BIG ANNOUNCEMENT: IF YOU WANT TO ASK A QUESTION ON THE FINDING OUR HUNGER PODCAST:
Do you have a mantra?
For a long time, I did—without realizing it.
My mantra wasn’t “Om” or anything you’d find plastered on an inspirational Pinterest photo. It wasn’t anything I said while I was meditating. (although who am I kidding? I didn’t meditate.) It wasn’t a mantra that I’d want to share with anyone or even admit to myself.
In fact, it was several mantras, and they went something like this:
When I am skinny, I will…
You’re not good/smart/thin/strong enough to…
You don’t deserve to…
And so on.
The Sanskrit definition of “mantra” is “a thought, thought behind speech or action,” from man- “think,” related to mind.
All of those thoughts—about not being good enough or not deserving—were the thoughts behind all of my speech and all of my actions. My behavior and sense of self, therefore, was driven by feelings of self-hate and self-doubt.
And I didn’t even realize it.
I’ll be really honest: I’m not great at meditating and mindfulness. I don’t like silence and reflection. And when it comes to actually sitting down and practicing, I’ve usually just given up after the first couple of attempts.
Why? Because, to be frank, trying to find a new mantra is hard. When your “man-think” is an automatic response (I’m not good enough to have a mantra, I suck at meditating, I can’t be mindful), it’s really difficult to override the message with something you just. don’t. believe.
Like “I am enough.” “I deserve to be happy in this body right now.” “I am loved and worthy of receiving love.”
It just sounds chintzy and fake and forced when you’d rather be rolling around in the pillowy comfort of automatic negative responses.
The question is: where does belief come from? How do you move from an unintended mantra to a mindful one?
It starts with identifying your unintended mantra first. It starts with just noticing when you’re feeding yourself the same old lines: “I’m not, I can’t, I don’t, I won’t.”
Notice how I used the word “noticing,” not “stopping” or “judging?” That’s right: you can go on thinking all of the ugly “man-thinks” you want, as long as you notice when you’re doing it. Noticing is an objective, not a subjective word: you’re simply observing and dropping a metaphorical pin in the map, so that the next time your mind starts to navigate there, you recognize the landmarks.
When you’re judging, you’re adding a subjective layer of discourse: you’re bad, you’re a failure at mindfulness, you’re not deserving of a better mindset or a happy life. Sound familiar? It should: you’re just repeating the mantra that you’re trying to make go away! Judging just depends your “practice” of self-hate, self-doubt, and disbelief!
When you notice, however, you just allow yourself to say, “Huh. Isn’t that interesting?” And slowly, you begin to train your mind to listen for the negative messages and almost anticipate the situations in which they will pop up.
Instead of calling them triggers and allowing yourself to fall victim to them, these situations just become neutral events that you can then choose to anticipate.
The more you notice without judgment, watching things play out with a sense of curiosity instead of condemnation, the fewer opportunities you’ll have for repeating the negative mantras. If you’re not judging, there’s no one there to tell you you’re not good enough at not judging. Make sense?
Slowly, over time, you start to train yourself not to react. That doesn’t mean that the negative thoughts will just go away forever and you’ll be able to dance on a cloud of rainbows or meditate your way to nirvana while looking like a stock photo of a happy blonde woman sitting cross-legged on the beach, but it does mean that the negative thoughts will have less impact over time.
Noticing takes the bite, the guilt, and the shame out of a self-hating statement. And once you start to free yourself from the guilt and the shame, once you stop feeding your own trolls, you can start to allow belief—that elusive little state of being—to creep in.
So here’s an exercise for you:
Commit to spending the next week noticing your “mantras.” Not the ones you want, but the ones that you’re already telling yourself every day. Be curious and not judgmental: just write them down when you think of them, and maybe make note of what spurred the negative thoughts in the first place.
At the end of the week, crumple up the paper and just throw it away. Don’t read them over and over and relish in the hateful statements. Don’t make a ceremony out of it—this isn’t some purging ritual meant to create a giant catharsis. Just…be objective about it. It’s a piece of paper with some things you noticed. Throw the piece of paper and the “noticings” away.
You don’t have to be a yogi or a master meditator. It’s a fact that you’re not just going to find a new Pinterest-inspired mantra and just immediately be transported to nirvana. That’s not how the real world works, despite what every self-love guru will have you believe.
The best thing you can do to start moving from doubt to belief is to practice being impartial. Over time, you’ll find that the negative thoughts have less meaning or power than you once believed. (And maybe, once you have freed up a little bit of extra belief, you can start adding a new, self-loving mantra into the void. But that’s a post for another day…)
In today’s podcast with Sarahjoy Marsh, author of Hunger, Hope, and Healing: A Yoga Approach to Reclaiming Your Relationship to Your Body and Food,* we talk a lot about what it was like for Sarahjoy to change her own mantra (and her relationship with her body, food, and exercise), and how yoga, mindfulness, and self-love can be a great defense against the darkness of disordered eating.
*For a discount on the book, enter code HHHPC14 at checkout!