The downside of upside thinking: the negative impact of positive self-statements

negative impact of positive self-statementsCan positive self-statements enhance your life?  Is the way to changing your life circumstance to negate negative thinking and replace it with positive self statements?

Well the answer to these questions is both yes and no.

You are often encouraged by magazine columnists, self-help books and talk-show hosts to boost your self-esteem, create the life you want or deal with the challenges of life by repeating mantra-like positive statements.  Statements such “I am powerful and strong and can deal with anything that comes my way ” or “If I can dream it nothing can stop me from achieving ‘X’, ‘Y’ or ‘Z’”.

The bad news is this.  Repeating sweeping statements such as “I am a wonderful, loveable person” over and over again, in an attempt to talk yourself into believing it probably won’t enhance your view of yourself or life, in fact it will probably make you feel worse.

A study by Joanne Wood and John Lee of the University of Waterloo and Elaine Perunovic of the University of New Brunswick, published in Psychological Science, seems to suggest that repeating such statements, if you don’t truly believe them, will probably make you feel worse. Their research showed that the unfavourable or negative thoughts you have about yourself intrude quite easily on your conscious mind – so if you are presenting yourself with a positive alternative thought it will just heighten feelings of self-depreciation.

Dr. Bruce Lipton PhD. also acknowledges the power any subconscious negative self-thoughts have over the repetitive chanting of positive self-statements.  He says that the sheer neurological processing abilities of the subconscious versus conscious mind will obliterate any attempt you make to replace long-held unconscious negative self-beliefs.  Your subconscious mind is millions of times more powerful than your conscious mind.  So if the desires of your conscious mind conflict with those of the subconscious, which mind, Lipton asks, do you think will win. He says that you can repeat the positive affirmation that you’re ‘lovable’ over and over but if, as a child, you heard over and over that you were worthless those messages programmed into your subconscious mind undermine your best conscious efforts to change your life.

However, the good news is this.  Repeating a statement or statements aligned with a well-established self-view of yourself helps to remind you of the positive attributes you’ve developed.

Statements that build on what you already believe about yourself, such as, “I am really good at making others feel cared for” is a much better approach to building self-esteem and enhancing your self-view.

Focusing on and reinforcing what you believe your positive attributes are rather than allowing negative self-thought to reinforce what you unconsciously believe you’re not has to be a better use of time, emotional and mental energy.

In the next blog we will look at the Upside of Downside thinking:  how your negative thoughts can assist you in creating the life you do want.


Lipton, B., (2008), The Biology of Belief, Hay House, Carlsbad CA, USA

Wood, J., Perunovic, E., W., & Lee, J. (2009), Positive Self-Statements: Power for Some, Peril for Others, Psychological Science, Volume 20, Issue 7, pp. 860-855

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