So within the fields of modern psychology, personal development and self-improvement, everyone seems to be aware and share this notion that in order to have success and happiness, we should communicate favourably with ourselves, right? That might not necessarily be the case, let me explain…
It is a very popular understanding within the fields I am involved in that if you want to be successful and happy, we should say favourable and progressive things to ourselves. I have a full-on chapter dedictaed to this subject in one of my own books…
Lots of self-help books i have read, popular media, and television shows do continue to encourage “positive self-statements,” such as “I can do it!,” “I’m good at this,” and “I’m a lovable person.” One of my favourite blogs recently ran an article on progressive self-affirmations too. We are exposed to this notion a great deal and most people are aware of it even if they do not practice it.
Many advocates of positive internal dialogue often stem back from Émile Coué, an early 20th century French psychologist and pharmacist, whose work in the field of autosuggestion I absolutely love… Coué recommended repeating the famous phrase:
“Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.”
And much more recently, Oprah Winfrey’s O magazine advised readers to:
Look at yourself in a full-length mirror…Now compliment yourself. Yes, you can do it. Repeat these empowering words aloud every morning and every night...
I have advised my clients to do many similar versions of this too over the years, I think it is fabulous to get progressive statements associated with your own self-image in your mind, I really do.
I have recently been questioning the usefulness and benefiots of just offering up positive statements to yourself. Do they really get through? Do they not need a bit more pep and punch? Do they not need to get communicated to a deeper place within us? If so, how do we do that?
Reading the results in a recent experiment soon to be published in Psychological Science, I wanted to share with you a notion that perhaps simply giving positive statements to yourself is not as beneficial as we first thought.
In the test, people were recruited to participate in the study based on their scores on the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, which has 10 questionnaire items such as, “I feel that I have a number of good qualities.”
People who scored in the lowest third of the distribution of Rosenberg scores (low self-esteem) and in the highest third of the distribution (high self-esteem) were invited to come to the laboratory.
Then they were randomly assigned to one of two conditions. The participants were asked to either repeat to themselves the statement, “I’m a lovable person,” (positive self-statement condition) for four minutes, or to write down their thoughts and feelings (control condition) for four minutes.
The soon-to-be published results indicated that people who were low in self-esteem felt worse about themselves after repeating the positive self-statement!
In contrast, people with high self-esteem did feel better after repeating the positive self-statement.
It appears that positive self-statements, despite their widespread endorsement, may backfire for the very people who need them the most.
My belief is that when offered up consciously, we think on it too much… I prefer to use imagery and the imagination, words that elicit more emotional responses and use tools such as self-hypnosis to communicate at a much deeper level with ourselves.
I am looking forward to reading this research in more depth. I’d never encourage anyone to stop being progressive with themselves. Just that, I woudl encourage them to learn how to deliver it in a more progressive way, a way that ignites the inner mind and not one that is seemingly stale and outmoded…
Great post and a fascinating area for self research.
I believe self talk can be imaginatively explored by anyone seeking a change of experience. Together with other tools i think it’s an essential part of behavioural change and ‘being successful’. I have difficulty imagining someone like Donald Trump reminding himself every morning that ‘he’s gonna struggle, wasting his time, not worth getting up’ in a whiny voice.
In my experience finding words and voice tonality to make your body brightly resonate with good feelings is a good place to launch from.
Adam, I know you often talk about the importance of congruence. What you are saying has to be what you believe and if this is not the case, then that is not only evident to the people around you, but of course to you yourself. Perhaps that is why people with low self esteem, having repeated “I’m a lovable person” feel even worse. They are saying the words, but at the same time they are thinking “No, I’m not (lovable)” which probably leads onto “I’m stupid, I’m ridiculous” or other equally progressively negative thinking.
Matt… I think you are quite right…
Thank you and Jens for your valued contributions 🙂