[The following article was written in January 2017. An update of the year’s progress will be posted next week to my email list. ]
It’s asked at the beginning of every year: “So… any New Year’s resolutions?”
Many people are annoyed by this question, and until last year, I was one of them. Like most people, I start strong with my goals in January. By February, they begin to wane. And by March, they’re largely forgotten.
Last year I decided to try a technique that would only cost me 30 seconds a day and, if successful, would finally allow me to accomplish a goal I had for eight years.
The technique, as you may have guessed, was affirmations.
If you cringed at that last sentence, I understand. Affirmations are a controversial topic. For those who don’t know, affirmations are written and/or spoken statements that “affirm” your desires and goals. Example:
- “I, [your name], will make a million dollars within three years.”
Some people believe affirmations are a magical means to manifest money, sex, and happiness. They’ll tell you stories about how they’ve stated their desires to the universe and the universe provided — they bought the house they always wanted, they found their dream guy or girl, and they got a job that keeps them wealthy and creatively fulfilled.
Other people believe affirmations are silly New Age nonsense with zero scientific evidence backing them up. They’ll tell you that there’s no such thing as magic, and your thoughts don’t “jump out” into the universe. They’ll say you don’t shape or “manifest” your reality, you just make choices based on the options given to you.
I believe something else. I’m an open-minded skeptic who hates extremes, and I believe reality is far too complex for anyone to comprehend. The truth is we’re all extremely limited by our own experience, and people who blindly flock to extreme points of view are sadly misguided.
So… Are Affirmations Magic?
How do you define magic? Person A can look at a smart phone and call it magic. Person B can look at the same phone and call it science. But neither has any idea how it works, so why argue semantics? Magic… science… call it whatever you want. Personally, I believe a smartphone is science and affirmations are psychology. But if they work, we should agree to call them awesome.
So do affirmations work? I only speak from personal experience, and despite reading countless self-help books that all recommend them, last year was the first year I ever tried it. The reason was embarrassingly simple:
I was scared.
I was scared to write down my dream, because I was afraid I’d fail. I’d been failing at this particular dream for eight years, and the thought of reading my failed life goal out loud every day sounded like a particularly depressing exercise in psychological self-torture.
But, I thought, what if affirmations actually work? What if they’ll help me carve out the life I’ve always wanted? How will I know unless I try?
I decided to put affirmations to the test. At best, I’d finally achieve a goal I had for eight years. At worst, I’d know they were bullshit.
My affirmation, which I wrote one year ago, was as follows:
“I, [my name], will make money as a writer by the end of this year.”
To you, that may sound like a simple, reasonable goal. To me, it sounded crazy and stupid.
I’d been trying to make money as a writer for eight years and was failing miserably. I had no plan. No connections. No means and no idea how to achieve it. But that’s the point.
Affirmations are step one. When you state your affirmation every day, the plan, the connections, and the means are supposed to “manifest” themselves in surprising ways.
And so I read my affirmation twice a day, every day, for one year. Now the real question:
Was I finally able to achieve an eight year goal, or did I fall flat on my face?
The answer requires a little backstory:
The Psychology of Affirmations
As I said before, I was afraid to try affirmations because I was afraid I’d fail. Here I was, a wannabe writer who didn’t have the balls to write one simple fucking sentence. Do you see the glaringly obvious error in my thinking? I’ll repeat it so you can really soak in my stupidity:
I was afraid to try affirmations because I was afraid I would fail.
Affirmations are done alone in a room, by yourself. There’s no one around to judge you. No one to know if you fail.
If I lacked the confidence to do something as simple as read a statement to myself in private, how the fuck did I plan on trying out in the real world?
I wish someone would’ve shook the shit out of me and screamed, “YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO FAIL! THAT MEANS YOU’RE ACTUALLY TRYING, ASSHOLE!” But no one did.
The fact I was afraid I’d fail meant I didn’t believe in my own dream. And if you don’t believe in yourself, who will? That was my first and most vital lesson in affirmations:
If you don’t have the confidence to do something as simple as state your dream out loud, you don’t have the confidence to actually pursue it.
When I first started reading my affirmation every day, I felt like a liar. How was I going to make money writing? Did I plan to write a full novel and sell it in under a year? Would I finally sell one of my two good screenplays (or for that matter, any of my eight shitty ones)? Could I ghostwrite lyrics for hip-hop artists?
Because I couldn’t decide what to do, I brainstormed all my options and wrote an “action list” for how I could achieve each one.
Boom! And just like that, I went a step further than I’d ever gone in eight years — I made an action list. It seems so obvious in hindsight that I can’t believe I’d never done it before. Like many people, I’d fantasize about being “discovered,” but never mapped out how to be discovered.
To give an example, I’ll use one of my more entertaining plans. Here’s how I planned to get hired by Epic Rap Battles of History (ERB).
Years ago, I wrote a rap battle between Mother Teresa and Princess Diana, solely for my own amusement. My friends loved it, but I had no intention of producing it. ERB was one of my favorite YouTube channels, and ripping them off would be tacky and rude. But what if they hired me?
Here was the plan:
- Contact my friend in LA who knows one of the ERB guys. See if he’ll put me in contact with them.
- If not, record the rap battle myself and mix the track.
- Find all of the ERB guys’ contact info. Hit them up on facebook, twitter, and email. Be friendly.
- Get one of them to listen to the track.
- When they love it, discuss employment options.
As you can see, it’s not a brilliant “master plan.” It’s just a basic outline of simple steps. But suddenly, what seemed like a far-fetched pipe dream didn’t seem so illogical. Granted, I made a big jump between #4 and #5, but the other steps were totally doable.
Would it have worked? Probably not, but I never got a chance to find out, because as I was weighing my options, the best option jumped out in front of me…
The Magic of Affirmations
For the record, I don’t believe affirmations are magic, but this is how they can feel that way.
I only knew about High Existence because I met HE creator Jordan Lejuwaan at a Vipassana meditation retreat in the middle of nowhere (the same retreat he writes about here).
He seemed like a cool guy. I gave him a ride back to the city, and we chatted for a bit. Nothing major. But I was fascinated when I asked him what he did for a living. Among a lot of cool shit (he’s an interesting dude), he mentioned creating this website. I dropped him off at his apartment and that was it. I never talked with him again, but I checked out his site.
And I really liked it.
I became a regular reader and thought to myself, this is the kind of website I wish I was writing for. It was perfect — open-minded but grounded, pragmatic but open to the greater mysteries of reality. I hadn’t found anything else like it.
I thought about contacting Jordan and asking him if I could write a guest post, but I never actually did it. I just kept thinking about it. I should mention that this was before I started doing my affirmations, otherwise I’m certain I would have emailed him (it would have been the #1 thing on my action list). Instead, I did nothing, and when he left the site I thought, Well, I missed that opportunity, and forgot all about it.
But then, six months later (and two months into my affirmations experiment), I read that HE was looking for interns.
The Myth of Affirmations
Would I have applied to the HE internship if I wasn’t doing affirmations? Maybe. All I know is that because I was doing them, I was definitely going to apply, as it was the opportunity I’d been waiting for. All I needed to do was write and submit an article.
Here I’d like to address one of the most common myths about affirmations: You make a plan and there’s no struggle. The “universe provides a path” and aids you in your goal as you breezily stroll from one accomplishment to another.
Bullshit. If there’s even a trace of that thought in your mind, get rid of it immediately.
Everyone struggles. The key is having the willpower to push through the struggles, and that’s where having an affirmation helps.
Here’s the honest truth — I HATED writing that article. Once I picked a topic — writing to my parents about trying magic mushrooms — I couldn’t decide how to write it. One draft was all humor and no sincerity. One was deathly sincere and no humor. I even lost faith entirely and started writing an article about how to improve your dating life instead. I wanted to give up.
But I couldn’t, because everyday I read an affirmation that said I was going to make money as a writer, and real writers power through the pain of self-doubt.
I finished the article, and I was chosen as an intern.
You’d think I would have celebrated, but I didn’t. I didn’t because I knew there was a lot more work to do. I knew my goal was no longer a fantasy. It was becoming real life, and real life requires real work.
For the next several months, I juggled a separate full-time job with the HE internship amidst several personal tragedies that, under normal circumstances, would have made me quit. But my affirmation reminded me to toughen up and not be a whiny little bitch.
I put in the work, and after enough months, it was time to inquire about compensation.
The Misconception of Affirmations
A lot more work goes into HE than many people probably realize. There’s site coding, glitches, server transfers, social media management, spam attacks, advertising, email lists, not to mention the writing and publishing of articles.
I’m not egotistical enough to believe I’m at the top of the agenda, so I waited patiently for a response. And I waited… and I waited…
Oh fuck… I’m not going to be paid. My affirmation didn’t come true.
The thought popped into my head, but it didn’t make me depressed. I actually felt an immense amount of gratitude because I’d learned so much. I made new friends, I acquired new skills, I had more confidence, more connections, and a portfolio of articles. So what if I don’t make money by the end of this year? I’m finally where I’m supposed to be. Now it’s just a matter of time.
“Most people overestimate what they can accomplish in a year and underestimate what they can accomplish in a decade.” — Tony Robbins
Here I’d like to address a common misconception about affirmations: You must accomplish what you set out to achieve, in exactly the way you described it, exactly on time, and if you don’t, it’s a failure. Sure, I failed in the sense that I wasn’t going to be paid by the end of the year, but I was light years beyond where I started a year ago.
I accepted the fact that my affirmation failed, but it didn’t matter, because I could always get work somewhere else. Hell, I could probably create my own website…
And just like that, the failure to achieve my affirmation led me down a path I wouldn’t have taken otherwise. I was excited.
And in early December — oddly enough, right on schedule with my affirmation — High Existence made me an offer. I finally achieved an eight year goal to make money as a writer.
This is my first HE article under contract, and just one week late of my goal. Life works in very, very mysterious ways.
The Mystery of Affirmations
So did the affirmation actually work, or was it all in my head?
Answer: It was all in my head. But guess what? My entire reality is inside my head! By changing my thoughts, I changed the way I acted, which changed the shape of my life.
Think of it this way…
You’re in a crowded airport or train station. There’s hundreds of conversations happening around you. Announcements are blasting through the loudspeakers. Babies are crying. Maybe you’re even listening to music through a single ear bud. Then, you hear it:
Someone says your name.
You turn around, looking for the source of the sound, and see a friend of yours, waving in the distance.
How did you hear your name? There were conversations, announcements, crying babies, and music all attacking your eardrums. Yet your name managed to cut through the noise.
It’s because your name is who you are. You’ve been trained since birth to accept it. It’s a part of your being. It’s buried so deep in your subconscious that you automatically recognize it, even in a crowded station.
I believe affirmations work in a similar way — the constant repetition pushes it deeper into your subconscious until it’s a part of your being. You begin to accept it, no questions asked, until you’re able to “hear” opportunities even when you’re surrounded by chaos.
It may seem like “the universe” has answered your call, but it all begins with you.
Here the doubters chime in: “Sure, your affirmation worked, but if you would’ve picked something more extreme, like ‘I will become an NBA star,’ you would have failed.”
Yes, you’re absolutely right. But I have no desire to be an NBA star, so I wouldn’t have taken the time to write it down and read it every day.
And that’s another major benefit to affirmations: they show what you truly care about, and what you think is possible.
You need an extremely strong desire to achieve your goal, or you won’t be willing to read it to yourself twice a day. If you’re not willing to do that, then you don’t actually give a shit. Pick a new goal.
Because when you do find that special thing you want to achieve more than anything, you’ll be excited to repeat it as often as possible.
Having said that, I’ll admit that my affirmation was weak. I didn’t specify what I’d be writing, and I didn’t state how much money I’d make. Like I admitted earlier, I was afraid I’d fail, so I kept my goal within a reasonable distance.
I’m not afraid anymore, so let’s try something a little more fun…
The Great Affirmations Experiment of 2017
What if my affirmation would have been more extreme, beyond the boundaries of what I thought was actually possible? What if I had a different goal, or came from a different background? What would my odds of success be then? How well do affirmations really work?
I’m currently rounding up a motley crew of individuals across the globe to test that question. None of them have ever tried affirmations before, and all of them are skeptical. I’ll post monthly updates on their progress, so we’ll be able to see if/how affirmations work in real time.
Self-doubt, indecision, and fear lock us inside a prison of our own making. Maybe affirmations are a way to tunnel out.
I want as many people to achieve their dreams as possible, and if something as simple as reading a sentence every day can increase your odds of success — even a little — isn’t it worth a shot?
Let’s see where the tunnel goes.