The other day it took me THIRTY MINUTES to choose a toothpaste. Shoppers only had three brands of toothpaste (one of which I ruled out right off the bat because baking soda is abrasive on enamel). I settled on a subsection of Colgate but was still stuck with the choice between Sparkling Mint, Luminous Mint and Cool Mint. Why do you make my life so difficult, Colgate?! What’s the difference? Is it in the taste? The colour?? By this point, I’m getting visibly agitated, stomping back and forth in the aisle and muttering to myself like a crazy person. The upside is that no one wants to kidnap a crazy person which is the sole tidbit of knowledge I retained from grade 9 defence class. Luckily I don’t often audibly argue what toothpaste to choose but I do talk to myself a lot more than I care to admit. Not in the “I’m eating at a restaurant and asking myself how I like the fish” kind of way but more like repeating my personal mantras to myself to find equilibrium.
A mantra is “a word of phrase that is repeated often or that expresses someone’s basic beliefs” (Merriam-Webster). Rushing from this appointment to that meeting throughout our day can be distracting and make us lose sight of our values. Despite our best intentions, our divided attention can force us to slip back into our usual bad habits.
Maybe we have a tendency to be impatient with our slow progress or a friend’s achievement makes us upset that we’re not closer to our own goals. This can be emotionally draining if we let it linger and we don’t always have the time to really delve into the whys of every reaction we experience. Mantras can act as a jolt of clarity to our overfull minds; a foothold to prevent us from the descent down the slippery slope of losing perspective of what’s truly important.
Many mantras speak to universal issues that we all experience but there are some that personally resonate with us that speak to our goals, values and beliefs. We need to figure out our rhythms– what situations make is mad or irritated or petty and how we can deal with them in the moment to work towards the people we WANT to be.
In addition to my unique personal mantra of A cheeseburger a day keeps the doctor away
Here are my 6 Troubleshooting Mantras:
P.S. I ended up choosing Sparkling Mint and I still agonize over whether I made the right mint decision every time I brush my teeth.
TROUBLESHOOT #1: HAVING UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS
In interviews, when we’re asked what our weaknesses are, we try to deceive by providing a thinly veiled strength instead. You think labelling yourself a “perfectionist” expresses to your future employer that you care about your work and the end product is flawless but “perfection” doesn’t exist. Either you’re saying is that you’re in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction (not pleasant to be around for an 8-hour work day) OR you never get anything done because you’re constantly trying to “perfect” things. I’ve had times where I’ll push a pixel back and forth till I’m cross-eyed; pressured to create something earth-shattering which is why this mantra helps me a lot. It’s a quote from Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg that reminds me that completing things is more important than chasing something unattainable. All you can do is the best you’re able, forgive your flaws, finish it and move on to the next to improve.
TROUBLESHOOT #2: MAKING EXCUSES FOR NOT TAKING ACTION
Sometimes there’s nothing more satisfying that meeting up with friends and bitching about your day/boyfriend/cat over a glass of red wine and poutine (with gravy that you want to drink but don’t! Progress). It can be very cathartic but it also forces you to relive the moment and agitate yourself all over again. It’s neither an efficient nor effective use of your time because it doesn’t change anything. It’s just a waste of breath that could be otherwise used to request another order of poutine. Extra gravy. Extra cheese. When I came across this line by Stefan Sagmeister, I realized how useless complaining is. This mantra moves me towards action – either I let the negativity go or I do something about it. Focus on the things I can control instead of whining about the things I can’t.
TROUBLESHOOT #3: BEING JEALOUS OF OTHER PEOPLE'S SUCCESS
The duality of this phrase makes the meaning different based on how you choose to look at it. In Amy Poehler’s book Yes Please she transformed it from the negative That is good for her ergo it’s not good for me to That is good for her and it has nothing to do with me. Instead of viewing it as someone’s success taking away from your own, it’s a congratulatory mantra that acknowledges that it doesn’t take away from you or your worth because you are walking a different path. For example, say your friend just got married and was really happy and that stirred up less than virtuous feelings in you. Do you even want to get married? Even if you do, does your friend getting married mean you won’t? Would it change anything in your life if she wasn’t? It’s all ego. This mantra creates a separation to remind me that someone else’s accomplishments is not an indictment against me. In fact, it says nothing about me at all.
TROUBLESHOOT #4: WORRY ABOUT WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK OF YOU
When you’re talking to someone you’re trying to impress, do you ever find yourself to be out of the moment? You’re listening to what they’re saying with half an ear while you formulate the perfect response to ensure they know just how impressive you are. You furrow your brow slightly so they know you’re the type of person who cares about what they’re saying. You ask a question but you’re too busy patting yourself on the back for seeming very well-researched and intelligent that you miss out on the answer. It’s like you’re performing monkey and you’ve handed the other person all of the bananas! You should’ve just hoarded and eaten them in a corner before anyone could take them away. You think you’re fooling the other person and maybe you are, but why does it matter so much what they think? Whenever I feel like I’m slipping away from my authentic self into who I think the other person wants me to be, I remember this mantra that is a quote from Presence by Amy Cuddy. Just be in the moment and know deep down who’s opinion really matters.
TROUBLESHOOT #5: BEING IMPATIENT AND WORRYING
This quote is from a letter John Steinbeck wrote to his son on love but I apply it to everything in my life. I’m such an impatient person that sometimes I make myself sick with anxiety. I want what I want when I want it (which is usually as soon as it occurs to me). I’m rushing around trying to force it to happen that I don’t stop to think whether the thing that I want is good for me. This is a mantra I use to slow myself down from my natural speed: breakneck. I am not advocating laziness and not taking leaps of faith towards your goals, just to take time to consider your actions and make it an educated leap. We hurry because we worry that if we don’t move fast enough, we’ll miss out. Worrying is a superstitious act. It doesn’t actually change anything but for some reason we attribute positive outcomes to it. Think of any issue in the past that seemed like the end of the world at the time. Maybe it didn’t iron out the way you thought but at the end of the day, it DID work out. And now you have other problems. Hah. Make moves towards your goals and strive to be more deliberate but remember that if it's meant to happen, it will.
TROUBLESHOOT #6: FEAR OF STARTING
Sometimes when I’m supposed to be creating, I freeze in fear that I won’t be able to come up with anything good. Other times I’m paralyzed by all the possible ways a problem can be solved. I will plan and brainstorm, trapeze, take a shower –anything to procrastinate from starting to circumvent my fear. This mantra comes from Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic which reminds me to just do something, anything! I will go through the motions of designing or writing; put anything on the page just to be moving forward. If after a half an hour I’m still struggling to be inspired, I’ll put it aside for the time being and do a different activity, so long as I remain in motion. Even if you go from writing to jewelry-making, the busyness of the pursuit may open up another well of inspiration that you can apply to you original task.