The world is your oyster! You're awesome! You can do anything! Life is all sunshine and rainbows and unicorns! And if you tell yourself you're a unique and special snowflake, you are!
I don't know about you, but I feel like everyone is practicing personal affirmations these days. If you don't have have a mantra you say to yourself every morning, you're never gonna reach your full potential. It might also be a sign that I'm following way too many yogis from LA. Either way, this has never been my thing and I have yet to start writing “YOU ARE A CONFIDENT YOUNG WOMAN” on bathroom mirrors*.
And then I caved
Despite my hesitation, since Vipassana, there is one phrase that seems to frequently pop up in my mind. The teacher said it a thousand times in the meditations and discourses, and somehow it made its way into whatever brain space mantras usually occupy. I've noticed I use it throughout the day, not only as a reminder when I get distracted during meditation, but in everything I do.
It’s not the classic inspirational message. It doesn’t have the upbeat spirit like “I am brimming with energy and overflowing with joy” or the poetic vibe of “A river of compassion washes away my anger and replaces it with love”.**
It's slightly more to the point.
Yes, that's about it. What I came to understand during ten days of silence was how easy it is to get caught up in the stories we tell ourselves. Stories that we then get attached to, and keep repeating, even when they no longer benefit us. To me, the phrase "do the work" basically means:
Get your head out of your ass, stop telling yourself another rendition of the same old story and focus on the shit you need to do this very moment.
That, to me, is liberating.
Also, can someone put that on a t-shirt?
The risk of thinking positive
If we step away from the specifics of mantras and onto the larger picture, I'd like to acknowledge what this article covers: Thinking positive is a surprisingly risky manoeuvre on Aeon. It's worth a few minutes of your time.
When you set out to achieve something, let’s say building a company. You have an idea you believe in, you have the skill, and you get to work. Except you don’t, because you’re busy dreaming about how great it’s gonna be when it’s all built and successful. You think about the interviews you’re gonna make, the talks you’re gonna give, the validation from people you admire, although they currently have no idea you exist.
Fills you with a warm and fuzzy feeling, doesn’t it?
As the article explains, thinking vividly about the scenario, makes you feel like you’ve already accomplished it. It feels good, but actually has the opposite effect - it doesn’t motivate you to take action, it gives you the illusion of reward and makes you relax.
I’ve done this plenty times, which is why I've now taken a different role in my collaborations. Which has earned me the charming nickname Sergeant Sanna. Several of my friends like to paint scenarios of how perfect everything is going to be, in that magical future when success is fact and not an abstract idea. My response is “sure, sounds nice, but let’s get back to what needs to get done now”.
It doesn't make me the most charming person at all times, and I'm not expecting any motivational speech prizes to fall in my lap any time soon, but it's important. We all need to do the work. For business. For writing. For exercising. Visualize where you want to go, it's a great practice, but be realistic about your obstacles. Then get to work.
*Though it would make an interesting experiment since I regularly share apartments with strangers through Airbnb.
** If this is your thing, feel free to keep exploring them in this list.