The affirmations a person uses depend on many factors. What is the person trying to accomplish? Where is he or she now in relation to that goal or dream? What is their belief factor? Is he or she aspiring to something big or just looking for incremental improvement?
One of the biggest knocks critics have against affirmations is that they encourage unrealistic thinking.
It is ridiculous, they say, to encourage a sixth grader who can barely play “Hot Crossed Buns” on the saxophone to use an affirmation like, “I am a world-class saxophone player”. That’s just delusional, they argue, to have a child believing something so out of touch with reality.
I absolutely agree!
“What,” you say, “I thought you were in the business of promoting affirmations and encouraging others to follow their dreams?” I am. And, I still agree with those critics. Oh, I believe emphatically that affirmations are for everyone, but I do not believe every affirmation is for every person.
Yes. The critics are correct. This affirmation is completely unrealistic for any sixth grader who believes it is unrealistic.
They are also correct that a smart sixth grader is probably going to doubt the affirmation at some point. Sooner or later the sixth grader using this affirmation may have the thought, “I can’t even play ‘Hot Crossed Buns’. I’m not a world class saxophone player.”
These two pieces of information do not match up. The sixth grader, like most human beings, will search for a way to make the ideas congruent. When this happens it is decision time for the sixth grader and his or her dream of being a world-class saxophonist.
Whether they know it or not the critics are citing and the sixth grader is experiencing a well-known psychological phenomenon called cognitive dissonance.
This theory states that when we hold two incongruent pieces of knowledge in our minds there is a very strong psychological impulse to bring the two conflicting thoughts into agreement.
The idea being that our sixth grader cannot hold the thought, “I can’t even play ‘Hot Crossed Buns’,” in his or her mind while at the same time holding the idea, “I am a world class saxophone player.”
The classic example is the mother on the news who cannot reconcile the baby she brought into the world with the possibility that he may have committed a crime. So, she believes in his innocence even against overwhelming evidence.
Now, here is where the critics’ logic fails. They assume, I suppose, that the only option for this newly self-aware sixth grader is to stop using this unrealistic affirmation and stop pursuing such lofty and unrealistic dreams. Basically, “Give it up, kid, there’s no chance.”
The cognitive dissonance theorists tell us that there are actually three options (besides “getting real”) open to resolve this dilemma.
Change beliefs – the sixth grader can change one or both beliefs to be more in line. “I know I’m not a world-class saxophonist right now, but I can be someday.” He or she admits the first fact and changes the condition for the second to bring them into congruence.
Adding beliefs – the sixth grader can think, “It’s true I cannot play “Hot Crossed Buns”. It’s true that I’m not a world-class sax player right now.” “It’s also true that Charlie Parker was not a world-class saxophone player in the sixth grade and look what he accomplished.”
Alter the importance of the beliefs – the sixth grader can think, “It doesn’t matter that I can’t play “Hot Crossed Buns” right now. I will be able to some day. I still have it in me to be a world-class saxophone player.” He or she chooses to diminish the importance of the current state and focus, instead, on the future possibility.
Part of the confusion, candidly, comes from affirmation gurus who promote the idea that your affirmations must be adhered to with unshakable belief to make a difference. Doubting – the cardinal sin of affirmationdom – must never be allowed to rise or else the magic potion will be spoiled.
People are people. Some days we believe in our dreams fervently and other days we completely lose sight of them. That’s not being negative that’s just being human. The path is not lost by one moment of doubt.
This affirmation may or may not be appropriate for the sixth grader in question. It depends on how he or she resolves the cognitive dissonance associated with it.
If he or she cannot come to terms with the disparity, then an affirmation like “I am becoming a world class saxophone player” or “I am a better saxophone player every day” may be more acceptable and reduce the cognitive dissonance.
Conversely, the previous affirmation is ideal for a college student majoring in music performance on the saxophone. That person has already put in many years and is now an expert on the instrument. He or she may be planning a career playing the saxophone. That college student certainly can realistically aspire to becoming a world-class sax player.
Here is what I have learned from more than 17 years experience working with affirmations. There really are two classes of affirmations – aspirational and incremental.
Aspirational affirmations are your “big thinking” affirmations. They are the ones that remind you that something far greater than right now lies within you. That knowing is not for anyone to label as delusional or unrealistic. It depends on you and your belief.
Incremental affirmations are affirmations that are more finely tuned. They focus on specifics and immediate steps. They are the trees to the aspirational affirmations’ forest.
In my view, they are both part of a healthy affirmation diet. Just like protein and calcium serve two different but beneficial roles in the body. Both kinds of affirmations add value to your over all growth. One is today’s weather forecast and the other is the long range forecast.
Let me illustrate the difference with a couple examples.
A high school quarterback with big dreams might use both of the following affirmations:
Aspirational: “I am the next John Elway.”
Incremental: “My completion percentage is improving each and every game.”
A person trying to climb out of depression might use both of the following affirmations:
Aspirational: “I am completely happy with all aspects of my life.”
Incremental: “Today I am putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward.”
A person focusing on creating a better financial future might use both of the following affirmations:
Aspirational: “My million dollar idea is on its way to me right now.”
Incremental: “Today I am paying my bills on time.”
It’s not about being unrealistic. It’s about using the very real power of your thoughts to support your immediate goals and your long term dreams.
So, if you are a sixth grade saxophone player with a passion to be the world’s greatest saxophonist, I say go for it! One thing is for sure. None of your critics will be there to beat you out!
Be peaceful Be prosperous!
Ray Davis is the Founder of The Affirmation Spot and focuses on empowering minds to think positively, achieve goals, and live dreams.He’s spent the past 21 years in sales and sales training for major companies.
Ray’s 2015 speculative fiction novel, Anunnaki Awakening: Revelation, is turning heads. Where did humanity really come from and where is it going? This is Book 1 of a trilogy. The Awakening has begun!
Learn more about the trilogy and order your signed copy today at AATrilogy.com.