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How to Phrase Affirmations for Maximum Results by Alan Tutt

There are many theories about how affirmations should be phrased for maximum results. The most common theories, however, have misled many folks into believing things which simply are not true. I’d like to take a moment and set the record straight.

The theory most often taught says, “the subconscious mind cannot process a negative, and therefore interprets any negative phrase incorrectly.”

One of the classic examples of this is an affirmations like, “I will not get sick.” According to the traditional teachings, our minds will ALWAYS interpret this as, “I will get sick.”

What’s Right About the Traditional Teachings

Before I provide ample evidence showing where the traditional teachings are wrong, I want to give credit where credit is due. There is a psychological principle, which is normally taught in courses on conversational hypnosis like my “Keys To Power Persuasion” course, called the “Pink Elephant Principle.” This principle describes how our inner minds are literally forced to imagine anything and everything we hear or read in order to understand what is being said.

Again, the classic example is this. Whatever you do, do NOT think of a pink elephant.

It cannot be done and still understand what is being said. You may be able to avoid forming a picture in your mind of a pink elephant in a lacy tutu standing on a large ball holding a feather, but your inner mind THINKS of it long enough to understand what you’re supposed to avoid doing.

Additionally, experts in conversational hypnosis are able to issue “embedded commands” within a larger sentence. As a result, they can tell someone, “please don’t feel compelled to give me your wallet” and the person almost invariably complies with the subliminal message.

On the surface, this may give further support to the idea that our inner minds cannot process a negative, but the secret to embedded commands is HOW they are spoken. In the example above, special emphasis is given to the words “feel compelled to.” If this emphasis was not given, the ‘trick’ wouldn’t work.

Because of the Pink Elephant Principle, and the effects of conversational hypnosis, some folks have incorrectly assumed that the mind cannot process a negative, such as the words ‘not’ or ‘no’.

What’s Wrong About the Traditional Teachings

Perhaps what should be the most obvious flaw in the traditional teaching is one that may be the most easily overlooked. If our inner minds could not process a negative, then how did we accumulate such words into our language to begin with?

Since all language is processed by our inner minds before being stored as memories, it logically follows that we could not remember anything our inner minds could not process. And this being so, anything we have stored in our memories MUST be something our inner minds are capable of processing.

The sheer fact that many people have powerfully strong negative memories of a parent saying things like, “you’ll never amount to anything,” “you’re no good,” or “you’re no genius” proves the idea that “our inner minds cannot process a negative” to be false. If it were true, these early memories would have been stored as “you’ll amount to anything,” “you’re good,” and “you’re genius” respectively, and be incredibly positive influences in our lives.

Those who support the traditional teachings will immediately respond by saying this isn’t what they are talking about. It’s what they SAY, but not what they MEAN. Of course, when they say this, they are admitting they don’t really know what they’re talking about. If they did, they’d say what they mean.

Pushed on this point, those who support the traditional teaching will admit that it depends on what the person FOCUSES upon in the affirmation. In our original affirmation example of “I will not get sick,” if the person focuses on the words, “get sick” then that’s what happens. Otherwise, if they focus on the word, “not”, the affirmation proves more effective.

This is what an expert persuader does when they apply emphasis on an embedded command — they direct the listener to focus upon the part of the phrase they want them to act upon, such as “feel compelled to give me your wallet.”

Here’s another example. In sports, many athletes are taught to use affirmations such as, “there is no pain”. Sure enough, their inner minds correctly interpret the phrase and reduce the level of pain. If their inner minds could not process the negative, the pain would increase, not decrease.

Supporters of the traditional teachings will further state that our inner minds naturally and automatically focus upon the negative aspects of an affirmation. Perhaps this happens to them because they have conditioned themselves to LOOK for negative words and phrases in order to eliminate them from their own speech. But to say it happens for everyone is naïve and ill-informed.

Why the Traditional Teachings Continue

Let’s step back a moment here and consider WHY the traditional teachings continue to be repeated over and over again until it has become accepted as “common wisdom.”

The idea is that when you repeat positive affirmations, you will attract to yourself positive experiences. And when you repeat affirmations containing negative words and phrases, you will attract negative experiences.

The basic concept is sound. When you repeat certain statements, you can build within yourself a belief in what you’re saying, and our beliefs have a power to direct the course of our lives. Those with very practical, scientific viewpoints will say that this “power of belief” is merely a chain that goes from belief to decision (or lack of decision) to action (or lack of action) to result (or lack thereof). Those who are more spiritual see other possibilities as well.

Regardless of the mechanism involved, repeating affirmations is one valid option to use when we want to change the conditions of our lives.

If the traditional teachings were correct, then it would follow that someone who repeats positively phrased affirmations will always experience a more positive result than one who repeats affirmations containing a negative word or phrase. Let’s take a real example, and see if this theory holds water.

For many years, I’ve said to myself and others, “I don’t get sick.” It’s not an affirmation I repeat dozens and hundreds of times, day after day after day. But then again, I don’t spend any time thinking of my health, and I certainly don’t spend any time repeating health-based affirmations. And yet, the end result is that I can count on one hand the number of times I have been “under the weather” during the last 20 years.

The other side of this example is that I’ve known MANY people over the years who have spent hours and hours repeating affirmations such as “my body is a temple of perfect health,” “I am a channel for Divine Health,” or “God is healing me now,” all of which are excellent, 100% positive affirmations. The only problem is that these folks had more health problems than most.

Along another line, I’ve known many people who would constantly say, “I’m broke,” “I’m poor,” or “Money is hard to come by,” and yet were much better off financially than those who constantly affirmed, “I am worthy of abundant prosperity,” “God’s riches flow to me in ever increasing amounts,” or “I am blessed with abundant riches all the days of my life.”

Obviously, affirmations by themselves are not the answer. And certainly not the way the affirmations are phrased. There is something else which determines how well an affirmation will work. If you’ve read my book, Choose To Believe, you’ll know this. It is the belief we have (or don’t have) in the idea contained within the affirmation.

You see, those people who kept repeating 100% positive affirmation about perfect health without getting positive results really didn’t believe what they were affirming. Each time they said to themselves, “my body is a temple of perfect health”, their inner minds responded with a thought or feeling like, “What? Are you crazy? My body is so sick I can hardly move.” While they may have been saying something positive, the affirmation merely served to remind them of their negative experience.

And those who constantly said things like “I’m poor” had a completely different concept of what “poor” means than those in lower income brackets. To one person, ‘poor’ may mean they make less than $100,000 a year. To someone else, earning $30,000 may feel like stumbling into Ali Baba’s cave.

So, the bottom line is that the affirmations we use, in order to be effective, must call up within our minds a positive idea or feeling. How the affirmation is phrased doesn’t matter nearly as much as the idea or feeling brought up by the affirmation, and this may be completely different from person to person.

The Psychological Stairway

Another factor to consider in all this is what I call the Psychological Stairway. When you go into a high-rise office building and want to get to the 10th floor, you cannot step directly from the 1st floor to the 10th, and must take the stairs, elevator, or escalator to get there.

In much the same way, someone who has to “look up to see the grass” cannot usually jump immediately to a grand, expansive, 100% positive, sugar-coated affirmation such as “My life is a perfect picture of abundance and overflowing joy.”

For someone who struggles daily with lack, limitation, and self-worth issues, attempting to use such a glorious affirmation generally serves merely to remind them of their hardships and frustrations. These folks tend to get better results with affirmations which get them a little closer to their goals, where a “better” affirmation will have more meaning.

One person may say an affirmation of “I am blessed with a great abundance of wonderful things” and get a strong positive feeling, whereas someone else may say the exact same phrase and be reminded of how hard they’ve had to struggle in recent years.

For this 2nd person, a better affirmation may be “Life doesn’t have to be hard. It can be easy.” If they get a positive feeling from the affirmation, it’s much more likely to produce positive results than if they repeat a 100% positive affirmation which doesn’t resonate with them at all.

As an example from my own past, I can remember times when I felt so low, repeating affirmations like “Wealth is an ever-present reality in my life” felt like vinegar in my mouth, and therefore produced either no results, or in fact “negative” results. (i.e. – things got worse). When I decided to use a more “believable” affirmation of “things are not as bad as I think they are,” I experienced a rather quick shift in my mindset (within minutes), allowing me to see more positive possibilities, at which point the more positive affirmations had a better chance of working.

Phrasing Your Affirmations

All of this leads us to a set of general guidelines we can follow to create powerful affirmations that will produce positive results in our lives. By concentrating on the feeling we get when we say an affirmation, and not worrying about whether it contains negative words or phrases, we are more likely to see the results we want.

Here is what I suggest to those attending my Choose To Believe workshops.

First, as clearly as you can, imagine the final result you want to experience. If you want to have lots of money, a big house, nice car, and fancy clothes, daydream about living that reality now. If you want to experience vibrant health, abundant energy, and a youthful appearance, then imagine this as if you have it now.

When you have a good feeling of what you want to produce in your life, then write down a short description of what it is, and do so using your own words. Try to keep it as short as you can while still preserving the feeling of what you’ve daydreamed about. And keep in mind that you’re writing this for yourself, not anyone else, and you should express this idea in the way that seems most natural to YOU.

The reason for this is because when you express the idea as you would naturally say it to yourself, you are using words and phrases your inner mind can identify with. (After all, where do the words come from in the first place?) And when you use words and phrases your inner mind can identify with, your affirmation will be accepted that much more readily.

For those who want a more detailed explanation of why this works so well, we have to again refer to conversational hypnosis and a science called NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming). Basically, it is a matter of familiarity, and a type of process NLP experts call “mirroring and matching”. When we meet someone who looks like us, talks like us, and expresses ideas the same way we do, we automatically trust them more. (This is explained in more detail in my Keys To Power Persuasion course.)

By the same token, when you use affirmations that sound like your everyday conversation, your inner mind will trust them more than when you use affirmations that sound like “geek speak.”

“Negative” Affirmations That Work

Below is a list of affirmations that may not seem to be 100% positive, yet have produced great results for those who have used them. I’m not suggesting you SHOULD use these, but merely pointing out that if your affirmations look like these, it’s okay.

Don’t let anyone tell you your own affirmations are not “good enough.”

* I don’t get sick.
* Life doesn’t have to be hard. It can be easy, and my new mindset is opening the doors for an easy life experience.
* The negative experiences of my past no longer have any power over me. I am free from them and look forward to expressing my true potential.
* Things are not as bad as I think they are.
* I have fewer problems than most people.
* I have no problem saying ‘no’ to anyone when it’s the right answer.
* I am not controlled by any outside person or substance.
* Although I enjoy being with other people, I do not need anyone
else in my life to be happy.
* I do not need any person or thing to be happy.
* I maintain my self-control and do not overindulge my appetites.
* I do not allow others to pressure me into doing something I’d
rather not do.
* I don’t have to prove my worth to anyone.
* I refuse to feel guilty because someone wants something that I do
not want to give them.
* The past does not determine the future.

In the end, what really matters is the results you get from your affirmations. If you resonate with 100% positive, sugar-coated affirmations, great! Otherwise, use something that feels a little closer to home.

- Alan Tutt
Exceptional Personal Development for Exceptional People.
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Alan Tutt, author of /Choose To Believe: A Practical Guide to Living
Your Dreams/ and a leading expert on the Power of Belief, helps people reach their full potential. For more information, or to sign up for one of his free gift offers, go to www.PowerKeysPub.com

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16 Responses to “How to Phrase Affirmations for Maximum Results by Alan Tutt”

  1. Such an excellent article, and so true. Many times over I have also found this to be the case. Thank you so much for this – it’s a big help for people who are frustrated with affirmations – it really does work better when it’s believable – for those who just can’t make the jump – changing the affirmations gradually really does produce fantastic results.

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  2. ben afroilan says:

    One may not at all believe what he is affirming for the first time. But time has a way of developing belief with repetition of the affirmation. A lie repeated over and over gain becomes truth to him who keeps repeating the lie. So is the specific truth affirmation. Blessed is he who immediately believes and sees (to believe is to see). So is he who sees by repeated affirmation and believes even more (to see a miracle is to believe in more miracles to come).

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  3. Rosa Muziotti says:

    Thanks Alan. Sometimes I have got better results doing “denials” of any situation. For example “I do not to feel fear because love is everywhere” or “There is no absence of prosperity anywhere, I am abundant”

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  4. Rosa Muziotti says:

    Sorry Alan. The right affirmation is “I do not want to feel fear because love is everywhere”

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  5. Lisa says:

    Great article, Alan – thank you. I like that you pointed out when our parents said negative things to us our minds didn’t instantly change those words into ‘positive’ affirmations. Many of us carry the negative things our parents (or anyone else for that matter) said to us for years…even when they didn’t necessarily intend to be ‘negative’. They probably thought they were being realistic and helpful.

    I have to say that the 100% positive affirmations didn’t seem to get me too far. One of my all time favorites is “I don’t get sick” – which I said for years until I actually learned about affirmations and that not only was this one, but I was ‘doing it wrong’. I still don’t get sick – not often anyways – but noticed I don’t have that ‘knowing’ what I’m saying is true when I say ‘I stay healthy’ vs ‘I don’t get sick’. It’s my experience that the ‘knowing’ or belief in what you are affirming, in addition to what you are focused on is the key. When I would repeat “I don’t get sick” the most was when I had work to do that couldn’t wait, so I was focused on getting my job done instead of how terrible I felt. Thank you for reminding me that we intuitively know what is right for us – we just have to learn to trust our own guidance, sometimes in spite of what the ‘experts’ tell us. Keep up the great work.

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  6. That is a good common sense approach. There are enough examples of people who have been in extreme situations and when questioned afterwards you hear statements like ‘I told my self I’m not going to give up, die, whatever’. It is direct, crisp, the message clear.

    I have never bought into the idea that the mind is incapable of deciphering when the not applies and when it doesn’t, or that the not does not apply at all. There may be languages that do not use a yes/no directly, but every language has the negative form incorporated. If it is that universal, the mind must be able to understand because the mind essentially created it that way.

    The pink elephant always comes up. Does it mean anything special when I tell you to think of a pink elephant, or the lack of pink elephants, or the absence of pink elephants? Same result as being asked not to think of them. The absence of pink elephants is not a negative form, yet you will think of them even though there are none. Personally, in all of these example, I just think elephants. Pink and elephants never quite merge into the same mental image for me. With or without the not.

    Ben, a lie only becomes truth if the person buys into it. Sames goes for the affirmation. If you don’t buy into it because you cannot understand it at the deepest level, how can it possibly happen? Some of the wording in the positive form gets too complicated and too broad. Too easy to create doubt. At both the conscious and the subconscious level. With doubt there may as well be no message.

    When you have an agenda, or pressed to get results, when there is no other option, it does not matter how you express it. If the conviction is there whatever you tell yourself is more likely to happen. Like ‘I have no time to get sick (because xyz important reasons)’ and so you don’t. But as soon as the holidays come along the first thing that happens is that you get sick. Because now you have the time for it. The mind was quite obedient.

    This article reminds me of something I tell people that ask for help when their dogs won’t listen to them. When you give a dog a command, keep it simple, and say it LIKE YOU MEAN IT! No ifs and buts. And… you only get to say it once. If you need a bit more gumption imagine yourself stomping a foot into the ground and pounding a fist into the palm of the other hand when you say the command. You can even follow with ‘and I mean it!!!’ or ‘NOW!’ after you voiced your command but you only say it to yourself. Scream it if you want to, but only in your head. Stand up straight, be focused, believe that it works and do it with conviction, because you only have one go at this. Do a few dry runs without the dog first so that you have it down pat and feel good about what you are doing. The results are amazing. A sit actually turns into a sit. First try, almost always without fail (this is assuming the dog knows what sit means). The dog gets the message. After a while the subconscious of the owner internalizes the whole process and when you say ‘sit’ without doing any of the other steps actively, enough of it spills over into the command and the sit command stays effective.

    This whole positive wording complicates things. If you don’t speak your own speak when doing affirmations, how is the subconscious supposed to understand? Back to dogs. In the following example the message is completely lost on the dog if you’d say something like ‘be a good boy and do a nice sit for me, I have a treat for you if you do a nice sit for me, but first you have to do it boy, I know you can do it, so go ahead, I know you can sit, and I know you want your treat… pretty please?’. The dog heard ‘good boy, treat’, followed by a very confused dog mind that thinks ‘I don’t know why you start yelling at me, yanking at the leash and pushing my behind to the ground, you just said I was a good boy and was supposed to get a treat, so where is my treat?!’. A simple ‘sit’ on the other hand is effective and works. A very clear message. A dog is supposed to have the intellectual capacity of a 5 year old.

    The subconscious is often referred to as our inner child. Perhaps we need to talk to it on those terms. Not too many fancy words. Just a clear message.

    That was a good article. Thank you, Alan.
    Daniela Huppe

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  7. Leila says:

    I like some of the ideas here a lot. For example, toning down an affirmation because an exceptionally positive affirmation may make you feel too far from that reality.

    I think I still prefer a positive slant to a negative one and that might translate to a positive feeling that my subconscious would respond to in some way.

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  8. Alan Tutt says:

    Thanks to everyone who left feedback.

    I’m glad that so many folks have enjoyed this article.

    As some have mentioned, it is really just common sense, although common sense has never been ….., well, common.

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  9. Carole says:

    Wonderful article — thank you. I have always had a problem with the concept of our subconscious not being able to process “no’s” and “not’s,” for the same reason I rankle when I’m told that the subconscious is “one big tape recorder” — I feel that is an insultingly simplistic view of an important part of ourselves that is much more complex and subtle than we are able to comprehend at this time. Maybe it is my subconscious, in fact, that is rankled. At any rate, those statements have never sat right with me.

    I’d like to get your take on whether, along with feelings and beliefs, the IMAGES that are conjured in your mind while you say/think affirmations are influential to the process (visualization, in other words)? If you say “I do not get sick,” do you simultaneously picture yourself as in bed with a hot water bottle and thermometer, sneezing uncontrollably? As a visual person, I feel my inner images have a lot to do with whether affirmations work or not.

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  10. Cathy says:

    Beautifully done and very significant. Thank you for validating what I have also felt about contemporary teachings on affirmations. I do believe that if an affirmation can be stated in a positive phrase it is good to do so, but often the negative phrasing feels more real — more ‘truthful’ — thus easier to believe. Anyone in tune with their mind chatter is familiar that cynical little voice that says, “Oh, yeah?” There is that point when something sounds “too good to be true,” and the affirmation is, at best, a waste of time. Again, thank you for this.

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  11. Alan Tutt says:

    Good point, Carole. My feeling is that the visual images which come up often indicate where our focus is, and so can be an indicator as to how the affirmations will manifest.

    Of course, visualization is a technique of it’s own, which may be used separately from affirmations, or as you’ve pointed out, in conjunction with them.

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  12. Michael says:

    Thank you so much for clarifying this issue! I never bought the argument that the subconscious was so naive that it couldn’t understand a simple sentence.

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  13. Cathy says:

    Alan, this is too true! I have said “I never get sick” for decades..and for decades I’ve been healthy. Also I had to laugh at the part about people with money saying they are broke. I’ve known plenty of people with money who frequently say “I’m broke”(i.e. I’m cheap :) . Great article!

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  14. Zirah says:

    Thanks for the insightful, thought-provoking article!

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  15. M Farooq says:

    For the first time, it made a perfect sense. If “negative commands” don’t work as claimed, then why “negative programming” works. Thanks Alan, for your article that is written in an easy to understand language.

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