Last night I went to a Toastmasters meeting. It’s contest time and it’s nice to move around local clubs. While the contestants were out of the room, someone got up for an audience participation exercise. What happened next left me cringeing:
Now I know her intention was good and she wanted share positive thinking with everyone, but I found her exercise in personal development slightly inappropriate.
In the first part of the exercise she told us that we should take a negative that we say about ourselves in the mirror and turn it into a positive. Ok…..
Now, the room was full of people who had gathered together for the contest. The first thing about doing personal development work is that you need to ask the person’s permission to make the change. It is all very well being enthusiastic, but foisting your belief systems on someone else is not going make them change. People make changes when they are ready to make changes.
Secondly, if you expect people to be open to changing belief systems, you have to create a safe atmosphere of trust first. A minute or so’s introduction to the topic and then expecting everyone to get to their feet and reveal their inner most secrets to a room full of people is not realistic.
Toastmasters are generally game for anything, so everyone took something that they felt they couldn’t do and were funny and witty about saying that they could do it. Everyone was laughing and there was a good atmosphere. Being able to openly laugh at something you feel you can’t do was good; or so I thought. We were all told off for laughing at ourselves and each other. The pleasant atmosphere evaporated. We were told that we should be saying the positive form or affirmation (which we didn’t believe in) with conviction and really believing in it!!!!!!
This is the danger of affirmations. Making a statement about something you don’t believe is NOT going to change your belief systems.
Imagine you are overweight. You stand in front of the mirror and say the positive affirmation of “I am thin“. What happens? A little voice in your head will pop into you head and say “No, you are not!” Saying “I am thin” thousands of times is not going to make you start believing it. You are more likely to create inner conflict with yourself. Your little voice in your head will become louder. If you find you still don’t believe the positive affirmation, you may even start beating yourself up about how weak-willed you are! It was supposed to be easy: Just say it enough times with conviction and you will start believing, you have been told. So what do you say to yourself when you still can’t change your thoughts?
Affirmations can work if they don’t create an inner conflict. So for example, saying “I have lovely eyes” may help you towards having more positive thoughts about yourself. And once you get used to seeing something positive about yourself and feel confident saying it, you can address areas that you feel more neutral about and think of them more positively. Alternatively you could take a body part that you hate and starting thinking about it in a neutral way.
I have had affirmations written out for me by lovely well meaning people and been told that I need to say them 20 times a day. What?! It is like being written out a prescription to all your life’s problems by someone who has no idea of your inner thoughts.
Anyway, back to last night. The second part of was even worse and had the person sitting next to me writing “Help me” on her paper. All the contestants who had just taken part in the competition were told to stand up and say that they were the best contestant. They were a bit puzzled, but good-naturedly, stood up and said that they were the best and gave delightful, flippant answers to justify their answer. Instead of being rewarded for their bravado, they were reprimanded for feeling the need to justify the statement!!!!
The person then told us that we all should be able to look in the mirror and say we are sexy and beautiful. Some unfortunate soul made the mistake of saying “That’s easy for you to say” and he was dragged up to the front and not allowed to leave until he had declared to the whole meeting that he was attractive and sexy.
Personal development on steroids!
Belief systems don’t change simply because someone stands up and tells you to think differently. We can change our belief systems and it is wonderful seeing a client transform themselves by changing a belief that was holding them back. If you are a coach, please don’t give the rest of us coaches a bad name. And never ask me do an affirmation.