A large part of how we experience the world is determined by how we think about it, how we perceive ourselves and others, and how we interpret and understand the things that happen in our lives. Much research has been done on the power of positive thinking, revealing that there is a strong correlation between thoughts of gratitude, for example, and feeling grateful. Where the mind goes the energy flows!
One effective way to begin to fine-tune more negative thoughts into a more positive framework, is through the regular use of mantras and affirmations. It might sound a little woo-woo, but it works! Here’s a guide to incorporating them into your daily wellness practice.
What is a mantra?
Mantras are sounds, words, or phrases that are chanted either quietly in your mind or aloud, and are used most often in devotional contexts, such as meditation or prayer. This chanting can lead to deep relaxation, and sometimes even to altered states of consciousness.
Historically, mantras included sounds like OM, or the names of Hindu gods and their associated prayers. With the widespread popularity of yoga, mantras have found their way into modern western culture as well, though we still tend to find them used in more sacred ways.
What is an affirmation?
Affirmations are words or short phrases that are designed to shift our attention from whatever habitual or negative thoughts we may have, toward a desired belief or energetic state, and they can be used at any time. Repeating positive statements throughout the day can intercept recurring destructive or harmful thoughts and help us to construct a more stable, positive mental framework.
Why you need a mantra asap
You many not realize how many times a day a negative (and false!) story or statement appears in your head about who you are or what you’re capable of. Quick shots like these:
- I’m so stupid!
- I can’t do this anymore.
- It doesn’t matter.
These can become hardened beliefs that affect our feelings of value and self-worth, as well as how we relate with others. Using an affirmation is a positive way to step in and switch the story.
Replacing those negative phrases with positive thoughts boosts feelings of self-confidence, and elevates the nature of our realities. A couple of examples:
- I’ve got this.
- It’s okay, I’m human.
- I am loveable.
Research has suggested that the more positively we feel about ourselves and our lives, the more likely we are to take steps to invest in a future that reinforces this—in other words, we become more active, more social, and care for ourselves with greater attention if we really believe we are worth it.
Finding your perfect mantra
Choose a word, a short statement, or sentence that speaks to the truth of your highest or best self. It may not feel like your current beliefs or reality, but that’s how it’s so useful.
While I was going through my separation/divorce, I felt as if everything in my life was falling apart—I had lost all sense of control, I was worried about my future, and felt like I was drowning in fears. As a way of calming myself, I had rather unconsciously chosen “it’s going to be okay” as an affirmation.
Whenever I would feel my anxiety growing, or my breath becoming shallow, I would take a deep inhalation, and let out my breath with “it’s gonna be okay,” and my nervous system would begin to settle. When the fear could finally move aside, I was able to take real steps to rebuilding my life and ensure that, yes, everything would be okay.
Other powerful statements might be:
- I am worthy.
- I am love.
- I am at peace.
- Let it go.
- Not mine.
Friends of mine who have struggled with taking on and carrying the negative energies and problems of others find power in the phrase “not mine,” as a way to set and reinforce their own energetic boundaries.
Using your mantra to live your best life
Here are some ways you may begin incorporating mantras and affirmations into your life:
1. In meditation
Meditation has been shown to reduce our levels of stress and emotional disturbance with as little as 10 minutes of practice per day. Choose a quiet place to sit, and set a timer so you don’t need to worry about it. If sitting on a pillow or a mat with an erect posture creates discomfort or strain, use a chair or prop your back against a wall.
This is a good opportunity to use a mantra: one powerful word or short phrase that encompasses the most positive state you could imagine, such as love, peace, breathe, surrender. If you’re comfortable chanting aloud, take an inhalation, and speak on the exhalation; if you choose to use your mantra silently, think of your word as you release each breath.
Using a mala (a sacred loop of 108 beads), is another powerful way to incorporate mantra into meditation. Hold the mala in your right hand (you can rest it lightly on your lap), between the first finger and thumb, and repeat the word or phrase with the passing of each bead until you’ve completed the full cycle.
2. Interrupt negative thoughts anytime of day
Notice what stories or negative thoughts you have about yourself, others, or your life, throughout your day. Before you even begin using an affirmation, you may want to keep a little notebook handy to record your negative thoughts and statements. In order for things to be shifted, our awareness must elevate from a subconscious/habitual state to a more conscious place.
You might notice some patterns—are your negative thoughts about not being loveable? About being too much or not enough? Are they revolving about fears or things beyond your control? Knowing the story you want to break through is key to finding the right affirmation that can effectively reframe your way of thinking. After you’ve chosen the right “true story,” speak up whenever you begin psychologically bad-mouthing yourself or falling into a downward mental spiral.
3. Use small reminders to influence your overall frame of mind
Make some small affirmation cards and place them around the house so that you are reminded to take a breath and be with the thought throughout your day. Setting one by your bed or on your phone when you turn out the lights ensures that you’ll start your day on a positive note.
Putting another one on your fridge, pinned to a bulletin board in your office space, or in your car are all ways to get these truths into your mind more frequently. You’ll notice that when one of those old storylines pops up and tries to seduce you into that familiar negative chatter, you’ll be more prepared to switch it up and meet the thoughts with an empowering counter-reality.
It’s important to note that not every obstacle can be overcome with a strong positivity mindset. There are instances where the context of your life might need to change for the benefit of your mental health (for example, if you are involved in toxic relationships or work environments), and therapists or trained counselors are invaluable assistants who can help you to navigate those more radical shifts.
Regardless of the nature of our struggles, it is always beneficial to be reminded of our worth, our power, our right to feel at peace, and to love and be loved. Mantras and affirmations can help to wake us up, to snap out of those negative thought patterns, and to feel and believe that the highest self is the true self. The mind is a mighty tool, and choosing the right mantras or affirmations can help you to break through some stubborn walls and let it work for you!