Psychological Mumbo Jumbo, Affirmative

From the BBC yesterday: Self-help ‘makes you feel worse’.

The study reported here finds that affirmations intended to boost self-confidence and inspire a positive attitude make everyone except those who already have high self-esteem feel worse than before (and those with high self-esteem only slightly better), by reminding most people of how wrong the affirmation feels compared with their actual experience of life. Affirmations highlight the gaping chasm between what we wish our experience was and what it actually is.

Not only that, I’d add, but the inevitable conclusions we draw when we don’t feel better, when happy thoughts don’t lead to happy experience, is that not only are we (1) total losers who have caused our own unhappiness with a poor attitude;  but, (2) although we have the power to change our experience to make it match what we want, we’re just too ineffectual and/or unworthy to do it.

The tricky thing is that that is true in part: there is good evidence that how we think about things determines how we act, and our actions determine in part how people act towards us, which all goes toward shaping our experience of life. The lie here is that these affirmations actually change the way we think, and change it for the better. They don’t. In fact, if they change our thoughts at all, it’s only to remind us and reinforce for us that our experience of life is very far from satisfying, fulfilling and happy.

In other words, the affirmative thoughts don’t replace the negative ones; they just trigger the negative ones to repeat.


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