Why Affirmations Fail

We discussed the most powerful affirmation/s that most of us practice each day in the previous article.  Almost every person who reads infrequently or otherwise has read the book ”The Secret” or seen the movie or both.  Bookworms and diehard fans of self-help books would have also devoured books by Napoleon Hill, Anthony Robbins and other similar gurus. 

Unfortunately, a great number of us have the propensity to read self-development books as if one were reading fiction.  Not many put what they have read and digested into practice.  Of the few who have actually put it into practice, a significant number give up after getting inspired for a couple of days.  And then there are those handful who attempt to put into practice that which they have read and most people who give up, give up because it has not worked for them. 

Positive thinking and affirmations have been around for centuries, thus millions and millions of lives inabshould have been impacted by now, which doesn’t really seem to be the case.  The preponderance of success stories from the Nirmiti Nidra workshops is from people who have practiced diligently and implemented what they have learnt and assimilated.  Affirmations have helped many ordinary people achieve extraordinary results in their lives. It has turned many ’failures’ into successes. It has created miracles in the history of human evolution. Yet, the vast majority of people who use affirmations find that it doesn't work.

Most readers of this blog are also familiar with affirmation techniques that no one told you about.  The whole point of course, is not if they have been read, but if they have been implemented. And even as one puts it into practice, there are reasons why affirmations fail.  The popular myth is that all one has to do is repeat positive statements day in and day out, and sooner or later they would work.  Some wrote their desired outcome on a card, kept it on their person at all times and repeated the phrase over and over in their head, with or without a picture poster. Had the expected outcomes been exactly what was desired, millions of lives would have transformed.  How many do you think have actually succeeded? 

Yet there are many success stories that abound (quite a few from our workshop participants too), so there is no doubt that some affirmations do fructify, where many others fail.  With a limited understanding of the powerful universal intelligence, the force of the collective intelligence, the inability to operate beyond our span of influence and control, it is still possible to enumerate why affirmations fail more often than one thinks.  Contrarily there are times that affirmations do work, and we fail to realize that we have created this ourselves and take responsibility for it.

The irony is –

1.                   When it does work, we have not realized how powerfully our subconscious has created exactly that which we expected or anticipated.

2.                   When it doesnt work, we berate ourselves that we perhaps didnt do it correctly or that we were undeserving or even better, blame it on fate or destiny.

You already know from the previous article as to how you make affirmations work, powerfully yet unwittingly, unintentionally and unaware.  Let us now look at the reasons why a vast majority of affirmations fail – knowledge of just these two things GALVANISES your self-development practice.

Inaccesibility to the Subconscious Mind

One of the major reasons why positive affirmations often don’t work is because they target the conscious level of our mind.  This is also one of the reasons that NLP fails, which we shall discuss in a subsequent article on this blog.  The purpose of an affirmation is to pass a command from the conscious mind to the subconscious mind. It is the subconscious mind which has the ability, for anything it accepts to be believable and true, to do whatever it takes to turn the expectation into reality. Thus, for any practitioner of affirmations, it is important that the message gets transmitted to the subconscious mind but for the vast majority, who repeat their affirmations like a mantra within their conscious mind, fail to get it transmitted to their subconscious mind through their critical filter of dogmas, beliefs, values and principles.   

Core negative beliefs

A core belief is something you very strongly believe is true about yourself irrespective of what anyone else says or thinks about you.  When this core belief is deep rooted in your subconscious mind, affirmations to the conscious can hardly help.  To know more about deep rooted core beliefs, you may wish to read this article elsewhere on this blog.  Everyone knows that Jane Fonda was perceived to be one of the most beautiful women in the world, yet her autobiography reveals that she judged her physical appearance as inadequate and battled eating disorders for many years.  If the core negative belief is that you are worthless, useless, fat or ugly, this belief is true for you irrespective of what the actual reality may be and irrespective of hundreds of people telling you otherwise.  A positive affirmation that clashes with a deep rooted core belief in your subconscious mind sets off an inner war, a conflict which uses a great deal of energy but a battle that only your subconscious mind will win as it fights for survival.  What you desire fails to manifest.

Implausible Destiny

Any affirmation has to be congruent with the present age on Planet Earth and compatible with present-day society created by collective desires and intelligence over many years.  If you now affirm that, ”I am a rich loved king with loyal and faithful subjects’, it may have worked a few centuries ago, but can it really work in the present age?  If your present life on planet earth (for those who believe in reincarnation) has ’n’ possibilities in line with the overall purpose for this life experience, can it work if one goes to ’n+1’?  Perhaps not, right?  Affirmations also have to be believable to your own mind and yes, most definitely possible even as you repeat it to yourself.  There is a trick that you can choose (pun intended).  For example, if your body is totally out of shape and you affirm that, ”I am in perfect shape and very attractive” or if you are penniless (or paiseless) and you affirm that, ”I am a millionaire” or ”I am earning millions every year”, do you think your own mind believes them as you recite?  Most likely not.  The trick in such affirmations is to use the words, ”I choose”.  Not try saying, ”I choose to be a millionair” or ”I choose to earn millions each year” or ”I choose to be in perfect shape” or ”Everything I do is getting me closer to the perfect weight and shape”.  Does that make a difference? Indeed it does.

Low Self-Esteem

Recent research by scholars has dismissed the utility of self-esteem as well as programs designed to improve it.  I am fully aware that there are so many ’training programs’ conducted on this subject, but their efficacy has either not been measured or it has failed to deliver.  Self-esteem, to begin with, is not a constant factor, but can fluctuate every day, or even within a day.  It is more like the dollar-versus-rupee in the financial markets.  You ought to remember that self-esteem is not just the holistic feeling about ourselves but also how we feel/think about ourselves in specific domains or roles in our lives (as a parent, employee, boss, child, sibling, etc.). Inevitably, the greater the importance of a specific role or domain, the greater the impact on our overall self-esteem.  Very high self-esteem, like in case of narcissists, if also not a good thing, and often quite brittle.  People who are highly vulnerable to criticism and negative feedback often find that it stunts their growth.  The reason why this topic is important for this particular article is that positive affirmations make people with low self-esteem feel worse about themselves, as recent research suggests.  Positive affirmations appear dramatically contrary to the existing set of beliefs in a given moment and therefore fail as explained in a couple of paragraphs above.  You cannot possibly affirm ”I am a great success in everything that I do” when you are feeling miserable about yourself.  Here is the trick – change this affirmation to ”Everything I do is helping me to persevere until I succeed.”  Is the allure of self-esteem then a mirage?

Transience and Impermanence

You cannot undo years of thinking and years of ’wrongly’ programming your subconscious mind overnight.  It needs diligence, perseverance, daily practice and commitment to overwrite what you have previous written in stone.  Even as you must understand that you get what you expect, not what you want, the only reason so many people claim that affirmations do not work is because they give up before the affirmation manifests in their lives.  They have ’tried’ it for a couple of days or for a week.  You must diligently practice every single day for at least a month!  And you need to know, how to create what you expect and not what you want.  Success and self-improvement go hand-in-hand, but there is no success with transcience, only with unfailing diligent regularity. 

Associating pain with inevitable action

The best manner in which this can be explained is through an example.  Let us say that your affirmation is related to wealth or abundance.  The inevitable action in this case is spending.  There will be multiple instances in your life (even as you affirm) that you have to spend.  Now, typically, most people seeking wealth associate spending with pain.  You know through our workshops that our subconscious mind does everything in its capacity to increase all those things associated with pleasure and avoid all those events that cause pain.  Can you imagine the message that you are sending to your subconscious if each time you spend, causes you pain and grief?  Turn this to your advantage instead by affirmation each time you spend that ”I always have plenty to spend”. 

The workshops that we conduct arm you with immense information on your subconscious mind, how to access it and program it for your health and success.  Irrespective of whether you become a part of this unique group or otherwise, there are a few things you must know. 

Get out of the way and let the practice be the practice.

The Three Universal Laws of how your mind processes suggestions.

The Importance of Negative Emotions.

Indulging in interrogative Self-talk is a wonderful alternative. This recent ground-breaking study sheds light on motivating goal-directed behavior through the interrogative form of the simple future tense.  Interrogative self-talk is about asking questions and thus, neither positve or negative.  The innate curiosity built into our subconscious minds propel it to probe for answers to powerful questions.  For a situation which states ”I am terrible at presentations”, you have the choice to indulge in positive affirmations like ”I am delivering a great presentation” or indulge in interrogative self-talk like ”What can I do to make my presentations really interesting?”. 

The Most Powerful Affirmation Ever

Did you know what the most powerful affirmation in the universe is?  Were you even aware that most of you reading this article practice almost every single day, perhaps unintentionally and perhaps without the faintest idea of what it can lead to?  In fact, the practice is so common that even those who have absolutely no clue what an affirmation is, also practice it with unfailing regularity and possibly guaranteed outcomes.

The New Age Wikipedia states that “Affirmations in New Thought and New Age terminology refer primarily to the practice of positive thinking and self-empowerment—fostering a belief that a positive mental attitude supported by affirmations will achieve success in anything."  What it perhaps fails to mention is that owing to the fact that affirmations is merely the assertion that something exists or is true, it is not just positive thoughts, but also negative thoughts that can be affirmed. 

1. One visualizes the outcome
2. Feels in one’s physiology as if it were happening now
3. Ponders in a manner where it were congruent in the present

Affirmations (which are suggestions and commands to your subconscious mind) are maximum in Theta, optimal in Alpha and relatively ineffective in Beta. 

Now, here is the kicker!  Eager to know what the most powerful affirmation is, which many of us indulge in every single day?  Worrying.

Worrying is one activity that keeps you busy reaching nowhere.  And many of us indulge in it, or even revel in it (pardon my English) every single day!  And a few paragraphs below, allow me to explain why so many of us have the propensity to turn worry into reality!

“Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.” – Leo F. Buscaglia. 

“Our fatigue is often caused not by work, but by worry, frustration and resentment.” – Dale Carnegie

“Worry is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.” – Arthur Somers Roche

“Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere” – Erma Bombeck

“A day of worry is more exhausting than a day of work.” – John Lubbock

Now spend a little time re-reading the above article with respect to affirmations, when and how they gain power and about worry as an activity.  Uptil now, you have no clue what we are doing to ourselves!  And also make sure, before you proceed further, that you have read the previous post on this blog, just so you understand every little bit of what I am expounding right below.

Before you proceed, presuming you have at least now read the previous post on this blog, you also need to familiarize yourself with two fancy technical terms, viz., Hypnopompic and Hypnagogic Peridos.

These two periods basically refer to the shot period when you wake up in the morning and fall asleep at night.  When you fall asleep, you go from Beta to Delta through Alpha and Theta and when you awaken, you go from Delta to Beta through Theta and Alpha states.  Twice each day, you are unintentionally connected to your subconscious mind, which is the seat and reservoir of all the programming you do.

So, at least twice each day, even if you were not a practitioner of Nirmiti Nidra or meditation, you have an irrevocable opportunity to program your subconscious mind whilst in the Alpha or Theta State. 

Now, contemplate on what you do when you go to bed worrying or when you wake up in the morning worrying!


At -

1. Fulfilling the criteria for connecting with your subconscious (unintentionally) optimally by being in the Theta or Alpha state of mind.
2.  Programming it with your worries (thoughts) becoming affirmations (positive or negative)
3.  Empowering the Affirmations further by visualizing and feeling the emotions and adding fuel to the fire, by imagining as if it were in the present.

Is it a wonder then that most of your fears come true?  I have also had people feeling proud of the fact that their apprehensions actually fructified.  Really!

Worrying is a waste of time (irrespective of what nomenclature you use to describe the phenomenon).  Planning, however, is a necessity to alleviate future anxiety.  Stop worrying! Start living!  And, remember you can never displace thoughts, only replace them.   

“According to Vedanta, there are only two symptoms of enlightenment, just two indications that a transformation is taking place within you toward a higher consciousness. The first symptom is that you stop worrying. Things don't bother you anymore. You become light-hearted and full of joy. The second symptom is that you encounter more and more meaningful coincidences in your life, more and more synchronicities. And this accelerates to the point where you actually experience the miraculous. (quoted by Carol Lynn Pearson in Consider the Butterfly)”  ― Deepak Chopra, Synchrodestiny: Harnessing the Infinite Power of Coincidence to Create Miracles

The author, Rajesh Seshadri, is an internationally recognized Certified Leadership Coach, Certified Success Coach and Certified Life Coach.  He is also a NLP Master Practitioner, facilitator and therapist.  The basket of therapies is holistic and integrative adopting techniques from Psychotherapy, NLP, Silva, Gestalt, Hypnosis and Silva UltraMind. Additionally, he is a seasoned corporate professional who continues to serve as a whole-time Director and Board Member. You can contact him here.

The Gateway to Your Subconscious Mind

Considering that most of the readers would be familiar with the four (now five) levels of mind (aka states of mind) this article is relative concise – yet necessary, since the subsequent article on this very blog requires a more-than-sketchy understanding of this subject.

A brainwave (not the bright ideas that management gurus talk about) is simply put – an electrical impulse in the brain.  They are produced by synchronised electrical pulses from bunches of neurons (the latest estimate is there are about 100 billion of them in the brain) communicating with each other. Whether there is a thought, emotion or behavior, the primary action is communication between the neurons within our brains.

Brainwaves are detected by placing specific sensors on the scalp and measured using an electroencephalogram (EEG) which records the electrical activity of the brain. They are divided into bandwidths to describe their functions (below), but are best thought of as a continuous spectrum of consciousness; from slow, loud and functional - to fast, subtle, and complex.

Like sound frequencies, brain waves are measured in Hz, or cycles per second (cps). These have been classified into five different types (or levels of mind) – four at first, with a fifth level being added in the past decade or so.  The four levels of mind documented are beta, alpha, delta and theta.  Gamma has been the fifth (and recent) addition, very little is known as yet and it is being researched, however I do have a theory of sorts which I have put forth in this article for your perusal.

The higher the frequency of your brain waves, the higher is the level of mind and vice versa.  The higher the level of mind, the higher is the conscious activity (or hyperactivity).  Generally, the slower the frequency of your brain waves, the more relaxed you feel. A lower level of mind is a healthier level of mind and meditation, neurofeedback, hypnosis, and guided imagery have all been shown to help people control their brain waves more efficiently for better health, greater performance, and a more positive experience of life.

CPS (Hz)
Awake & Outer-conscious
Awake & Inner-conscious
Sleepy & subconscious

The Beta state which is our normal state as adults during most of our waking hours, is where the brain operates at the highest frequency, except for the Gamma state of abnormally high brain activity.  This is the state where we are awake and alert or perhaps have taken some drugs or chemicals such as benzodiazepines or caffeine.  It is essential for our survival and our day to day activities to a certain extent. Note that being awake does not mean you are attentive.

The Alpha state is associated with a relaxed, daydreaming state of mind.  As children, until the age of 7 or 8, we would have been in this state 80% of our waking hours, but this keeps reducing until as adults, we probably spend only 20% of our waking hours in this state of mind.  As mentioned earlier, Nirmiti Nidra, meditation techniques, pranayama, neurofeedback, progressive muscle relaxation, hypnosis and guided imagery all lead you to this stage of relaxation.  In fact, the Alpha state is the gateway to all of them, whereby a few of them including Nirmiti Nidra can lead you to a deeper state of mind, called Theta. The Alpha state is also considered by almost all experts to be the initial link between the conscious and the subconscious mind. 

The Theta state, the state in which most little children and newborns are, is associated with  deeper states of meditation, spiritual experiences or higher states of consciousness.  The subconscious mind is predominant whereas the conscious mind retreats significantly.  Intuitive insights are common (for example, Mozart is known to have stated that a composition would come to him all at once with complete clarity and in its entirety when he was in a deep contemplative or meditative state; all he had to do was write it down on paper).  This state is also associated with the REM state of sleep, where dreams occur and considered a reservoir of creativity, waiting to be tapped into.

The Delta state is the sleep state, where there is little or no conscious activity.  Only the unconscious rules.  Delta waves adjourn external awareness and are the source of empathy. Healing and regeneration are said to be stimulated in this state, which is perhaps why deep restorative sleep is so much of a prerequisite to any healing process. If the Alpha state is the link to the subconscious, the Theta state is the bridge helping you cross over to the subconscious, and the Delta state (if adults could achieve this) is the bridge that helps you cross over to the collective unconscious (as Carl Jung calls it).

The Gamma state was hitherto unknown since analog EEG was restricted to measuring and recording rhythyms upto 25 Hz.  With the onset of digital EEG, higher frequences could be measured and recorded.  Although the earliest known case appears to be in 1964, it did not get much attention until about a decade ago.  A lot of research is currently undertaken and not much is known about this state. 

Gamma brainwaves are the fastest of brain waves and relate to simultaneous processing of information from different brain areas. Yet, the mind has to be quiet to access it, and not agitated as in the case of the Beta state.  This means that quieting the mind or attaining deepest levels of meditation/relaxation could actually trigger off a Gamma state.  Some researchers have speculated that Gamma relates to expanded consciousness. Researchers have also found that it is associated with bursts of insight and high-level information processing. 

A 2004 study of Tibetan Buddhist monks, who were long-term practitioners of meditation revealed that, when the monks were told to generate an objective feeling of compassion during meditation, their brain activity began to fire in a rhythmic, coherent manner, suggesting neuronal structures were firing in harmony. This was observed at a frequency of 25–40 Hz, the rhythm of gamma waves. These gamma-band oscillations in the monk’s brain signals were the largest seen in humans. 

All of the above seem to suggest that the Gamma state (when attained) possibly leads to superconsciousness or universal consciousness or spiritual ascension, but neuroscientists are not necessary convinced.

Four curious points you may wish to particularly note:

You cannot attain an Alpha state deliberately with your eyes open.  It is only with your eyes closed, yet being alert that you attain Alpha.  However, there are certain occassions where you can be in Alpha whilst watching TV or a movie, during which you may experience ’spontaneous imagery’.  Another example is in an ATM queue (not uncommon these days) you are staring at something whereas your mind is focussed elsewhere – this is also a state of Alpha. Boredom or daydreaming with eyes open can also lead to Alpha. Under hypnosis and Nidra, you can attain Alpha with your eyes open. 

You are alert in both Beta and Alpha.  However, in Beta, your attention often drifts or wanders, in Alpha it is more focussed with occassional lapses and in Theta, it is extremely focussed.

Time distortion occurs as you get into deeper, healthier states of mind.  In Alpha, you have already lost some sense of time, in Theta – you would have no clue whatsoever.  You may think that a few minutes have passed whereas it could easily be an hour.  

One of the early researchers, Elmer Green of the Menninger Clinic in Kansas, used biofeedback instruments to study Eastern yogis. He discovered that certain yogis could control their internal states merely through meditation and thought. The one thing their subjects had in common when they were controlling involuntary body functions, was that they were in the alpha or theta states of mind.

There is no doubt at all that Alpha and Theta states are the gateways to your subconscious mind. Once you have accessed it in these states, your subconscious mind willingly accepts suggestions and commands. Suggestions and commands to your subconscious mind are maximum in Theta, optimal in Alpha and relatively ineffective in Beta.

The author, Rajesh Seshadri, is an internationally recognized Certified Leadership Coach, Certified Success Coach and Certified Life Coach.  He is also a NLP Master Practitioner, facilitator and therapist.  The basket of therapies is holistic and integrative adopting techniques from Psychotherapy, NLP, Silva, Gestalt, Hypnosis and Silva UltraMind. Additionally, he is a seasoned corporate professional who continues to serve as a whole-time Director and Board Member. You can contact him here.

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