Mantras are something I only discovered fairly recently, but using them has already proven powerful in directing my thoughts down new pathways.
What is a mantra? A mantra is a statement you repeat throughout the day or throughout a meditation session and, through repetition, this new statement or thought seeps into your mind and begins to replace the old thought pattern your mind is used to returning to.
Is it a form of brainwashing? Probably. But, just like a placebo, it has its place, especially if used with care. For example, when you stand in front of a mirror, look at yourself, and say “I love you” as part of your daily routine, that’s a mantra. It’s rewiring your brain . . . but in a beneficial way. Rather than brainwashing your thoughts into ones that are fundamentally false, you are teaching yourself to think and ultimately believe things that are true and that are beneficial to you.
Just as with anything else, you choose what your mantra will be and what you want to believe. Once you know where you want to end up, you can pick a mantra to help your thoughts and beliefs align with the ones you wish you had a better grasp of.
For example, let’s suppose you’ve always felt very ugly. Your skin, your hair, your eyes, your weight . . . everything seems ugly to you. Although you may know you are beautiful and have perhaps even been told so, the core belief is that you are ugly. This core belief then informs your actions, which further underline the belief you originally had.
You would like to feel beautiful, so you pick a mantra. The importance when choosing a mantra is to pick one you at least halfway believe. If you genuinely feel ugly, looking into a mirror daily and stating, “I am beautiful” may not do much to help. Why? Because your brain instantly picks up on the fact you believe you are speaking a blatant lie. Because it is so opposite from your core belief, your brain discards it out of hand.
How do we get around that? Pick a belief you can get behind. Instead, look in the mirror and affirm, several times, “I like the color of my eyes” or “I have very pretty ears” or “I accept this body as my own and welcome it.” Keep repeating your mantra daily until it has really seeped in and you not only know it is true, but believe it is true. Then pick a new mantra.
For me, mantras are just that—the bridge between what you know is true and what you believe is true. That’s why, even though mantras may feel like a type of brainwashing, they aren’t a bunch of bullshit. If you know something is true but struggle to believe it, mantras may be the perfect technique for you to try.
The point here is that once you understand the concept, you have a lot of freedom to adjust it to what you need. You can repeat the same mantra throughout the day or week. You can repeat it over and over in a 10-minute stretch. You can make it part of your daily meditation, where you repeat certain core concepts you wish to cement, then move on to others. You can even jot it on a piece of paper and carry it with you, reading it throughout the day.
The trick is consistency. The more consistent you are, the more these mantras cement the bridge between knowledge and belief. For myself, I’ve noticed consistently working with mantras provides a space between my thoughts and believing they are true out of hand. Instead of jumping, for example, from feeling insecure to “I’m helpless,” my thoughts find a block in the path—my mantra that states “I am strong and centered within myself.” It’s harder for the thoughts to fall back on their usual unhealthy path, because they keep bumping into the mantras instead. Eventually, those mantras help funnel your thoughts down new, healthy automatic tracks.
Challenge!: What is something you know is true but struggle to believe? Pick one area you have been wrestling with lately and create your own mantra for it. Then, either use the mantra while you meditate, repeat it over and over for between 1-5 minutes, or write it on a note and keep it with you so you can reread it and speak it aloud to yourself throughout the day. Do this every day this week, and note how you feel afterward, especially at the week’s end. If you are having trouble getting started, try looking for mantras online (note the type of mantras I am talking about are different than the ancient practice of reciting mantras as a way to stay focused during meditation—look for mantras consistent with mindfulness practices), or follow an online guided mantra meditation video.
**You can find the worksheet and a list of sample mantras under the $3 per month tier on the Discovering Wholeness Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/discoveringwholeness. Or join the $1 tier for updates on the blog and to contribute your own ideas! I’m excited to see you there!**