On her podcast 10 Things to Tell You, host Laura Tremaine shares a weekly introspective prompt intended to inspire reflection and connection. Nearly every episode strikes a cord with me, and a recent show on the subject of mantras was particularly intriguing.
The word “mantra” can have many meanings and implications, but in this instance Laura was referring to short phrases—wise, inspiring, and/or truth-filled—that we repeat to ourselves. These play a key role in our mental health and in how we show up for ourselves and for others because, as Laura puts it, “the way we speak to ourselves shapes the way we move in the world.”
The episode got me thinking about some of my own mantras and I realized that I have accumulated quite a few of them over the years! Some have been with me since childhood, while others are more recent acquisitions. All of these mantras express my closely-held beliefs, but few are concepts that I’ve fully mastered; rather, they are ideas I regularly need to preach to myself. When used appropriately, these mantras are effective for aligning my thoughts and actions with my values, and on more than one occasion they have kept me from falling off of an emotional cliff.
What other people think about me is none of my business.
These words of wisdom come from my dad, who noticed at an early age that I spent far too much time worrying about what other people thought of me. Throughout my teens and into adulthood, he has reminded me that people probably aren’t thinking of me as much as I assume they are, and what they are thinking shouldn’t matter. I now repeat this phrase to myself whenever I recognize that I’m being motivated by a desire to appease or impress others instead of by my own core values.
If it’s important, it will get done.
A lot of my brain space is occupied by my to-do lists and, specifically (counterproductively), by my worries that I will be unable to get everything done. But over the years I’ve learned that I can trust my ability to check items off my lists; things might not get done perfectly or in the time frame I had hoped for, but if it is important, it happens—and if it doesn’t happen, it probably wasn’t as important as I’d assumed.
Follow the energy.
I mentioned in last week’s post on stress that energy is a more valuable and necessary commodity than time when it comes to tackling a to-do list. Even when I have a block of time to be productive, that time won’t be well spent if the energy isn’t there. In moments when I feel too stuck to tackle a new task, I remind myself to “follow the energy” by waiting until I feel genuinely inspired and motivated.
Embrace the gray.
Black-and-white thinking is an aspect to my personality that I don’t love, and it’s an area where my therapist and I have spent a lot of time in recent years. When I find myself thinking that something is ALL good or ALL bad, I remind myself to look for the middle ground and hold on to that gray in between.
This too shall pass.
When I was a teen going through difficult times that seemed without end, my mom would remind me that nothing lasts forever. Repeating this mantra—and reminding myself to just push through the hard times—has gotten me through some of life’s toughest patches.
The days are long but the years are short.
While “this too shall pass” helps me to push through the hard times, recalling that “the years are short” reminds me to be mindful within my current circumstances because they will be over before I know it. I find myself repeating this phrase often lately, with three littles vying for my attention and energy, because I know I will miss these days when they are gone and that I will want to have been present for them while they were happening.
Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean I’m doing it wrong.
Life is just hard sometimes. That doesn’t mean that I’m failing or “should” be doing things a different/better way. This mantra diverts my attention away from feelings of shame over perceived failure, and reminds me to just keep doing the best that I can.
What does love require of me?
Our pastor repeats this phrase frequently, and it has become a favorite phrase of mine when I’m stumbling over my own values. These words remind me that extending Christ’s love is one of my ultimate purposes during my time on this planet. Asking “what does love require of me?” has become an invaluable tool in making decisions about everything from how to vote to how I treat members of my family.
Assume the best in others.
This phrase reminds me to ditch my inner mean girl in my perceptions of/interactions with other people. It might be true that the people around me have ill intentions, but I would rather err on the side of kindness and positivity than criticism.
People are more important than things.
My friend Amanda repeats these words to her kids when they are fighting over a toy, and after hearing her use the phrase often, I’ve adopted it for myself. When a child destroys a beloved keepsake, or a friend spoils my plans, it is crucial for me to remember that my relationships with these individuals are far more important than temporal items or schedules. These words (hopefully) help me to keep my overreactions in check.
Don’t believe everything you think.
This one is so tricky for me, but years of therapy have helped me to recognize my own flawed thinking and disordered thought patterns. When I remember that my mind is full of inaccurate ideas and beliefs, I am able to catch them, challenge them, and change them before they translate into actions.
What’s my why?
Intentionality is one of my core values. Asking myself “why” I am acting in a certain way or have put certain systems in place helps me to weed out unnecessary behaviors. It also helps me clarify my values, keeping me motivated in maintaining the behaviors and routines that truly are important to me.
Done is better than perfect.
This mantra is one of the hardest for me to take to heart, but also one of the most essential for me. If I always listened to the internal voices telling me that things must be perfect before I can push forward, I would accomplish NOTHING. It’s good for me to remember the satisfaction that will come from completing tasks—even when they don’t meet my personal standards for excellence.
God is good. God is on the throne.
This mantra is probably the one I repeat most often to myself. I picked it up from a Margaret Feinburg Bible study nearly a decade ago, and though I no longer recall anything else about that study, this phrase has stuck with me. Whenever I feel stressed or overwhelmed and deep prayer is elusive, these words help me recall what I know to be true: that even when life feels hard, God is STILL GOOD. And HE IS IN CONTROL of my circumstances, whether it feels that way or not. I repeat these life-giving words to myself until their truth settles into my heart, and they have gotten me through some of the darkest periods of my life.
Now it’s your turn: do you have any favorite mantras? How are they helpful for you?