sung__mantra400jpgWhen I was a child, dealing with my particular configuration of a dysfunctional family, I remember lying awake in bed night after night, year after year, too afraid to go to sleep. There were some willow trees outside my window I used to watch. No matter how hard the wind blew, and how far they bent, they never broke. I took that image on as my personal courage mantra. For years, whenever things happened that upset me, I would say to myself,

“I’m like the willow. I can bend but I won’t break.”

I don’t know where I got the idea—certainly no one taught me. But I truly believe that that saying saved my life. It reminded me whenever I needed it of my resilience. Of the fact that I’d survived so far and therefore was likely to continue to do so. I felt it as an exhortation, as a surge of determination to get through my childhood as intact as possible. It allowed me to embrace the challenges with as much enthusiasm as I possibly could. I’d be damned if I were going to break and I would prove it to the world that I could survive!

The power of that image was so significant to me that I hesitated to call it a mantra, because I didn’t want to sound too New Agey. But then I read an article by spiritual teacher Eknath Easwaran calling a mantra a spiritual formula that “has the capacity to transform consciousness” because it calls “up what is best and deepest in ourselves.” It’s as close an explanation for what it did for me as I can come up with. So I want it to work its power, whatever that may be, on you too. We all have negative mantras we say to ourselves constantly: I can’t handle this, this is too much, I’ll never survive it….you know your particular version. So why not have an uplifting one to counteract it?

My mantra was so helpful that if I could only offer you one thing to help you get through the challenges of life, it would be for you to find an image, phrase, or metaphor that sustains you as you ride the waves of change. It doesn’t have to be something you say. One former client has a keychain with a tiny woman surfer on it to remind herself that she can stay up on the board. It just needs to be something that encourages your heart and strengthens your spirit as you navigate in the unknown.

Author's Bio: 

A member of Professional Thinking Partners who is recognized as a leading expert in change, M.J. Ryan specializes in coaching high performance executives, entrepreneurs, individuals, and leadership teams around the world to maximize performance and fulfillment. Her clients include Microsoft, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, Hewitt Associates, and Frito Lay. Her work is based on a combination of positive psychology, strengths-based coaching, the wisdom traditions, and cutting edge brain research. Her new book, titled “AdaptAbility: How to Survive Change You Didn't Ask For” was recently released published by Random House’s Broadway Books. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and daughter.