A well-said phrase can remind us how we’re not alone in our struggles — and, perhaps, more importantly, can also inspire us to push onward. Examples range from ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle’s “It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light” to contemporary author and civil rights activist Maya Angelou’s “You will face many defeats in life, but never let yourself be defeated.” When facing tough times, difficult people, and challenging situations, a simple set of words such as these may keep hope alive, strengthen resolve — and help us to keep our cool.
In a Fast Company article titled “The Science Behind Why Inspirational Quotes Motivate Us” by author Gwen Moran, psychologist and motivation expert Jonathan Fader, PhD, explains that positive phrases can provide a powerful incentive to try harder and also build a “self-efficacy in that kind of dialogue that you’re having with yourself.” Also, the aspirational nature of certain quotes and phrases help us to see something in ourselves that we want to work on or overcome.
I know that when I’m in a stressful situation, I often tell myself to “be like water,” as I picture myself gliding past the jagged rocks of anxiety and turbulent pockets of conflict. Since I started using this simple phrase (which I often have to silently repeat to myself), I’m far less reactive and am able to keep my cool while still maintaining my own sense of self-worth. And… when things get really bad, I’ll actually make swimming motions (but only when I’m on the phone and people can’t see me!). Interestingly, too, I’ve noticed that I don’t tense up as much as before, which I’m happy to say has (so far, at least!) decreased my chronic back pain.
I was curious if other people I know also use quotes or phrases to help them deal with stress, so I asked a couple of friends about what they tell themselves to get through life, when they are most likely to use theses phrases, and how they help. I was pleasantly surprised that the first three people I contacted responded right away. Maybe more people use this technique than I thought (or I guessed at the most likely people who might do this). Regardless, I found their responses were not only insightful, but also resonated with some of their core strengths.
Anna, a Senior Technology Officer, says that when she’s lonely or upset, she tells herself: “Like a wave is part of the ocean” to remind herself that she’s connected to everything. And like a wave, she feels as if she doesn’t just exist as an individual. Anna shared that this phrase helps her get out of her own head and see other people’s perspectives. It also reduces a reaction response and, instead, increases her capacity to understand other people’s perspectives.
From my personal experience with Anna, her mantra works, as she is one of the most accepting and friendly people I know. She adds that it’s particularly helpful when she finds that she’s frustrated with someone and her “thinking needs to be looked at.”
Gabe, a restaurant manager and author, tells himself, “Where there’s a stupid person, there should not be two.” He says that he uses it every single day at work. And to quote Gabe: “People come and complain because, I don’t know, Santa didn’t come early this year, and I think of my mantra.” It helps him see how little is needed for some people to lose it, which only strengthens his resolve to stay stoic, calm, and rational while also maintaining his sense of humor.
Through the years, I have witnessed Gabe’s strength, wisdom, and fortitude — especially during the roughest of times. And in true Gabe fashion, even his own personal mantra is imbued with honesty and humor — just like him.
K. Elaine, who is a Vice President of a large company, said that she tells herself: “We will get through this and this too shall pass.” She tells herself this when she loses an employee or one is crying on overload, threatening to quit. She also repeats it when clients are screaming at her — or, worse yet, when someone says that they want to sue the company.
This blended mantra helps K. Elaine remain professional while negotiating in a rational, caring tone with both clients and employees. And true to K. Elaine’s can-do, positive spirit, her mantra, which starts with the word “we,” encompasses her team-player style and personal warmth and charm.
Whether people gravitate toward a certain mantra because it already highlights their natural strengths or because it helps them overcome something they want to work on, a simple set of words can increase one’s resolve — and may also serve as a handy reminder that may help lighten stressful situations and provide a deeper sense of calm, strength, and clarity.