(Note: “America’s greatest salesman” is in quotes because although there’s no objective measure, the praise came from Munger, one of the famous investors of our time.)
Affirmations always get a bad reaction of “disbelief” every time I’ve mentioned it to someone (family or friend). They think it’s BS, magic, or voodoo. But the idea deserves to be taken more seriously! Especially after I found strong endorsement for the idea in not one, not two, but three unlikely people, all of whom I’m fairly certain don’t know each other in any way — the independent discovery by these 3 people suggests a strong non-random reason that affirmations work!
(Note: For those who don’t know, affirmations are where you repeat a statement 10-15 times, for example “I, <name>, score 95% on the exam”, and it somehow comes true. Yeah, it does sound a little crazy, but the rest of this essay is going to explain why affirmations actually make sense)
The 3 people are:
- Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip and author of several nonfiction works of satire, commentary, and business: “How To Fail At Everything And Still Win Big” along with several online blog articles and Tim Ferriss podcast interview.
- Chet Holmes, salesman and marketer whose most famous boss was Warren Buffett’s partner Charlie Munger. He doubled sales 3 years in a row for Munger’s lawyer magazine (a total of 8x). He has a personal testimonial from Munger himself: “America’s greatest sales and marketing executive”. Holmes writes about affirmations in the last chapter of “Ultimate Sales Machine”.
- Lanny Bassham, Olympian sharpshooter who won silver (1972 Summer Olympics) and gold (1976 Summer Olympics), and won many shooting competitions. He wrote about affirmations in “With Winning In Mind”, Chapter 16.
- If you would like to share comments on affirmation directly, talk to me on Twitter.
- For emails of new posts, get on my email list.
Why should people consider affirmations more seriously?
Because affirmations have literally been life-changing and helped solve several serious problems of mine. Additionally, each of the 3 authors give strong credit to affirmations technique for being life-changing. See these excerpts from their writings:
Scott Adams in a blog post:
I’ve received thousands of e-mails from people recounting their own experiences with affirmations. Most people seem to be amazed at how well they worked. I heard all kinds of stories of people changing careers, marrying the person of their dreams, making money, and starting businesses. I also heard stories from people who claimed affirmations didn’t work for them, but the failure stories were the minorityblog post
In Chapter 15 of “With Winning in Mind”, right in the first paragraph, Bassham says:
Developed in its present form shortly before the 1976 Olympics, I personally credit the Directive Affirmation with having the greatest single impact on my success in athletics and business. Once you have mastered this Mental Management tool, you can change any habit or attitude that you do not like about yourself normally within 21 days. You can use the Directive Affirmation to help you achieve anything you desire in your life. This concept is not magic, but certainly seems to work like it. I used this tool to win the 1976 Olympics and the World Championships in 1978.With Winning in Mind, Chapter 15, 1st paragraph
From Chet Holmes in the last chapter (chapter 12) of “Ultimate Sales Machine”. He buries his praise for affirmations much later in the chapter, but he praises it nonetheless with this:
I have to say that this is the most powerful thing I’ve done to climb out of my blue-collar upbringingChapter 12, page 233 of the Ultimate Sales Machine
What’s odd here is Lanny and Chet gave affirmations #1 credit “by far” for their success. It’s odd because they could’ve credited many other things, but they specifically credit affirmations for being the most responsible for their success.
Attention Skeptics: maybe affirmations are worth studying and at least trying out?
Do affirmations work?
In my opinion, there is a very strong hidden reason it’s non-random across so many unrelated people who are also successful. The most important thing is that these folks are unrelated, unconnected. This important fact increases the likelihood of the affirmations trick being legitimate.
I first learned about affirmations from Scott Adams. Imagine my shock, a few years later, seeing affirmations mentioned in two completely different places. I highly doubt the Olympian Lanny Bassham and the salesman Chet Holmes knew each other.
Why do I think these 3 people are totally unconnected?
First reason: they all teach different ways of doing affirmations:
- Scott Adams: write affirmation 15 times on a piece of paper. He later says that it’s probably good enough to simply “say” it, and that it probably doesn’t make a big difference between 10 or 20 times.
- Chet Holmes: “Record 10 affirmations that are perfect for you. Remember to keep them positive and in the present. Restate them again and again until the tape ends.” (page 233).
- Lanny Bassham has a much more involved procedure, putting affirmation on notecards and placing it in the 5-7 most common locations in your house. Please see “How do you practice affirmations” for the full excerpt on his affirmation procedure.
Second reason: they all cite a different purpose for doing affirmations
- Scott uses affirmation to improve ability to recognize opportunities (similar to Holmes’s RAS notion).
- Holmes uses affirmations for a combination of changing self-image (e.g. I love to cold-call.) and focusing the “RAS” (reticular activating system)
- Bassham uses affirmations for the primary purpose of changing one’s Self-Image. Results follow from having an improved self-image.
Third reason: they learned the affirmation idea in different ways.
- Scott Adams got the affirmations from a Mensa woman that he doesn’t even remember the name of.
- Not explicitly mentioned, but it seems Chet Holmes got the affirmation idea from Napoleon Hill and Thomas Edison.
- Lanny Bassham claims he developed the “Directive Affirmation” around the 1976 Olympics. This is about 30 years before publication by Chet Holmes’s book and Scott Adams.
Scott Adams, Chet Holmes, and Lanny Bassham all reached very high levels in their field, and I just realized this, but they are literally teachers and coaches who have taught affirmations to thousands of people and have seen astounding results.
For me personally, what’s really convincing is I think they all independently discovered, tested, and confirmed the power of affirmations. I don’t think they collaborated or colluded across all these books, decades and space.
This tells me affirmations probably work, and people who aren’t using affirmations should take the idea more seriously.
How do you practice affirmations?
OK, interested in learning more about how to do affirmations?
Already mentioned earlier how Chet Holmes and Scott Adams practice affirmations. For completeness, pasted here:
- Scott Adams: “simply write down your goals 15 times a day and somehow, as if by magic, coincidences start to build until you achieve your objective against all odds” (blog post). He later says that it’s probably good enough to simply “say” it, and that it probably doesn’t make a big difference between 10 or 20 times.
- Chet Holmes: “Record 10 affirmations that are perfect for you. Remember to keep them positive and in the present. Restate them again and again until the tape ends.” (page 233 of the Ultimate Sales Machine).
Lanny Bassham’s affirmation procedure is much more involved than Chet Holmes or Scott Adams, but it’s pretty much the same concept. Here’s the whole thing excerpted from “With Winning In Mind”:
Writing A Directive Affirmation
Step 1: Define the goal: In Donny’s case, it was to become the best free-throw shooter on this team. He would write it as, “I am the best free-throw shooter on my team.”
Step 2: Set a time limit: Donny would run the Directive Affirmation for 21 days from the start date.
Step 3: List the personal pay-value to reach the goal: Donny would write, “I am a starter on the basketball team. I help my team win because I score well at the free-throw line.”
Step 4: Outline a plan to achieve the goal: run a Mental Program before each free-throw in practice and in games. Every time I score I say, “That’s Like Me!” If I do not score I immediately focus on the next shot or the next play. Record my performance analysis daily. Read and visualize my Directive Affirmations daily.
Step 5: Write a Directive Affirmation in the first person present tense, beginning with the word “I”. State the goal as if you already are in possession of it. Next list the pay-value. List your plan to reach your goal. Restate the goal. Date the paragraph with your target date.
Donny’s Directive Affirmation might be: 11/21/____. I am the best free-throw shooter on my team. I start each game and enjoy the change to help my team win by making free-throws. I always run a mental program before each shot and reinforce each successful basket by saying, “That’s like me.” Then I focus on the next shot or play. Also, I record my Performance Analysis and read and visualize my Directive Affirmation daily. I am the best free-throw shooter on my team.
Step 6: Make five copies of the Directive Affirmation in your own handwriting on five-by-seven file cards.
Step 7: Place the cards in five prominent places, such as your bathroom mirror, on the refrigerator door, on your desk, on your computer terminal, on the bedroom door, as a bookmark in the book you are reading. These places are called key points.
Step 8: Read and visualize your Directive Affirmation each time you come to a key point. A key point is a suitable location for a Directive Affirmation card. It should be a place that you visit often in your normal day. Each time Donny comes to a key point, he must read and visualize the Directive Affirmation, seeing himself as the person in the Directive Affirmation. Run the Directive Affirmation for twenty-one days, then remove it and rest for nine days. Then you may modify the previous Directive Affirmation; or, if totally satisfied with the results, replace it; or, if you need more time, repeat the same Directive Affirmation. Soon, as your Self-Image changes, you will become the person described in the Directive Affirmation. Your performance will subconsciously improve.
Final Thoughts For Skeptics of Affirmations
I wrote this article to the skeptics who think this affirmation stuff is just “magic”, “voodoo”, “no way it would work”, “that’s just not good advice”…well you should give it a try!
Maybe you think the sample size is small because it’s only 3 people? However, they have each taught the method to thousands of people and seen strong results most of the time. So there’s a lotttt of data points in favor of affirmations.
To skeptics who just cannot come to reason how affirmations could work, let me put out a plausible explanation: affirmations help rewire the brain to think different thoughts, and to see different opportunities.