Positive Affirmations and the Anxious Mind: Why Affirmations Don't Always Work to Shift Your Mindset

In the pursuit of your dreams via the self-help world, you’re bound to come across the Law of Attraction, made mainstream by The Secret

The Law of Attraction’s basic principle is you attract what you think about. I think, therefore, I am. If you think your life is a dumpster fire of awfulness, you will see a dumpster fire of awfulness. If you think your life is amazing and abundant and you have everything you need, you will see all of those things manifest.

The premise of most manifestation work is to put yourself in the mindset of the life you want, by way of your thoughts, in order to make it true. When people can do this, it works. There are countless stories out there if you need proof.

But what happens when your mind is, for whatever reason, predisposed to think about the worst case scenario of any given situation?

I have an anxious mind. I could go into detail about why that might be, from my childhood and life experiences to my genetics, but that’s besides the point. The fact is, my brain is wired a little differently than the “norm” and that changes how I see the world.

Choice is a big word in the self-help community. We can choose to be happy. We can choose to rise up out of our current situation. We can choose to think about our ideal life in a different way.

Which, in a sense, I totally agree with. Choice, and deciding to do something is an extremely powerful force. But there’s more to the story…

While there is a certain level of choice as to what I spend my time thinking about, the frequency at which I have to combat an array of negative thoughts is really high.

Metaphor time: 

Imagine one of those machines that shoots tennis balls. They shoot out a pretty quick speed to keep the player on their toes and train them for the big game. Let’s say a non-anxious mind is one of these machines… The tennis balls are negative thoughts that the person can easily, with practice, combat with positive affirmations.

For example:

Tennis ball shoots (negative thought/belief): “I don’t deserve success because other people work harder than me.”

Player hits the ball (positive affirmation): “I am worthy of my desires, no matter what.”

In theory (both in tennis and law of attraction work), the more the player practices, the more natural the process of hitting becomes, and soon the player feels confident in their ability to hit (or replace negative beliefs with positive affirmations).

The tennis ball machine of an anxious mind is turned up to super-speed; machine-gunning out of the barrel, forcing the player to franticly defend herself, by any means necessary.

Now, good playing technique (aka positive affirmations) will definitely help the player with the anxious mind machine. It’s better than having no skill at all. But skill is only part of the picture. If the speed never decreases, all the positive affirmations in the world won’t stand a chance against an anxious mind.

The speed at which an anxious mind throws out worrying, catastrophic, or “what-if” thoughts is daunting, but that’s not the only added obstacle. An anxious mind is great at doubting, second guessing, and generally undermining positive, productive thoughts and actions.

So while I try my best to replace the negative self-talk with positive affirmations, there’s always another second-guesser on the way.

It’s as if I’m swatting away as many of the tennis balls as possible, only to discover I have a chronically cramped wrist that effects the way I swing the racket.

This is the progression:

Ball shoots: “I don’t deserve success because other people work harder than me.”

Wind up to hit: “I am worthy of my desires, no matter what.”

Cramped wrist: “No, I’m not!”

Ball hits me.

Now, I could keep practicing. I could try to get my speed up to face off against the anxious mind machine. But the probability of my cramped wrist getting worse is pretty high.

When we ignore fear and anxiety for the sake of positivity, we’re creating inner tension. Cognitive dissonance that doesn’t serve us. And when we try to manifest from this place of inner tension, we don’t get the results we want. Just as if we were to try to play tennis with a hurt wrist.


So what’s an anxious mind to do?

Play a different game. Acknowledge the inflammation and let it heal. Work on manifesting in a different way.

When I attempt to shift my mindset via positive affirmations alone, I struggle. However, when I focus instead on how I want to feel, and take action to make myself feel that way, manifesting is so much easier. 

Positive affirmations are meant to shift our mindset so that we can generate good feelings and attract the experiences that we want. Brain -> Heart.

However, like I explained, an anxious mind interrupts that process.

Alternatively, deciding how we want to feel and seeking experiences that make us feel that way will also, obviously, generate these feelings and attract more of these types of experiences.

Heart/Body -> Brain. 

When I take the time to be in nature, or make art, or write, I instantly feel the way I want to feel. No mental acrobatic work required. And when I feel the way I want to feel, I open myself to receive the life I desire. Everything seems attainable and possible; which is the goal of positive affirmations.

So an anxious mind can arrive at the destination of openness, it just might need to take a different route to get there.

A feeling is stronger than a thought.
— Danielle LaPorte

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