Challenge and change the supposedly ‘positive’ affirmations that are bringing you negative thought patterns

Affirmations are sayings that you repeat to yourself frequently to foster self-empowerment and positive thinking. It’s about creating conscious thought-patterns and automatic believes by repeating a helpful statement that relates to you personally. Sounds good, right?

It’s not hard to find affirmations, the world is full of supposedly ‘positive’ sayings and clichés for us to tell ourselves. If you haven’t seen ‘good vibes only’ floating about, I don’t know where you’ve been.

But before we snatch another person’s idea of a ‘positive’ mentality, we need to assess what thoughts they’re reinforcing for us.

I’m guilty of using positively packaged sayings to promote negative thoughts (most of the time, without realising it). If someone gives me a simple catchy saying with a shiny surface message, I’m going to remember it and reinforce it. But take ‘good vibes only’ for example, is it really helpful to never allow yourself to think or feel anything negative?

You can’t summarise experiences in a sentence, especially one that’s simplistic, inflexible, and unforgiving.

For that reason, here are some affirmations I’ve ‘fixed’ to leave room for a little more flexibility and, well, being human.

‘Good Vibes Only’ = ‘Bad Vibes Sometimes’

It’s the ‘only’ bit that annoys me in this saying. Good vibes? Yes, we love them. Good vibes only? No, that’s just unhealthy.

When something bad happens I’m afraid I’m going to have to let a few bad vibes in. But that won’t stop me seeking the good vibes when I’m ready for them. Good things and bad things — that’s just how being human works.

Never allowing yourself to feel anything but positive simply means repressing negative thoughts. ‘good vibes only’ is ‘you have to hide how you’re feeling, keep it all to yourself, and put on a false pretence around the people you love’ in a fancy new outfit. It’s a shiny way of blurring sadness with weakness.

And do you want to put a message out to the people around you that ‘only good thoughts are allowed in my presence’, or do you want to connect with people, their raw experiences, help them, laugh with them, go through things together? Sometimes you have to let bad vibes in, share them, and maybe you can make some good vibes from them (or maybe not, but that’s okay too).

This saying is toxic positivity in its simplest form, and if you’re wondering how positivity can be toxic, I recommend reading this article.

We can seek good vibes and strive for them as often as we can, whilst respecting that we’re not going to have them all of the time. And that doesn’t mean we’re being negative, we’re just embracing all the other feelings of the human experience.

‘I am Unlimited’ = ‘I Respect My Limits’

‘I am Unlimited’ is a sister saying of ‘I can do anything I put my mind to’. It’s about dreaming big and never settling.

I’m not sure where I read it, I think it was in an article on motivation, but it’s stuck in my head.

‘Unlimited’ and ‘anything’ is a lot, the words themselves are overwhelming. We’re human, we can’t deal with that much. I’m all about big dreams, making plans happen, and I would say I’m pretty productive, but I have a limit and I definitely can’t do it all. Recognising when it’s time to just be, to smell the roses and enjoy life, is an ultimate act of self-care.

You can only do ‘unlimited’ stuff, the big dreams, when you know your limit before you burn-out. You can do anything you put your mind to, but you can’t do everything and you don’t need to do everything.

‘I am unlimited’ screams overworking and taking life so seriously that you can’t see the fun in it. ‘I respect my limits’ is about dreaming big whilst taking care of yourself and enjoying life as it is right now.

‘No Pain, no Gain’ = ‘Move Like you Love Yourself’

This fitness mantra is a recipe for beating yourself up. ‘No pain no gain’ too quickly morphs into ‘more pain more gain’. Yes, fitness is going to burn and tire you out, but there’s a limit. Don’t keep going till you miss out on your social life, you’re completely exhausted, or even injured yourself.

Pain makes you feel bad, exercise should make you feel good. Exercise should start with accepting your body enough to want to look after it well, not with the idea that you have to go through a bad ‘painful’ experience to ‘gain’ a different ‘good’ body.

This way of thinking may be motivating for some people, but for me ‘no pain no gain’ sounds a lot like ‘you must hate on your body and exhaust yourself until it looks an acceptable way’, and that does not make me want to exercise.

The enjoyment, endorphins, and feeling of strength that occurs when you exercise is a much bigger motivator for me. Exercise should be about finding something, anything, that gets you healthy and feeling good. It’s about moving like you love yourself.

‘Follow your Passion’ = ‘Find your Passions’

As a recent graduate, I’ve been exploring career advice a lot lately, and I’ve come across ‘follow your passion’ a lot in my searches. I guess this is an affirmation you’re supposed to repeat to yourself to help you follow your path in life and achieve your vision of a future career.

If you know what your passion is, and what you want your future to look like, then great, this is an affirmation for you. The trouble is, I don’t know what my passion is, and I have no idea what I want to do years down the line.

I’ve tried to think of a singular ‘passion’ that can bring me my dream life but finding it causes more stress than it’s worth. A ‘passion’ is supposed to be something you want to focus all your energy on, but I’m a bit passionate about lots of things. I have a lot of interests and dreams in life, and they’re far from connected.

Does that mean I’m not going to get anywhere or find anything I enjoy in life? I don’t think so, or at least I hope not.

I guess the main reason I don’t like ‘follow your passion’ is that it’s inflexible. It’s the idea that we have to know what we’re doing and follow a straight and narrow path to get there. But I don’t want my life to be pinned down and planned out like that.

I’m passionate about lots of things, that change day by day, and come and go. My ‘ideal’ isn’t to ‘follow a passion’, but to find things I’m passionate about, keep doing those things, and hopefully, that will get me somewhere. I want to feel passionate about life in general and experience it each day, rather than chase one future, singular ‘passion’.

The take-away

Sometimes ‘positive’ sayings can be used to promote negative thoughts or cause anxiety rather than ease it.

I challenge you to think of affirmations that you’ve used, and assess the thoughts and believes they’re actually promoting. Don’t be afraid to edit them.


Words by Heather Grant