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Why People Avoid Mirror Affirmations

Anyone who’s heard me talk about self-confidence more than once or twice has heard me talking about mirror affirmations. I’m a huge believer in them. Doing them literally changed my life.

My experience with suggesting them to clients and sponsees, though, is that very few people are willing to give them a try. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised by this—after all, it took me two years of hearing the suggestion every week for me to finally get willing to do it, and even then my reason was just to get my sponsor to shut up about it. But, it’s still disappointing, because I know (from personal experience and from the research and my understanding of the underlying principles) that they can be transformative.

In the time I’ve been doing this, I’ve discovered a few reasons that people resist doing this work. All of these are examples of self-sabotaging reactions that can cause us not to do the work. Do you resonate with any of these reactions?

I can’t do that; it will feel too awkward.

The most common reason for not doing mirror affirmations is the belief that if you do them, you’ll feel awkward or uncomfortable. And, guess what? You’re almost certainly right! When I started doing them, it felt uncomfortable and weird for the entire first month. You’ll probably have a similar experience.

But, it doesn’t matter. They still work. If you lift the weights, you get the results, regardless of how you feel about them.

They won’t work anyway; I don’t want to waste my time.

The next most common reason for not doing mirror affirmations is the belief that they won’t work, and that you’ll be wasting your time doing them. This one is almost certainly not true—the research principles behind mirror affirmations are clear, and the evidence that they increase self-compassion is reasonably solid—but it’s irrelevant even if it is true.

The time investment involved in doing mirror affirmations religiously every single day is less than the time investment involved in brushing your teeth. Less than the time you spend making your morning coffee or tea. Less than the time you spend in the bathroom every day. If someone suggested that they didn’t have time to do any of those things, you’d laugh at them. Wasting that amount of time is just not relevant.

That’s fine for some people, but I want to come up with my own solution.

Another common reason for avoiding mirror affirmations is the idea that you want to solve your own problem on your own. I totally get this; solving your own problem is empowering. Taking responsibility and then fixing things on your own often results in legitimate and justified feelings of pride and accomplishment.

But, if you’re struggling with self-confidence, what’s prevented you from doing this already? I have found that while I can often see the things I’m struggling with by myself, finding the solution takes help. My best thinking got me into the situation, so it’s unlikely that I can get out of it on my own.

I can’t do that; people will make fun of me.

Yet another common reason for avoiding mirror affirmations is the belief that if other people knew, they would ridicule you. I completely understand this too; when I was first doing them, the first thing I did was to make sure that my roommate was nowhere to be found, because I was not willing to get caught doing something so stupid. (It helped that I was a morning person and he was not, and I would do them pretty early in the morning.)

This line of thinking is reinforced by some of the societal portrayals of mirror affirmations. Some of us remember Stuart Smalley from the 90s SNL skits. The mirror affirmations he was doing were exaggerated for humorous effect (and broken), and so he was easy to ridicule for them. More recently, Amy Cuddy has cast some aspersions on the idea of mirror affirmations in her book Presence.

However. It’s been about 30 years since I did my initial 9 month adventure in mirror affirmations. I’ve been talking about that adventure in a variety of contexts for the vast majority of the time since. And, while of course I can’t definitively say what people may or may not have been saying behind my back, I can say that I have not once had anyone say anything negative about the practice to me.

Doing something every day is too hard. Isn’t there something easier I can do?

Yet another common refrain is that the solution should be easier. If you think that you don’t want to have to do all that work, but are hoping that there’s just a book you can read, or a magic trick I can teach you, I hear you. Unfortunately, there is no One Simple Trick.

And, once again, I totally get it. I’ve completely bought in to the idea that change is a process. But, I’m still one of those people who doesn’t really like the execution of the process. Although I’m not sure it would be good for me, I still find myself wishing that there was a simple trick.

I can’t look myself in the mirror at all, because I don’t like who I see.

Finally, the last common reason for not wanting to do the mirror affirmations is some variant of not liking the way you look, or not liking the very act of looking in the mirror.

Well, yeah. That’s the whole problem right there; we don’t like the person we see in the mirror. If you liked looking at yourself in the mirror, you probably wouldn’t be in the position of being able to get significant benefit from mirror affirmations. Sometimes the reasons we don’t want to look in the mirror are because of our physical appearance, and sometimes they’re more because of who we think we are. In either case, self-love is an awesome practice to help us out of that.

If any of these resonated with you, I hope you’ll give the practice some more thought. Next week, I’ll talk about my experience with doing mirror affirmations effectively.

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