The stories we tell ourselves in our own head really matter. Imagine, for a minute, what feelings come up for you when you tell yourself the story that you’re failing both at work and at home. Quite different feelings than if you tell yourself the story that you’re doing the best you can, no? How can you re-orient those stories when they’re spinning in unhelpful directions?
One thing I do to get my head in a better place is to use mantras.
The dictionary definition of a “mantra” is both “a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation” and also “a statement or slogan, repeated frequently.” The Sanskrit word “mantra”, literally means “instrument for thinking.” For me, they’re brief, affirming phrases I can repeat to myself to help get my head into a new, healthier story.
When I catch myself telling a story that only sends me into desperation (and having a meditation practice helps me catch myself faster), I find that repeating a mantra provides a clean break. It reminds me of some of the core values I believe it. Interrupts the negative narrative. And it helps me start to tell myself a new story.
Over the past few years, there are a few mantras I’ve tried that have stuck with me. Here’s my top 10 list (in David Letterman-style reverse order, leading up to my favorite).
Top 10 Mantras for Working Mamas
10. Breathe, mama, breathe. Focusing on my breath immediately disrupts unhelpful thoughts and crazy stories. Take even just a few deep breaths and focus on the feeling of the air going in and out of your nose.
9. This too shall pass. Or, this is one season in life. Or, in a few short years you’ll be dragging them out of bed in the morning and then begging them to come home and visit. YES, this time in life when you’re working and have small children at home is pure insanity. And just as soon as you get the hang of – or can’t bear another moment of – one stage, the next one arrives.
8. If it’s not a “hell yes,” it’s a “hell no”. Credit for this one goes to Greg McKeown and his book, Essentialism. This is the mantra I repeat when I’m trying to decide whether to accept a commitment. Or when I’m feeling guilty that I said no to someone.
7. Motherhood GROWS my leadership muscles. No, working motherhood has not made me a worse employee. It’s made me an infinitely better one. Think of all those skills you gain by being a parent that are directly applicable to life at the office. Efficiency, prioritization, delegation, meeting the needs of difficult stakeholders who struggle to express their needs well…you name it.
6. That was then, this is now. Sometimes seeing my children at certain stages, or being in certain parenting situations, reminds me of things I’d prefer not to think about from my own childhood. I use this mantra to remind myself that this is my life I’m living. One that is new and different from anything I experienced before. I’m not reliving the past, I’m creating a new future.
5. Zoom out. This mantra reminds me to take a few steps back and try to see the bigger picture. It’s particularly helpful when I’m caught up in some minutiae or annoyance, or am stuck in a kid power struggle. When I zoom out, I can let go of the little things that can bother me, and see that when it comes to the things that really matter (the big love, the being there for my kids when it’s important), my life is full.
4. You do you. One of the alumnae from the Mindful Return course taught me this one, and I LOVE it. In this working mother thing, you can’t do what you think someone else might want you to be doing. You do what’s right for you and stop looking around.
3. Choose discomfort over resentment. Credit for this one goes to Brené Brown (check out more about boundary-setting here). This is the mantra I use when I just might be tempted to avoid a difficult conversation. Saying this reminds me that it’s better to have the critical conversation, so I can move on with life.
2. You are enough, mama. This was truly a close tie for #1. My day always goes better when I remind myself in the morning that whatever I’m doing or not doing, it’s already enough. Enough for me. For my family. For my job. It just is. Because really, it has to be.
1. Comparison is the thief of joy. Thank you, Teddy Roosevelt, for this fabulous mantra. I use it daily and found it truly resonates with so many of the working mamas I know. This one aligns closely with “you do you,” and serves to keep me focused on my own priorities. I use it when I walk out of the office at 4:30pm and others are still working. Or when I feel guilty for not signing my son up for an after-school activity some of his classmates are participating in. Or when I look at how many hours other lawyers are billing or the speed at which others have grown their businesses. Repeating this mantra helps me remember to focus on my own joy. Joy I truly have in abundance.
Which of these mantras resonates with you today? Can you choose one and set it as your intention for the day when you wake up tomorrow? Which mantras help you most in times of stress? Leave them in comments below!
I often set one of these 10 mantras as my intention for my day, when I take my morning shower. They set my day on a better foot. And most importantly, they remind me to tell myself stories that encourage me to find the good and the pride in myself as a working parent.
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave.