The Flaws of Self-Affirmations

Leah and I are starting another book, this one on why people don’t change. It’s more than procrastination; that’s a method of avoiding change rather than the reason we do. Before we wrote anything more than a simple introduction, we headed to the bookstore to see what others had written on the subject. We saw a handful of books on overcoming procrastination, hundreds on changing a certain aspect of yourself, and a couple dozen on changing whatever you want to in your life, but none that seemed to focus specifically on why we don’t change.

One of the things we noticed over and over again is that these books on changing either a certain aspect of your life or your life as a whole included self-affirmations in their list of tips. If you tell yourself a dozen times a day that you’re worthy of anything you want, you’ll feel worthy of anything you want, and that will help you go after it and get it, the books say.

There are several problems with this:

1. If these statements worked for everyone, everyone would be rich, skinny, healthy, happy, and have their dream house, job, and mate. We all want our lives to be perfect, so if having a perfect life was as simple as hypnotizing ourselves into it, either literally or through self-affirmations, nearly everyone would do it.

I have actually tried such statements before. I used to be uptight around people, even my friends, and very unconfident. I told myself I was smart, relaxed, funny, and confident over and over on my way to a hangout or church and, to be honest, I did notice some results. But they were never permanent and when I crashed, it was pretty hard. If I didn’t repeat my mantra many times, I felt more lost and shy than before. I always needed it and, even when I did say it, it was possible to throw me off because deep down, I didn’t really believe it. And that’s problem #2…

2. They’re only half-true. The big thing about self-affirmations is telling yourself you’re worthy. If you do that without bringing God into it, then you both overstate and understate your value. You overstate it by saying you deserve what you want simply by being you and essentially demanding that it be given to you whenever you make an effort to get it. You understate it by saying your value comes from you and that these things are what you’re worth. 

Of yourself, you’re nothing more than animated dirt. You’re actually less than dirt because dirt hasn’t decided to choose itself over God. You don’t deserve anything but Hell for what you’ve done. Any gift from God or any punishment less than that is a blessing you can’t earn. So don’t say it’s you who are worthy and intelligent and whatever else. 

Instead, remind yourself you are a child of God, an heir to the Kingdom, and the bride of Christ. No earning it. No being worthy of it. But you are these things, which means you have a loving Father and King who wants you to have good things. These may differ in both timing and substance from what you consider good, but trust in Him to provide what you need will always be better than trust in yourself to earn what you want.

3. Your opinion of yourself has no bearing on the truth. If you leave God out of your value, then your value remains forever uncertain. Without God, there is no higher authority of people’s value than people, but then we’d all be equal. So if I say I’m valuable and you say I’m not, we’re at an impasse and my value is still in question. I can believe I have value, but there’s no way to prove I’m correct because your opinion carries the same validity and weight as mine.

To have a certainty on our value, we must go to a source higher than either of us. That pretty much leaves just God, our Creator, Judge, and King. And He has given us a value higher than our self-affirmations are ever going to give us and made us all equal in His sight.

4. Our self-affirmations don’t have the goal of making us equal, but rather better than others. Things like smart, rich, beautiful, etc., are all relative terms practically by definition. For me to be rich means that I have more money than the average person. For me to be smart strongly implies that others are not as smart. It’s essentially a zero-sum game. For me to win, someone else must lose. 

God’s plan is different, to both knock our pride away by reminding us exactly how little we deserve, and then giving us more than we could have ever hoped for. Better yet, His blessings are from an infinite fount, so there’s no need to be in competition with each other because there’s plenty for all. 

Rather than self-affirmations, try a value-in-Christ affirmation. Better still, get the principle of your value rooted firmly in your heart so that it becomes a permanent part of who you are, just as your value according to God is already permanent.

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