The word “mantra” used to strike me as an embarrassingly cliche throwback to 1970s hippie culture. Or, that old SNL skit about Stuart Smalley building up his self-esteem by standing in front of a mirror and chanting “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and dog’gone it, people like me!”
But I kept reading about mantras in all my favorite places (Zenhabits for starters) and looked into it a little bit. I’m glad for that change of heart because they are really helpful!
Though it still echoes its origin in Vedic prayer, the word “mantra” can simply refer to an often repeated word or phrase that acts as a meditative focus or a daily reminder or whatever. For example, “Keep Calm and Carry On” is a pretty popular phrase that people might mutter to themselves in challenging times. Leaving aside Winston Churchill, people create their own personal mantras to motivate themselves through any number of specific daily conditions. And this is not just an individual motivator. As Guy Kawasaki noted, businesses create mission statements that can be condensed into a catch phrase mantras to motivate employees and convince customers.
When I sat down and thought through all of my goals for personal development, I began to condense those thoughts into mini mantras. This wasn’t intentional — it was just making a shorthand for ways I wanted to improve my life. And these little mantras change, depending on my challenge at the moment. Lately when I’m feeling anxious and overwhelmed, I find myself repeating “Here and Now. One By One” in my head. It is just a quiet reminder that the past is past (can’t go back and start that paper 3 years ago) and the future is yet to be determined (no need to fret about What Ifs). I’m in the Here and Now and I just need to move ahead one step at a time or One By One (aka. not multi-tasking and not getting ahead of myself). When working and suddenly feeling paralyzed by the long task ahead, I also find myself using Leo’s “Run Your Pace.” It isn’t a race but a long journey; I don’t need to beat others and win first prize. I just need get to the end at my own pace.
See, personally, I am never too TOO overwhelmed by work tasks. My stack of Time Management Productivity Self Improvement books have, despite my sort of sarcastic take on them, really helped me manage my day to day work. My problem is emotional management – how to deal with anxiety, depression, and just plain old crankiness. Put another way, my day is never derailed by an unexpected slew of emails or work problem. It is derailed by, say, me suddenly coming across a job call and freaking out about how I’ll never finish and be employed and get over imposter syndrome and boo hoo panic attack lets curl up in bed and eat licorice instead of A) preparing a job application or B) finishing my dissertation.
So when things are really bad, my current mantra is, “(I can) Choose an Action” (which yes, yes, is not grammatically correct but that’s not really the point). The emphasis on choice can be explained by an earlier post on getting out of learned helplessness. In short, if you remind yourself that you have control of your life, you will see avenues for escape. The emphasis on action is a throw back to David Allen’s classic Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.
I just pause, remind myself of this mantra as many times as I need, and try to calm down. And it works!
So in summary:
Here and Now. One By One.
Run Your Pace.
(I can) Choose an Action.
Because I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and dog’gone it, people like me.