Affirmations are a staple of the personal development industry. But is it legit or just magic woo woo that doesn't work? Being the skeptic and scientist I am, I had to set the record straight.
Let's start by not beating around the bush. Affirmations have a grain of truth that has been stretched to ridiculous lies by psychologic bias and wishful thinkers. Therefore, it has great value if used in logical, practical ways. But don't go overboard with it.
Here's an example"¦
Scott Adams is a world-famous cartoonist behind the cartoon Dilbert. It's one of the longest running cartoons and he's rich because of it. He wrote a book called How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. Although there's lots of great career advice in there, I disagree with most of what he says on affirmations.
He said he experimented with affirmations to prove it was false. He first used, "I, Scott Adams, will be rich." He chose two high-performing stocks — but sold it too soon. He would've made a lot of money if he kept them.
I call B.S.
Here we have the first instance of confirmation bias. This is when you have a heightened sense of awareness of anything that proves your theory and you interpret any new event that supports your belief as confirmation. I could say that money falls from the sky and then each time I pick up a dollar from the ground, it suddenly goes to that belief, when before, it wouldn't have since I didn't have that theory yet.
There are a lot of other fallacies playing out here like lack of statistical significance. This means that your conclusions cannot be drawn from such a small sample size. You can't conclude that all women are evil just because your mom and sister hit you as a child. Because the sample size is too small.
I'm sure if Scott had to pick a hundred more stocks, his "affirmation luck" would run dry. Plus, the fact that he sold too soon means it didn't even work in the first place. I'm sure there's a scientific name for this bias, but he interpreted a failure that almost succeeded as a success instead.
I'm sure there are other psychological and logical fallacies here, but you get the idea. Most people don't even realize stuff like this when they're getting suckered into this stuff.
Next, he used an affirmation to try and get a girl he perceived to be way out of his league. It succeeded, but only for a very short moment and through a ton of lucky "coincidences."
This could easily be chalked up to dumb luck. Some of the other fallacies are at play here too. Could he do it again on a consistent basis? Probably not. I'd rather use universal proofs of attraction that have been proven with science, like body physique, assertiveness, agreeableness, willpower, and so on.
Then, he goes on to take a bet with a friend. He wants to score higher than his friend on the GMAT without studying at all — even though his friend is allowed to study and he got scored in the 77 percentile the last time he took it (which included studying).
Scott affirmed and visualized that he would open up the letter with his test score and see 94 percentile on the paper. That's exactly what happened, and he chalked it up as more proof that affirmations work.
I chalked it up to dumb luck. He couldn't pull off the same feat consistently over and over again if he tried. A monkey could luck out and pick the next spot where a terrorist will drop an atomic bomb. That doesn't mean he has magic powers, especially if he gets it wrong the next 99,999 times he tries. That's called statistical irrelevance.
Why A Hidden Attitude Is Festering B.S. And Should Be Rooted Out Like An Infection
There is an attitude hidden in Scott's experiences here that should be identified. They are a model of what many others use as proof for woo-woo Law of Attraction nonsense.
It is the idea of "something for nothing." Rather than working hard and bringing value in exchange for value, most people want to do nothing and get everything.
They're lazy, so they try out lottery tickets, stocks, affirmations, visualizations, and other Law of Attraction tricks.
Notice a common theme here?
All these tricks rely on doing little to no work and getting a huge payoff. It's easy to sit on your butt and buy a $10 ticket and hope it will bring you a million dollars. It's easy to spend ten seconds to say an affirmation and hope it will turn you into a world famous astronaut actor billionaire. It's easy to click a button, buy a stock, and hope it makes you rich.
By design, it works once in awhile. But the exception proves the rule. One lucky sucker out of ten million will win the lottery every year and strike it rich. But that only happens because the lottery company needs a poster boy to trick the masses into spending their money.
You should never be jealous of that guy who got "something for nothing." Positive psychology research has shown that most lottery winners drop back to the same levels of happiness as they were before they won the lottery. Some even drop below that. I'm guessing it's because of all the relatives and fake friends trying to get their money.
On top of that, many news stories show that many lottery winners spend their millions in a couple years and somehow end up back at their old job and life.
Stop believing in "something for nothing." Get out there and work hard. Provide value for others and you will get value back.
Invest in yourself and develop specialized skills. Find a way of monetizing the value you give to people. Almost by definition, you will get money back by helping more people in a way they will pay for.
As far as laziness goes, most of us are genetically programmed to be lazy. I'm naturally lazy. I've seen little kids who are naturally lazy even though they have hard working parents.
Laziness has its pros and cons. It pushes us to come up with new ideas on how we can get the same result with less work. The best of us ask questions like, "How can we farm and harvest all these crops with a push of a button?" and then, gets to work to find a solution. The great among us stay persistent against thousands of failures and setbacks until they actually find the solution.
The downside of laziness is that if you let it overtake you, you don't work hard at all and sit there like a vegetable.
Scott's Final Affirmation and Why It Worked
Scott's final affirmation was, "I, Scott Adams, will be a famous cartoonist." That one worked out well for him. Why?
It could have been a number of reasons, but I would like to highlight some differences between this affirmation and the follow-through versus the other affirmations.
This time, Scott worked hard and persisted for years to achieve this goal. He combined his unique knowledge and skills of office politics, business, cubicle culture, drawing, and humor to create a different type of cartoon the world had never seen.
He discovered and grew his strengths. He spent years perfecting his craft. He delivered value in the form of entertainment and humor to millions of people.
Instead of trying to get something for nothing, he gave something of great value in exchange for value in the form of money.
Why Affirmations and Visualization Aren't B.S. If Used Right
You may be wondering why I try to do affirmations and visualization at least once a week despite everything I just said.
The truth is that there is great value in them if you do them in a practical way. Like I said, there is a grain of truth in any big lie. If you study the world's top athletes and achievers, you'll find that many do affirmations and visualizations.
Athletes visualize landing the game-winning shot over and over again before they actually do it. Top CEOs, like Tony Robbins, use affirmations — and they make tens of millions, if not more, every year.
Now, not every successful person does it. So it's not a necessity. But it does help. And you have to do it right.
You'll notice here that successful people don't just sit on their butt after an affirmation. They believe in "something for something." They go out there and work their butt off to make it happen before, during, and after they visualization or affirm something.
The problem with the self-help industry is that there are plenty of spiritual mystics, like Esther Hicks, who have stretched a useful technique to ridiculous B.S. measures. If you think you can sit on a couch and will a million dollars into your bank account with the Law of Attraction, you're joking yourself.
There are only a select few people I really trust with advice on making money. One of them is Napoleon Hill. This is because he spent his whole life studying the world's richest people in person. He was able to examine millionaires and billionaires with names we still recognize to this day, like Edison, Ford, Rockefeller, and Carnegie.
He wrote a number of books on wealth creation after his decades of study. And there are plenty of instructions on affirmations and visualizations in there. But you'll notice his techniques aren't stretched to the extreme like other spiritual teachers. It's based on practical hard work and exchange of values.
I'm a Scientist So I'd Loved to Be Proved Wrong (Why Hard Work Ain't So Bad)
A core part of science is acknowledging that any model of the universe we have is just a theory. If it gets thoroughly disproved with evidence, we put aside our ego and accept the new theory.
I'd love to be proved wrong on this because I wouldn't mind being lazy, sitting on my butt, and getting everything I want without doing any work. But as of so far, I haven't seen it. Please let me know if you have clear evidence that doesn't break any of the fallacies I mentioned, though.
And even having said that, I can't say I would really like that much to achieve all my goals with struggling and working hard. It's the effort that makes the reward sweeter. On top of that, who do you think a girl is more likely to date: a man who won a million dollar lottery or a man who earned it through his own hard work?
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