Thursday, October 19, 2006


After reading a recent post on Scott Adams’ blog on the subject, I’ve spent some time thinking about affirmations (the practice of regularly writing down or chanting a mantra or phrase relating to a seemingly distant goal).

Of course the woo-woo fringe like to think that by repeatedly expressing your goal, you’re sending positive “energy” out into the universe that will summon a magical winged leprechaun who will come and shake a stick at you, making your wildest dreams come true. Or something.

Suffice to say, I don’t think that is the case.

However I have read several studies on the effectiveness of affirmations. I don’t know how good those studies were, or how much confirmation bias had to do with the results, but I can see the logic behind why something like this might work.

Adams subscribes to the theory that affirmations allow the user to focus his or her attention, thus making them more able to recognise opportunities… some kind of self-hypnosis. I suspect that may be a contributing factor, but I don’t think that’s all there is to it.

I think it’s more a self-programming technique. The sheer repetition of it is enough to ensure that whatever your goal is, it’s going to be on your mind, even if it’s at the back of your mind, for most of the time. The more you think about it, the more time you have to consider your options and to figure out ways of achieving that goal.

Once you’ve figured out what you need to do to achieve the goal, you’re half-way there. It’s easy to recognise the opportunities when you know exactly what you’re looking for.

I also think that the sort of people who would commit themselves to constant repetition of an important goal over any length of time are the sort of people who are likely to be goal-oriented people… the sort of people who get things done anyway.

So, I’m going to give it a shot. I have chosen an important, but seemingly distant goal, and I’m going to type out a simple and direct phrase on my cellphone every hour, on the hour, during the day, every day, for the next six months. It’s not an impossible goal, just a difficult one that I don’t know how I’ll be able to accomplish just yet.

If after six months I haven’t managed to at least take some significant steps towards achieving that goal (assuming I’m able to keep up the typing for that long), I think I’ll be able to safely say that affirmations are not all they’re cracked up to be.