1) You’re about to step into a boxing ring against a fierce opponent.
2) You’re a prisoner of war about to be interrogated.
3) You’re running for U.S. President and you’re about to lose.
How would you motivate yourself?
Senator John McCain, who’s faced all those challenges, has always rallied himself with a simple phrase: “Game face on” (New York Times, 10/26/08).
A mantra is a word or phrase you tell yourself, silently, to evoke a desired quality. Actors use a similar technique called inner monologue.
If you were an actor playing a love scene, it might be helpful, as you look at your romantic partner, to think, “You have lovely eyes.” It would be less helpful to wonder, “Did you eat a pastrami sandwich for breakfast?”
Although mantras sound mysterious, they’re not. You and I think certain thoughts, again and again, everyday. These repetitive thoughts are mantras. For example:
1) “My boss is a complete idiot.” Do you often think this? Bingo – you’ve got a mantra!
Unfortunately, the “complete idiot” mantra will eventually leak into your behavior, so you may want to change it. And no, it’s not much better to say, “Fine. My boss is an incomplete idiot.”
2) “There’s just no time to do that.” “That” can be anything on your To Do list, as well as special projects like responding to email, eating lunch, breathing.
3) “Tired.” When the alarm goes off in the morning, we often think, “tired.” Then we attempt to calculate “X,” where X = how much sleep we got.
One thing we know for sure about X: it wasn’t enough.
So, throughout the day, we remind ourselves how tired we are. “How am I going to get through this meeting?” we wonder. “I’ve got to get to bed early tonight - I may be coming down with something.”
Feeling tired right now? Ok, take a short walk around the office. While walking, repeat a mantra, for a minute or so, to energize you. Your mantra could be anything: “Strength!” “Vitality!” “Pastrami sandwich!”
Tip: Thoughts matter. Watch your negative ones. Experiment with positive mantras.
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Consultant, author, speaker, and founder of express potential® (www.expresspotential.com), Paul Hellman has worked with CEOs, executives, and managers at leading companies for over 25 years to improve performance and productivity at work. His latest book is “Naked at Work: How to Stay Sane When Your Job Drives You Crazy,” and his columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post and other leading papers.
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