Affirmations v. Delusion
Okay so this week I have a question: What is the difference between affirmations and delusion?
I guess first we’d have to define what affirmations are, for those of us who somehow missed the personal development/growth trend that’s been sweeping millennials as we try to figure out what the fuck is going on in and with adulthood.
Affirmations are daily sentences, phrases, words, and mantras you can say to yourself to reinforce belief, change negative thought patterns, and in time, change your life. The idea is rooted in the understanding that our thoughts guide our beliefs which guide our actions. For example, most of us have been told at one point or another that if we stick our fingers into an electrical socket, we will die. It starts as a thought: “If I stick my fingers in an electrical socket, I will die”; it turns into a belief: “Sticking my fingers in electrical sockets is dangerous”, which then turns to action — or in this case, inaction: “I will not stick my fingers in electrical sockets.” Even though most of us have never tested this belief (at least I hope most of us haven’t? But I don’t know y’all’s lives), we have acted according to it.
So when we are trying to change something in our lives — end a destructive habit, leave a toxic relationship, get out of a soul-sucking job, lose weight — affirmations are there to help us reprogram our brains and redirect our thoughts, so that they can turn into beliefs that then guide positive actions towards our goal.
As I understand it, for affirmations to work, you have to BELIEVE in the thing you’re speaking into existence, which is the hard part. You have to feel the freedom of turning in your two-week notice, feel the strength of setting a boundary in that toxic relationship, feel the sense of accomplishment as you watch muscles develop in your body, you have to live into it before it appears, you have to create and imagine an alternate reality and then be present there — and you have to do it as often as possible. (Again, this is all as I understand affirmations, if you have more clarity, PLEASE drop knowledge in the comments.)
So if we are practicing affirmations as often as possible, if we are seeing and feeling and experiencing an alternate reality as we ought in order to guide positive action towards changing our lives, how is that different from delusion? Are they the same? Are affirmations a willful disconnection from reality, and if so… is that okay?
Well... what is “reality”?
Because here’s the thing: first I think we have to understand and accept that there is no such thing as an objective reality, only agreed-upon perceptions. I can only tell you what I see, I cannot tell you what you see or what anyone else sees. But if you say the sky is blue and I say the sky is blue, then we agree, the sky is blue, and that becomes our shared reality, our shared projection, our shared dream. The thing about the human brain is that it is constantly filling in the gaps for the stimuli it’s being presented. As one of my favorite podcast co-hosts said, our brains did not evolve with the goal of pursuing ultimate truth, our brains evolved with the goal of survival. Which is why we can’t see all the colors in the light spectrum, we can’t smell or hear all the things other species like dogs can, the sun goes down and our eyes are completely useless, like. We are not taking in the existence of everything that is present in our environment because it would be overwhelming. In fact, our brains have developed ways to stifle even the things we can take in, so we can focus. We habituate to the sensation of clothes on our skin, or the material of the chairs we sit in, or the feel of the ground beneath our feet, purposefully so that we are not expending energy constantly trying to process the touch, the feel, of cotton, and instead can put that brain power towards creating something magical like airplanes, or pocket-sized computers, or the Internet.
With all of this in mind, we must cede then that our brains are making shit up all the time. We can’t see, taste, touch, hear, smell, or sense everything that is present, so we fill in the gaps in order to feel certain enough of our surroundings to take action. So then, isn’t all of reality a delusion? Isn’t it all a dream? A hallucination? Something that we made up, that we are piecing together and seeking to make sense of? And sure, if you and another reasonably well-adjusted human are sitting in the same room, you are likely piecing together the same things, your brains are filling the same gaps, but living the same dream as someone else makes it no less a dream.
So then is it okay to leave reality if nothing is real? Can this give weight to the idea that we create our own realities and that affirmations can help us guide our thoughts, beliefs, and actions towards better, or more suitable realities, even if they are not yet present? Can we be comfortably delusional?