The movie “The Secret” made people think that affirmations was all you needed to attract success in your life. We know that only 8 percent of the population will follow upon New Year’s resolutions, so wanting it isn’t enough.
Here are three reasons why affirmations don’t work – as well as tips on how to use affirmations correctly. Keep in mind that these reasons are interconnected. Although I am separating them for better understanding, they are also connected to one another and ALL have to be addressed in order to make your goals and dreams a reality.
How To Use Affirmations and Reasons Why They Don’t Work
1. Lack of Connection
People are NOT emotionally connected to what they want. Often, they have more fear towards achieving the goal than they do an emotional connection that they can – and will – achieve this goal.
Fear keeps you from truly connecting to your goals.
Fear can come from wanting something big and NOT knowing how to get there. There’s also the unconscious thought that you might not deserve it. Fear comes in several forms such as, fear of failure or fear of success.
A lack of connection can come from the fear or from the fact that the goal isn’t yours – but something someone else wants for you.
You have to want it bad.
You do have to want it – and want it bad. A desire to reach a goal is fleeting and will soon be replaced by another wish or with excuses because of what sacrifices you may need to make to reach it. You have to want it enough to do what it takes.
An Olympian doesn’t become one by desire. They don’t become an Olympian because they were born with an innate talent, or from reciting affirmations in front of the mirror. They have to sacrifice many things in their lives due to trials, and then train hard for the games. They build an unbreakable connection of how important this goal is for them. They live it and breathe it.
If you don’t want it bad enough, it won’t happen. Other things will come up and distract you from that goal. Affirmations alone are hollow without this level of connection.
Contribution is an X factor for connection.
Building that connection comes from understanding why the goals are important, AND what are they willing to do to reach those goals. What will be different in their lives and who else will benefit from it? What will now be possible when you have achieved this goal?
Usually, our greatest passion comes from the contribution we are making to others. We are willing to do more and be accountable to others far more than we are for ourselves.
There are so many distractions everyday. That’s why a connection to your goals needs to be a daily practice.
Visualizations are powerful connectors.
Another tool on how to use affirmations correctly is visualization. They are a powerful connector. We know that great athletes use visualization as a practice to connect them to winning the gold metal, the Super Bowl, doing the perfect lay-up, or the perfect golf swing. Top business leaders use visualizations as well.
By imagining that you are collecting your gold medal, winning an Oscar, selling your company, or whatever your dream is – you make it real.
I worked with a woman who is training to be an astronaut. At first she found it difficult to visualize herself at the space station. She said she had a hard time feeling like she was there. Part of her challenge was overcoming the fear. Although she was 100 percent qualified, she didn’t think she was good enough.
As we worked through these challenges, her visualizations got stronger. She took them form a level 4 to a level 6 to a level 8. At level 8 she was on fire – so confident! Nothing would stop her. At level 10, she knew she already got the position.
It may seem esoteric, but it is not. This is brain science.
2. Lack of Belief
How is it possible that people who win the lottery, often fall into financial difficulty? Is it because they don’t have the mindset that they are worthy of money? That they don’t see themselves as wealthy, so they self-sabotage their success until it is gone?
Don’t laugh! We all do this in one way or another.
Self-sabotage is real.
You have that inner critic that tells you, ‘you aren’t good enough’ more often than you admit. For some, it pushed them into success by working hard to cover up for that feeling. Your critic tells you this was a fluke; you couldn’t do it again – which only pushes you harder.
For others, they give up or do something midway through the process that eliminates their chances of success. “See,” you tell yourself. “You couldn’t do it. You aren’t up to it. You aren’t as good as they are. Don’t even bother.”
Challenge your thoughts.
You must challenge this voice, “Why not me. Other people are doing it, right?”
My first experience with this was when I was 25 years old. I was lucky enough to switch into technology. I was an accounting and finance major, but technology was a side interest of mine. It turned out that accounting and finance bored me. I was working for JP Morgan as a grad out of school in a special program where I was able to move around the organization every three months.
I had a lot of interaction with technology as part of my projects, which I did found interesting. After two years, they sent me on assignment to Zurich. I loved it there! When my project was over 16 months later and they wanted to send me back, I wanted to stay.
Information technology was hot and they were giving anyone with even the slightest experience and opportunity to develop themselves further in their area.
Could I switch into technology? It was a stretch, but WHY NOT?
I prepared a resume that highlighted the technological aspects of my work, such as macro programming, system reviews that I did in the audit department, and other special projects for technology evaluations around document management and scanning.
It worked! As a result, I landed a job with Arthur Andersen developing Lotus Notes applications. Why not me, right? Sure, I had to work really hard to get up to speed, but I believed I could do it.
Two years later, someone suggested I go out on my own as an independent contractor and start my own business. I didn’t see myself an entrepreneur at the time. I was living in a foreign country and I didn’t have a technology degree. I didn’t feel like that was possible.
At this time, I thought I wasn’t qualified, I didn’t have the skills, I didn’t challenge my inner critic, and I let it hold me back.
Well one day, that all shifted. I was managing this guy who came in from the UK as a contractor. He was making $150/hour and I was making a fraction of that. But I was a better developer than he was. I was managing him, but HE was making way more money than me. I shifted my belief system that day to say to myself “why not me?” If he could do it, so could I!
I never looked back.
You have to see yourself achieving the goal; you need to believe that it is possible. Sometimes, we say we believe in something, but our actions tell us otherwise.
There are a few ways to get that breakthrough or new perspective to shift your beliefs.
- AHA -You can wait for the aha-moment, that once it arrives, you wonder why it took you so long to finally see it.
- CHALLENGE YOUR SELF-TALK – Don’t accept what you say to yourself. Challenge it. Byron Katie has a great series of questions: Is it really true? Beyond a shadow of a doubt?
- VISUALIZATION: Do highly associated visualizations of you already having achieved these goals. It is a great exercise to help you believe anything is possible. It also connects you to your goal at the deepest level, as described above.
- MENTOR: Find a mentor: someone who sees the possibilities in you, the possibilities that you don’t yet see. Eventually, you will start to see yourself through their Ideally, this is a person who has achieved what you’re aiming for. They can then guide you on the do’s and don’ts of getting there faster.
3. Lack of Plan
If you want to save money for a special trip, a vacation home, or to send your kids to college, you plan it out. You determine how much you need to save per paycheck in order to ensure that you’re putting aside the necessary funds.
When you’re training for a marathon, you plan, too. You create a nutrition plan and a practice schedule, so that you know how many miles you’re running each week.
The same principle holds true in any area of life. If you want to achieve a goal, you have to plan for it. Once you have a plan, it makes it much easier to act on it. Knowing how to use affirmations also involves planning.
Deer in the headlights.
I worked with one client who was very passionate and had a BIG dream (huge, in fact). He wanted to grow a billion-dollar company supporting veterans, children, and animals.
Jim Collins calls it the BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal). He visualized and felt on top of the world when he was in that state. He said he believed it was possible – yet he didn’t take a step towards making his goal a reality. In asking what he had done to date, he never even volunteered for a charity in these areas.
That baffled me. You have surely heard that when the WHY is big enough, the HOW will show up. Nope. That is why affirmations are NOT enough. You can want it and even see it, but you have to plan for it, too.
He was like a dear in the headlights. I guess the enormity of it all left him unsure of what to do to get there. It left him frozen.
After further discovery, his belief was the first obstacle keeping him from his plan. He had a deep seeded issue that, once brought to his awareness, opened up his understanding that he could start making a difference now.
He opened himself up to creating the initial steps of his plan based on a little story I heard the night of my daughter’s 4th grade graduation. The story is called The Starfish.
He was now ready to create a plan and was understanding that each phase had milestones. You progress one step at a time.
Milestones make a plan actionable.
You need to lay out a plan for yourself so you can create milestones. Your connection and visualizations have to include them. The athletes see themselves practicing and performing the perfect stroke, as well as getting the gold. BOTH components make it real.
The milestones also enable you to focus on what’s coming next. This may stretch you slightly beyond your comfort zone each time. But they should create momentum – mentally and physically.
External accountability is essential.
The most successful people in the world: athletes, leaders, entrepreneurs, and top performers in all fields, seek external accountability.
If you are committed to your goals, you will need support from others in the form of coaches, mentors, teammates, etc. You need to make sure you create an environment for success. That requires upfront planning, too.
In order to maintain the discipline, dedication, and determination to reach the goal, what habits do you need to create? Who needs to support you? What distractions do you need to avoid?
Understanding how to use affirmations with connection, belief, and planning should make it work. Confirm your connection to your goal, believe that it is possible (already happened, in fact – you are just catching up to it), and have a well-executed plan.