Positive Affirmations for Breakfast?

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The “Motiwake Personal Development Alarm Clock” awakens you with positive affirmations to programme you for the day. Many people use their own “Demotiwake Personal Alarm Clocks” instead. Isn’t it a better idea just to drop the programmes and relax?

I chuckled along this morning, coffee by the keyboard, to a column by Oliver Burkeman in The Guardian on the “Motiwake Personal Development Alarm Clock, which awakens you with stirring affirmations such as ‘I love and care for my body, and it cares for me’, thereby combining two of the oldest principles of self-improvement — getting up early and peppy self-talk — in one handy yet curiously annoying package”.

Apparently by mixing and matching the positive statements to our personal circumstances and listening to them in a half-conscious state (that’s a kind way of describing it!) in which we are supposedly extra responsive to such messages, we can influence our subconscious minds and programme ourselves to produce the effects we want, or to receive what the universe has out there for us in a selective fashion, depending on which way around we like it.

Whatever next?, I thought. There are so many levels to this which I find “curiously annoying”. Do people actually treat themselves like computers? Do they patronise themselves by talking down to themselves like naughty kids? Do they believe in the great power of their own subconscious minds and then buy a product to tell it what to do according to various specific schemes designed for the lowest common denominator of human experience? Do they then feel excited that they can customise those messages all by themselves to make an individual experience? What on earth is happening to their actual individual experience?

I admit that positive programming must work to an extent — after all, negative programming works only too well. So many people struggle with their own “Demotiwake Personal Alarm Clocks” which bombard them from their first waking moment with vivid descriptions of how the world works and exactly what their place is in it. “You are a useless waste of space, you’ll never succeed at anything” for example, or “everyone else has a much better life than me”. Funnily enough they are also designed for general human consumption: a handful of them are repeated faithfully like mantras, word for word, by thousands, millions of people all over the world.

So why should the opposite technique not work? Well it probably does. But first, I would say, you need to work out what your negative programming is and undo that, rather than slapping a different programme on top. And at the end of the day, a large part of the discomfort suffered by people “programmed” by their own feelings of worthlessness, anxiety, depression, grief, etc., is caused by the very fact of having to respond with the same programme to everything, and therefore being cut off from direct contact with the messy and various world, being unable to deal with real contradictions, actual situations, having to bend everything to fit the programme.

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I would argue from my own, possibly warped, perspective that the same thing is bound to happen with positive “programming”. If you tell yourself persuasively enough that you love your body and it responds by caring for you, you may, for example, respond to a diagnosis of a terminal illness, not only with the normal shock and grief, but with your reaction to losing control both of yourself (how could you have let something like this happen? What does it say about you?) and the whole world view that you have cultivated and relied on.

I digress. Back to the alarm clock. I can agree with the general principle, indeed it is a piece of received wisdom, that the first things you do in the morning in some way set the tone for the day to come. I have read enough accounts (and I even once met a person who actually did it) of people getting up at ridiculous hours in order to “get in their peaceful time” before other members of the household woke up. Numerous meditators and the renowned poet Sylvia Plath spring to mind, scribbling her poems before dawn, before her babies awoke.

The idea is to feel in control, or rather relaxed and centred, before the demands on your time come rolling in like a tidal wave, whether from children or from your inbox. This makes sense. Relaxing has an opening and strengthening effect, we are more likely to interpret things in a positive sense, without losing contact with reality.

I really prefer my relaxation wordless, but if I had to choose a message for my Motiwake, I would go for, “here we go again, no idea what the day is going to bring, but I’m doing alright, just as I am”.

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