Positive affirmations work by feeding your mind motivating statements which—when repeated often—can help to overcome negative or sabotaging thoughts. As research by the National Science Foundation found that of the tens of thousands of thoughts we have every day, around 80% of those are negative, it seems like positive mantras are something we all need.  

But whilst affirmations can have a remarkable impact on positively rewiring your thinking patterns, they can also do more harm than good if they aren’t used in the right way. So where does positive thinking end and toxic positivity begin? Here’s how to use affirmations that actually work for you. 

The History Of Positive Affirmations

Positive affirmations may be very fashionable in the personal development world today, but far from being a new thing, they actually date back to the early 20th century. 

French psychologist and pharmacist Emile Coue noticed that when he told his patients how effective a potion was, they received better results than when he said nothing at all. 

The realisation that what we think impacts reality led to the development of a technique where he asked patients to repeat the words; “Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better”.

This form of autosuggestion brought with it some incredible results, but significantly it also failed many times. What Coue came to realise is something that is all too often glossed over today when using the power of affirmations: you need to really believe what you are saying in order for it to work. 

It is this power of belief that creates remarkable transformations, not the words alone which you speak. He discovered that when patients made their own independent judgement about their affirmations, his technique wouldn’t work. 

Why Using Positive Affirmations In The Wrong Way Causes More Harm Than Good

I’d always struggled with personal affirmations. Whenever I tried to suggest to myself something that felt so far out of reach, it just ended up making me feel worse, not better. Maybe you can relate?

Let’s imagine that your rent is overdue and your bank balance is currently at zero. How would repeating to yourself that you are financially wealthy beyond your wildest dreams feel? Would you be happy and excited or is it more likely that your brain would bring you back down to earth with a bump by informing you that you are in fact flat broke? 

Then I realised that I have been using positive affirmations all my life. I’d actually been using them in the right way, rather than the misguided representation they sometimes get. 

Whenever I was going through a hard time I would write in my journal telling myself it was all going to be ok, whenever I accomplished a task I didn’t want to do I would say “I’m so proud of you, you’re doing a great job”. If I looked in the mirror and didn’t like what I saw I’d remind myself that I am beautiful in many different ways. 

Here is the real secret to affirmations: if you can’t find any truth in what you are saying, positive affirmations only make you feel worse. 

A scientific study in 2009 confirmed this when it concluded that repeating positive self-statements may benefit certain people, but backfire for the very people who need them the most.

If you’re already feeling good, then affirmations may make you feel better. But if what you are saying really doesn’t align with how you view yourself or the world—your brain calls BS on it and it ends up making you feel even worse. 

How To Use Positive Affirmations In The Right Way

The key to getting the benefits from positive affirmations and mantras lies in belief. Rather than telling yourself something that feels so far away from your reality, create a sentence that does in some way feel believable to you. 

For example: “I have a million dollars in the bank” could become “I have the limitless potential and opportunity to create great financial wealth”.

Which feels more credible to you?

Begin your positive affirmations by bridging the gap from where you are right now—how you currently feel and think about things—to slightly better feeling thoughts. 

Once you start to believe in what you are saying, you can increase the positivity gradually—making the statements bolder and grander. 

How you feel acts as your guide through this process. If repeating your statement brings excitement and hope you know it is working. If it makes you feel frustrated, disappointed or sad, try to find a more believable affirmation that does feel good.

This article first appeared on my website Soulful Scrapbook. As a free gift for Thrive Global readers who want to create a more fulfilling, successful and abundant life on their own terms, click here to grab a copy of my Soulful Success audio and workbook training now.