doesn’t align with your perception of reality.
What if there was no you. Not just a negative YOU in search of positive self-perception. No YOU in search of anything, if even for a few moments.
Well… then there’d be nothing to fix, would there be?
You’d be free of assumption, free of judgment, and therefore free to explore, to try, to go after whatever tickles you without concern for failure. It’s liberation at the source, not a bandaid for self-inflicted suffering.
This paradox, the one that surfaces when a person is both ambitious yet doesn’t want to feel that constant struggle of ego butting up against reality, is one that Weightlessness uniquely resolves... with training.
You don’t need to resent a tree hugger for spinning around aimlessly in the park without a care in the world, and you don’t need to condemn the ambitious suit who’s driven by success. They need each other. And in truth, can only fully express when they embody the virtues of the other.
But neither needs positive affirmations.
- Competence precedes confidence. Do the work, and orient around long-term payoff.
- Be present. Relinquish your self-judgment by surrendering, not denying, your sense of self.
And lastly, be weightless!