Mental Fuel: The Importance of a Mantra

One of the first homework assignments that I assign to clients is to create a training mantra. I’ve found that some people are unfamiliar with the word, so I wanted to share what a mantra is and why it’s important to have one for many aspects of life (not just fitness). A self-talk mantra can aid in fitness training, sexual kung fu, anger management, changing our relationship with food, or even breaking an addiction.

A mantra can act as a reminder to keep going. A short, rhythmic, and positive line of self-talk that encourages you to stay on the path to your goal. Goal setting is about knowing what you want. Discipline is about remembering what you want. A mantra should be your own. It’s fine to borrow someone else’s mantra. But, it’s important that your mantra be anchored to you and your path. Here’s a recipe for creating your own mantra.

Short Keep your mantra simple. Anything longer than a haiku becomes a recital and it will feel like you’re reciting an oath. While that may be fine for your evening recap in the bathroom mirror, it can become mentally taxing during an activity that requires more of your concentration.

Rhythmic Meghan Trainor’s songs are popular because they’re catchy. I’ve never downloaded a single track, but, I can sing along with the chorus because they’re all over the radio and played in every store/restaurant. Those simple rhymes // don’t require much of my mind // I repeat them in time // and say them line after line. Do the same when you create your mantra. Most people know the old anger management mantra: “Pins and needles // needles and pins // A happy me // is a happy me // that wins.” When I began anger management my mantra was rudimentary. “I don’t want this anger, I want love.” Over the years, it has evolved into something of a drinking toast. “Kiss your partners // kiss your friends // Make sweet love // and love again // No matter what trouble the world is in // as long as we love // love will win.” I’ll drink to that!

Positive The runner’s reading this post may have heard the old mantra, “the faster I run // the sooner I’m done.” While that may be true, “sooner I’m done” creates a negative association with an activity that is (or at least should be) making you feel better. Running isn’t for every body. But, if you’ve committed to embracing the activity, do it for the love of your body, mind, and spirit. Create a mantra that reinforces the positive association with your activity. This can also help when attempting to change your relationship with food. When I think about my comfort foods (usually filled with refined sugar) I think about desire. So, in changing my relationship with food and ridding my diet of refined sugars, I ask if I want that thing or if my body needs it for nourishment. I believe in eating what you want. I don’t believe that our wants should always go before our needs. So, if you want to drink Diet Coke, you’re an adult and you should do as you wish. Once you start drinking more Diet Coke than water, your kidneys will hate you. My self-talk reminds me to “give my body what it needs” and that mantra helps me to eat real food that will keep my body from breaking down.

How? 1.) Don’t put too much conscious thought into it. You’re not writing a keynote speech on neurological disorders. You’re not even writing a mantra. You should create your mantra. 2.) There’s no wrong way to do it. It may come to you from a song lyric. It’s your mantra, create it any way you choose. 3.) Make sure that your mantra ties into why you’re on this path to accomplish this goal. There’s no better reminder to keep going than to repeat to yourself why you took that first step in this direction.

Why? “Jet, I’m the shit. I am the bee’s knees. Why do I need to create a mantra? Ain’t nobody got time for that!” I’m sure that you’re stellar at what you do. Nina Hartley and Peter North want to honor your skills in the bedroom with a lifetime achievement award at the next AVN convention. However, I’m sure there are times when you’ve felt tired and somehow found your “second wind” in order to keep going. While I’ve read several studies* regarding our brain determining our level of fatigue before our body, none of those articles have been in a scientific publication. That’s my disclaimer. A little bit of Anatomy & Physiology understanding will point out that our brain will stop us from physically harming ourselves. Therefore, it is good to train smart instead of hard. Let me be clear, don’t be the jack ass that pushes too hard, gets hurt and needs an ice pack on your junk after sex. Afterwards, don’t try to blame the Kama Sutra because you skimmed the pages. Don’t workout until you pass out and try to blame Crossfit Culture. Jebediah Crossfit didn’t make you over train. I read an article in the Hindustan Times entitled, “Thought Boost” about how mantras kept athletes going longer. I’ve had personal experience with self-talk mantras aiding in my sexual kung fu practice, staying calm in high anxiety situations, and even staying alert after a long day-creating my own second wind.

Sit down, stand up, move around, embrace the words that will keep you on your path. “I’m not creative.” That’s an excuse. “I tried to create a mantra, I just can’t.” That’s a bullshit excuse. “I’ll be fine without a mantra.” Perhaps you will. You could be good at what you do. There will come a time that you’ll want to step up from good to great. At that time, you’ll want to do things differently. A mantra will help you to honor your physical strength and guide your mental strength. Physical and mental strength are tightly intertwined. Anyone can do the thing, be the one to do it smarter, be the one to do it differently. #GetUp

*Studies are hard to believe when no references are cited. Don’t believe everything you read, do your own research through scientific sources or your own trial and error when it’s safe to do so.

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“So What” – A Mantra for Strength

You’ve come to me, your Fitness Coach, with some big goals in mind. I’m happy to help you accomplish those goals. But, it’s important that you don’t stand in your own way. You have the potential to be your own worst enemy. Your harshest criticism will come from the mirror, not your friends. We emotionally abuse ourselves. If you don’t believe me, how often have you said something to/about yourself that you’d never want to hear from a lover or friend? When I broke my foot on a run, I replayed alternate outcomes of the scenario on a non-stop loop in my head. “If I only I had…” “But, what if I turned right…” In times like that, I’m forced to remember that I don’t use the words “should have”. When spoken in that order, those words are dangerous. How many times have you become upset with yourself and used those words? “I should have worked out today!” “I should have performed better in that race.” Using those words leads down a rabbit hole of regret. Those regrets lead to bad decisions. “I should have worked out today. That’s ok, I’ll just workout twice as hard and twice as long tomorrow!” Please don’t do that. Choosing to double-up your workouts to compensate for unplanned off days will only lead to fatigue and a potential injury. The other danger of ‘should have’ comes when life places an obstacle in the way of your training. If you are ever forced to take a break from the sport that you love the most, you will survive. When you get back into that sport, avoid the ‘should have’ state of mind. “I should have kept at it.”

Be, especially, careful to avoid the ‘used tos’. “I used to be able to do this faster, better, stronger.” Sometimes, you will feel like your training hits a plateau. Sometimes, you’ll feel like your training has taken several steps back or that you’ve lost momentum. If any of the aforementioned challenges swing your way, I’d like to introduce the two most important words in the mental game of your training. So what. Clients often tell me what they were able to lift in high school. So what. Friends often talk about how active they were a few years ago. So what. Regulars often tell me that they’ve lost a step. So what. “Jet! You’re being insensitive. I just want to tell you about how awesome the past was. I just want to share some ‘remember when’ monologue, baby!” So what. Be here. Be aware. Do the work. Embrace the moment. You’ll miss what’s happening now if you continue to remember when. So, the next time that your training partner wants to tell you about how awesome their climbing skills were last year or how much they will be able to lift next year, remind them that work must be done today, before anything else matters. Are you going to let any PR from your past degrade your present efforts? Are you going to be your own source of emotional abuse by lamenting about getting slower or weaker? I hope not. I hope that when you think about your high school long jump record that you follow the thought with the phrase, so what.

When we use our past experiences for reference notes on what not to do, that’s wise. When we use our past experiences as an excuse to doubt our abilities today, that’s detrimental to our success. “Jet! I used to be the man on the court!” So what. We are here now in the present. Pleasant memories of your past physical strengths won’t serve you. Here’s what will serve you. During that next mirror conversation, as you appreciate your body beautiful make a statement. “I am here. This is now. I know that work needs to be done in order to reach my fitness goals. Part of that work is letting go of the past and choosing not to live in the future.” We are here. This is now. Work must be done, in this moment. The results will come.

I want to be clear, I’m not saying that setting goals and visualizing that future accomplishment is a bad thing. What I am saying is that getting lost in those days of future past can be another form of criticism that will not serve you or your efforts to grow stronger. Focus on the present. File the rest under SO WHAT and Giddyup!