Why mantras work, even for skeptics

crystals for meditation

You may already use mantras because you believe they connect us with a higher power.

Or you may believe that kind of hippy dippy crap is for Californians and people that carry crystals around. (For the record, I love both Californians and crystals).

Even if you’re a member of the latter party, don’t dismiss mantras outright quite yet.

Because mantras have at least two practical purposes that have nothing to do with spirit or the universe or whatever.

#1 Mantras are reminders.

What reminders do you have set up for yourself?

  • My father-in-law uses post it notes to remember when to pick up our daughter from her activities (we are lucky enough to have him as her “taxi”)

  • I have my flonase bottle right next to my contact case so I remember to dose myself every night when I take my contacts out

  • My husband has one of those old-person day-of-the-week pill boxes to remember to take his blood pressure pills (sorry, old persons)

These are simple, but effective, ways to manage behavior and outcomes. My father-in-law gets our daughter where she needs to go. I prevent my allergy-related headaches. My husband manages his blood pressure despite his outrage at how people drive.

Mantras let us manage thoughts in the same way. Repeating a mantra sets a reminder for the way we want to think. When we think a certain way, it directly affects our behavior and outcomes.

Example from my real life:

Mantra: Not drinking gives me freedom.

Reminder: When I consider having a drink, I am reminded that not drinking gives me freedom.

New behavior and outcomes: The way I thought about a drink shifted from “yes, that’s what I need” to “that takes away my freedom.” Over time, I became less likely to drink until I finally didn’t at all.

#2 Mantras help us focus.

Ever pay attention to how you’re more likely to notice what you’re focused on?

  • You get a new car, then see so many other people driving that same car.

  • You have a baby, give it a name, and then notice so many other people with that same name.

  • You think people are generally terrible. You notice all the terrible things people do.

  • You think people are generally good. You notice all the good things people do.

There aren’t more people driving that car or more people with that name. You’re just noticing it now. And people are both terrible and good. You find what you look for.

Mantras let us focus thoughts in the same way.

When we repeat a mantra, it creates a focus point for us. The more we focus on something, the more we notice it. And the more we notice something, the more evidence it creates to support what we’re doing.

Example from my real life:

Mantra: Not drinking gives me freedom.

Focus point: Freedom

Evidence: When I don’t drink, I’m free from worrying about drinking more than I wanted or how I’ll get home. When I don’t drink, I’m free to do more of what I want because I’m less tired and never hungover. When I don’t drink, I’m free from buying alcohol so I save money. Etc. In short, I see the benefits of not drinking instead of the deprivation of not drinking.

You don’t even have to meditate with your mantra (though I find it really helpful). You don’t even have to call it a mantra. Just call it a reminder and set it on your phone every couple hours. Keep it in front of your face for a couple weeks, and see if your mindset doesn’t start to shift.

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