Scott Adams and affirmations - worked for anyone else?
January 17, 2012 4:06 AM   Subscribe

Just read how Scott Adams used affirmations, in his Dilbert book. Anyone here has experience with it?

so basically Scott says he did this - he wrote down a goal, 15 times a day, and also visualized. He picked goals that were seemingly out of his reach (one was to make money in stock market - he didn't even have an account, and didn't know much about stocks). He says he tested it many times and it always worked for him.

Coming from Scott Adams - this definitely carries some weight. I mean, the guy is brilliant, there is no way he would not be skeptical about "positive thinking" and just accept what he is told.

My question: any of you had similar experience? what did you do, what worked and what didn't? I am going to try, but just wanted to learn more before that.
posted by raghuram to Society & Culture (17 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: this is the book I am talking about
posted by raghuram at 4:08 AM on January 17, 2012

Some people find making affirmations like that a helpful way to focus their efforts and maintain a direction. Some people use prayer for the same purpose, with about the same results. I think the important thing is to not view it as a cure-all -- simply wishing it will not make it so, despite what "the secret" sells people.
posted by rmd1023 at 4:21 AM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I decided to go full time with my business, I told people, out loud, that I was planning to leave my part time job and go full time by March 2012. I'm pretty sure that helped me manage to go full time this month.
posted by LyzzyBee at 4:22 AM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Coming from Scott Adams - this definitely carries some weight.

FYI, many Mefites don't have as high an opinion of Adams, and for very good reason.

There is something to the idea that goal visualizing and keeping a can-do attitude can help, but what it does is keep your goals fresh in your head and takes some power away from the defeatist negative inner voice. That's no small feat; that negative voice can hold you back. But it's no silver bullet and you still have to go out there and work hard to achieve your goals. If you repeat to yourself "I will get this job" when you have an interview the next day, it can help your confidence; if you repeat it every morning but don't send your resume anywhere during the day, it won't do much.

In other words, if you want something bad enough you're willing to write it down over and over again, you should want it bad enough to throw some hard work into it.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:28 AM on January 17, 2012 [9 favorites]

Focus on your goals is essential to meeting your goals. Repeating your goals to yourself over and over is one way to stay focused on them. You could have regular meetings with a life coach. You could set reminders in your electronic calendar. You could pray. You could put posters up in your home. You could try the "affirmation" bit.

Getting through life is like driving across the countryside (with a box of chocolates), traversing plains, climbing hills, dipping down into valleys, crossing rivers, stopping to rest, taking little side trips, etc. You can take the easiest routes and end up idling in a gully because you never tried. You can take the average routes and just coast along the plain, but you won't get up in the world. You can take the harder routes and always be climbing, but in the end you'll have risen. You can go alone or go with others. No matter what, you won't get where you intend to go (or you won't get there any time soon) if you aren't frequently checking your map and compass to make sure you're on the right track.
posted by pracowity at 4:50 AM on January 17, 2012

I know of no studies supporting the hypothesis that affirmations work. In my anecdotal experience, they don't. E.g. the pages and pages of my high school diaries which feature the phrase "I will get good grades" hundreds of times. I did not get good grades. I did get a cramp in my writing hand.
posted by prefpara at 4:59 AM on January 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Coming from Scott Adams - this definitely carries some weight.

I have no opinion of Scott Adams one way or the other, but if it worked for him, all the more power to him.

When I was in counseling, going through a rough patch, my counselor and I tried a number of things, including affirmation-like stuff, more a "if I say it enough, it will be true", like how smiling, even forced, makes people happier in the long run.

It didn't work for me; I couldn't suspend my disbelief long enough to even form the thoughts.

But, we tried and did a lot of other things, enough for me to resolve the rough patch and get back on somewhat-solid roadbed.

So, if self-affirmation works for you, keep it in your toolbox, but if it doesn't work, don't think that since it worked for Scott Adams you must be doing something wrong. The first time you break a screwdriver using it for the wrong job, the response isn't "I need to try this with about ten more screwdrivers"; it should be "yeah, that's not the right tool; what else do I got that might work better?"
posted by AzraelBrown at 5:08 AM on January 17, 2012

Someone I know characterizes life as a "do-ocracy", i.e. what matters is doing things. Being the smartest guy in the room who can see every problem a mile away counts for nothing; being the one who does something and actually works through the problem counts for everything. I don't consciously use affirmations, but I do try to remind myself doing things and achieving the end result is what matters, and this has helped me.

In the past I used to be a negative thinker -- very good at finding reasons why projects would not work. This was valuable in some ways but often led to indecision and paralysis. Now I am more of a positive thinker, and I still identify the same roadblocks, but I see them as roadblocks rather than dead ends, and I am more likely to plough ahead and find a way around them. I've been accomplishing a lot more entirely due to this change in mindset.
posted by PercussivePaul at 5:09 AM on January 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

People who are driven and focused enough to actually write stuff down and think about it every day are probably driven and focused enough to apply more than the average amount of effort to their goals as well. And those that aren't both of these things don't achieve enough of an audience to talk about it.
posted by Etrigan at 5:15 AM on January 17, 2012

Scott Adams is a mentalist, but the worst way to counter his anecdata is with anecdata of our own.

If you tell people you're going to do something or you write down that you're going to do something with the aim of visualising doing that thing, then you are less likely to actually do it. Don't believe me? I don't blame you - That's a mighty controversial statement I just made. So here's an article explaining this position with links to articles and references to actual scientific studies.

And here's an article I liked about procrastination
posted by seanyboy at 6:05 AM on January 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks to all who answered.

I never meant to say that we should just write 15 times a day, and expect to win an olympic medal. No, not at all. But there are instances where a bit of guidance could go a long way - in scott's case, he picked Chrysler stock, totally out of the blue (whether it is good or bad, that is a different issue) - point is, he had some guidance, but he still had to believe, invest money etc.

The links about Scott Adams are interesting, though I am yet to read through fully. I have no idea what kind of person he is (I don't care, and it is not really my business to judge him), but I am definitely a fan of his work - Dilbert is very interesting and entertaining, in my opinion.

@Etrigan - yes, that makes sense

@seanyboy - I really don't know what to believe about visualization. I haven't tried, so can't speak from experience.
posted by raghuram at 6:17 AM on January 17, 2012

If by "affirmations" you mean an activity that causes you to be present and focused and to emotionally relate to a project, I don't see how it could hurt.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:58 AM on January 17, 2012

Previously, previously-er, and previously-est.
posted by John Cohen at 8:27 AM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here's the thing about affirmations: it needs to be something that you think is believable. If you don't believe it, you will be irritated as fuck and hate every minute of doing it. Like AzraelBrown pointed out. Hell, when I take meditation class the teacher forces us all to yell out, with big arm movements and jumping, "I AM POSITIVE! ENERGETIC! ENTHUSIASTIC!"* four times in a row, and I can't stand it.

Whether or not they work in general, I don't know. I think it can work for some people. It seems to work for Adams, and I heard some similar story about Jim Carrey writing himself a check for a million dollars for acting services rendered. I have more issues with it because I am not a person who leans on the sunshiny side of life and thus that shit's hard for me (see above, I despise saying that I am positive, might as well say I'm colored green and have five tentacles because it's a massive lie).

It's one thing for me to be reassuring myself while driving ("I'm doing fine, I am not going to hit anyone" or whatever) and have that work, but setting a long term goal? Who knows. I decided to do that to myself this year-- "I WILL do X Thing by September"-- and then realized about four months into that that uh... I probably will not be able to actually pull that off in 8 months from now because in order to pull off X, I also have to do a lot of complicated hard stuff FIRST that I have no idea how to do, and so far starting those processes is slow and hard going and I probably can't get it all down in time. So I feel like an idiot backtracking there. In general, the long term stuff that worked for Adams hasn't worked for me yet.

But there's also a thing the pagans call "act in accord." You don't do a magic spell to get a job and then sit on your ass, not job hunting. You need to be doing stuff that will facilitate your doing X thing as well, not just mouthing blabber 15 times a day. I haven't read that book yet, but I'm assuming that at some point Scott Adams actually uh, tried the stock market and did some research.

So, overall:
(a) don't affirm something you don't like or have severe doubts about.
(b) act in accord and actually work on what you want to do.

* er, she's trying to wake people up before they meditate so they don't sleep through class so much.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:30 PM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Even if affirmations do work, they're not as sure a thing as constructive planning, making detailed goals and brainstorming ways to achieve them, asking advice of experts, etc. So go ahead, make goals, read some books on the subject, visualize, whatever. But maybe also do some constructive, tangible things to advance towards your goals as well.
posted by custard heart at 2:49 PM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Zen teacher Cheri Huber thinks affirmations are unhelpful and doesn't recommend them. As I wrote in a response to a different AskMe,
Cheri doesn't think positive self-talk or affirmations are helpful. She draws a distinction between an "affirmation" and a "reassurance". Repeating an affirmation means repeating something that isn't true. Maybe you want it to be true, but it's not true now. Someone who never moves from the sofa can repeat the affirmation "I am physically active and fit" all they want, but deep down they know it's not true. Someone involved in an unhealthy relationship can repeat "My partner loves, respects, and supports me as an equal" until they turn blue in the face without it having any effect on the partner. Deep down, it's not true.

A reassurance is something you tell yourself that is true. "No matter what, I'm here with you and we'll get through this together." "When I hold myself in compassionate awareness, I am equal to the challenges of my life." "I love you exactly as you are and I will help you work to become whatever you want to be."
posted by Lexica at 6:52 PM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

A lot of books and web sites that recommend affirmations are pretty cheesy, (cough*Scott Adams* cough). In fact, it's hard to find any motivational content that isn't. But they can be effective, similar to the way hypnosis can be effective. People are inclined to believe what they hear, even from themselves. Reciting some sentences or phrases to help you get/stay on track, remind yourself that you want to eat healthy food, that you are beautiful, worthy, etc., helps you learn new ways of thinking, and shape your own behavior. Unlikely to have any negative side effects, and the time investments is small.
posted by theora55 at 6:46 AM on January 18, 2012

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