I like to think of mantras as words or sayings that can anchor us when we’re feeling unsure or nervous. Technically, mantras are defined as a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation. Sometimes we are hijacked by our feelings: they startle us into surrender, leaving us scrambling for our footing.
A good mantra reminds us, however, that, we are strong and brave internally despite being rattled by something externally. The more we use our mantras, the more we secure the impact they can have on us next time. Like every other tool, the more we practice using it, the better it works on our behalf during a time of need.
It’s helpful to have an array of mantras that are highly personalized because they are not a one-size-fits-all tool. A mantra that works effectively for me might not resonate at all for you. The only way to figure out what works for you is to try one out.
Think of your mantras as you would an inner coach who sees all. Because of this grand viewpoint, your inner coach knows exactly where you get stuck and how to get you unstuck. An effective mantra steers you away from a pattern that it would probably be best for you to avoid repeating. It simultaneously gives you perspective and agency, allowing us to change course quickly once a hazard has been assessed.
Here are some of my favorite mantras:
1) Don’t talk. Don’t talk. This can be used with children, partners, bosses, anyone. This mantra reminds me that the safest stance is often one of absolute silence. I cannot fracture a relationship too badly if I am quiet. While I am repeating these words in my head, I am taking some deep breaths and trying to calm myself down in the face of a trigger. Please do not misunderstand me, however. I am not suggesting that you back down and take criticism or insults silently. Rather, I just don’t want you to talk back when you are escalated and enraged. Wait until you cool down.
2) It’s Your Call. This mantra can also be used in many situations. Remember that the read between the lines on this one is, “I believe in you. You got this. You don’t need me to help you make this decision.” I like to remind parents of teens to use this one as often as possible. No one appreciates their autonomy more than a teen.
3) Making a decision from a place of fear? Stop, take a break, and get quiet. Again, this mantra applies to multiple situations. Remember that if you catch yourself deciding on something while you are afraid, you probably don’t have access to your entire brain. Your primary goal should be to quiet and calm yourself so that you can access the wiser parts of your brain again. Breathe, walk, breathe some more. Get still.
4) Name it to tame it. This is a great mantra. It reminds us that once we name a feeling aloud, it diffuses the power that feeling has over us. Just giving it a name, takes it out of the emotional realm and more into the intellectual realm where we can deal with the feeling more practically.
5) Ask for what you need. This sounds so simple, but it’s actually hard to do. My clients often find themselves disappointed about something, but when I ask them if they spoke up about the matter, they say no. People can only meet our expectations when we state our expectations aloud. Too many of us make assumptions about how much others understand us. Be explicit–it works better for everyone.
6) We can do hard things. I love this one. I first heard it from Glennon Doyle. Again, it’s making the implicit explicit. It’s an acknowledgment that we’re facing something challenging for sure, but that we can handle challenging things. We have the skills to do so.