Re-Evaluate Your Mantras.

2011 Happiness Challenge: For those of you following the 2011 Happiness Project Challenge, to make 2011 a happier year — and even if you haven’t officially signed up for the challenge — welcome! This month’s theme is Time. Last week’s resolution was to Set aside a specific time for something that’s important to you. Did you try that resolution? Did it boost your happiness?

This week’s resolution is to Re-evaluate your mantras. (Here, I’m specifically talking about time-related mantras, but re-evaluating all your mantras is also a good idea.)


How about you? Have you found mantras running through your head — that were actually making you kind of nuts? How did you stop them?

If you want to read more about this resolution, check out…
Examine your heuristics.
Face it: you have no free time.

If you’re new, here’s information on the 2011 Happiness Challenge. It’s never too late to start! You’re not behind, jump in right now, sign up here. For the Challenge, each week I’ll post a video suggesting a resolution for you to consider. For more ideas for resolutions to try, check out the archives of videos here.

* I love cruising around Marc and Angel Hack Life — “practical tips for productive living.” Lots of great information there.

* Please subscribe to my YouTube Channel. To get the weekly video by email, right in your email in-box, you can:
— On the GretchenRubin channel page, after you subscribe, click “Edit Subscription” and check the box, “Email me for new uploads.” Or…
— Go to your main drop-down box, click “Subscriptions,” find the GretchenRubin channel, click “Edit Subscriptions,” and check “Email me for new uploads” there.

To get the audio podcast of the video:
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  • I’ve been thinking a lot about one of my favorites quotes lately:
    ‘To change your life: start immediately, do it flamboyantly, no exceptions’ and it’s inspiring me like crazy. I don’t want to be relaxed anymore, I want to feel alive! Woohoo!

  • Penny Schmitt

    Brilliant. I think that a thousand blows fall on me every day, from my own mind, the unconscious mantras that need to be surfaced and removed. . . . starting with ‘oh you’re SO fat.’ I learned to remove a number of these negative self talkers years ago, but there are still a few. Thanks for encouraging me to notice and change some more! It’s the PRACTICALITY of your approach that means so much to me, Gretchen! Thanks again!

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m so happy to hear that what I write (or say!) resonates with you.

  • annabarlowe

    Funny, once again I just posted on this subject myself – moments ago, in fact!

    I don’t think I’d call negative tapes mantras, as mantras seem more like affirmations to me, – but that’s just a matter of semantics. I do get things stuck in my head, no doubt about that! 🙂

  • Thanks for the shout and kind remarks, Gretchen. We’ve been a fan of yours for quite some time. Thanks for making us smile. 😉

    -Marc (from Marc and Angel Hack Life)

  • Harmon

    Practice being Happy.

    Practice being Happy.

    We somehow expect our emotions to just
    “Be”, without our conscious intervention, yet we know they are capable
    of being manipulated endlessly. Advertising and theater manipulate them
    shamelessly. We know, understand, and expect that. We know and expect
    friends and relatives to be able to make us happy or frustrated or sad
    or satisfied. We know people who can push our buttons. We know people
    who can brighten up a room, or make the room gloomy, just by entering
    it. We know our emotions are variable, and other people or things can
    modify or manipulate them. Why don’t we accept our own ability to modify our own happiness?

    Also, what is it about sadness for no-good-reason that we accept – it is somehow acceptable to be sad for no-good-reason, or depressed, with no discernible cause, but the opposite is not true for being happy? If we are suddenly filled with joy and satisfaction for no-good-reason, it is somehow suspect

    We also know that if we want to
    achieve some goal of competency in a field, that we have to practice the
    skill. We have to practice writing, or singing, or calculus, or
    design, or swimming or any other endeavor, in order to become skilled
    and accustomed to achieving in that endeavor.

    When our oldest
    daughter was born, she didn’t know how to fall asleep, and she had to
    learn and practice falling asleep – this activity we normally expected
    people to be able to do naturally.

    I’m beginning to think that being
    happy may be a skill – or endeavor, at least, that should be practiced,
    just as any other endeavor. Then, achieving it would be easier, and
    wouldn’t feel so unnatural.

    We expect our emotional environment to be
    a given, and don’t try to adjust it, we expect it to be something we
    don’t have any control over, we just “are,” yet we know that other
    people and circumstances manipulate our emotional state constantly. So,
    our emotions are indeed something that we can decide to influence and
    manipulate and change consciously.

    Injunctions to “be happy”
    don’t help someone who is depressed because they don’t know how or why.
    Like learning to swim or fall asleep, it is a skill and endeavor that
    needs to be practiced for the sake of learning how to do it better and
    make it easier.
    And when we are happy for no-good-discernible-reason, cherish it, and welcome it, and practice it.

    Practice being happy.

  • It is easy to repeat negative mantras in your head unconsciously, without even realizing it, never speaking these aloud because you know how bad they sound, but saying them to yourself. Becoming aware of your thoughts – and replacing bad mantras with good – is key.

  • Thanks Gretchen for this great post. Though i dont have any mantras as such i try to avoid negative thinking which makes me happier.

    Singha Roy

  • Claire Vorster

    Why, I wonder do the words we speak have so much power? Gretchen, thank you for motivating us to re-examine them. Here’s my take on the subject:

    You always bring light with you G.


  • Gretchen,

    Just found your site through another blog I follow, and I
    LOVE the idea of a Happiness Project. 🙂

    Those insidious scripts we have running in the back of our minds can really
    trip us up. One of the biggest changes I made was when I realized how mean I
    was being to myself using these scripts. It wasn’t just the words, it was the
    tone. When I imagined saying those things in that way to someone I loved, it
    broke my heart. That realization created a huge shift for me. I’m a lot kinder
    to myself now and I catch little remnants of those scripts much more easily. I
    guess you could say I’ve gotten quite protective of myself…

    Great blog!



    • gretchenrubin

      Thanks! You’re right, good point, tone is also important — not just the
      words. Mindfulness, always mindfulness!

  • Hi Gretchen – Just came across your blog and love what you’re doing! I see my unwelcome mantras as “my dark cloud.” I thought that was just the way life is until a friend told me it was visible. Here’s the post about it:

  • bStormhands

    I do need to work on a good mantra, but I have learned to notice when at least one of my bad mantras come up. So when I notice it popping up I stop and reevaluate, sometimes I can do something about it and it goes away.

  • Mcohen05

    thank you,now I could see it, wow, the videos are great, really sinks the information in more, make me more accountable, that you are real lol

  • KCCC

    Hm… I also wonder about calling these negative tapes “mantras” (that word carries connotations of “affirmations” to me). But I agree that they should be questioned and replaced.

    One of my favorites is to recognize when I’m telling myself I “should” do this or that – a recipe for misery! Now, I replace “should” with “could.” That minor change helps me to recognize that I have a CHOICE about what I do. And I can choose to do … or I can choose NOT to, and do something else. That helped me get rid of procrastination time, where I was neither doing the task nor allowing myself to do anything else because I “should” be doing that task.

  • Travelingchristi

    Many times we say ” I don’t have time for…” as a response because others are pressuring us to join or do something that we don’t want to do! We’ve been trained that it’s more polite or nice to say we don’t have time rather than being honest and saying we have no interest! Facebook and Twitter are good examples! I say I don’t have time but truth is, no interest!!

    • gretchenrubin

      I’ve found that when I’m honest with myself about what I do and don’t want
      to do, really — not what I say I don’t have time for — I have a clearer
      sense of my own priorities.

  • Beverley Smith

    Thank you for this blog. It made me think about what’s important to me and how many time i do say i dont have time for this or that and how many times i do something just because someone else expects me too, including my now grown-up-enough children. I suppose one of my mantras is – i can only do one thing at once – but then end up doing 10 finishing none of them. So maybe I will write my mantra on a post-it and put it up somewhere.  

  • Harmon

    Narrative Drives Design.  The stories we tell about who we are and where we are going help determine the choices we make. Including our lives, and how to design a building or a machine. Change the narrative, and the design choices change.

  • Patricia Tyser Carbery

     I have just started using the mantra “breathe, calm, plenty of time.  But yours is even better!  I have plenty of time for the things that are important to me!
    I have always been feeling tense and rushed, and this has been a big help.