the stuck record: why mantras feel like bullshit

5th September 2013


Cows have no need of mantras, for they are already awesome.

‘I will not puke. Or faint’. This was mantra, when I found myself strapped to a spin bike for the first time ever, just after dawn yesterday morning. And it totally worked! However, my mantra-mojo has not always been so switched on, particularly when it comes to body related stuff.  And now I know why.

Our super-smart brains see straight through us wanting to want to believe something we actually don’t.

So you might find yourself saying a version of ‘I am: loved, whole, fit, abundant, free, successful, strong, beautiful, joyful, unlimited, powerful, creative, expansive, sexy, thriving, rich… I am enough!’ *ends with dramatic flourish*

Except actually: its Lady Moon Time, he’s left a wet towel on the bed AGAIN, you suspect Little Miss might be being bullied at school, the car needs new tyres, you have four missed calls from Mother, no pension plan, your favourite frock is feeling a bit tight, you’ve spent three days ignoring the ominous letter from The Bank, you can’t have a family holiday this year without extending the overdraft, you’ve found yourself having a tiny cry in the loo after every meeting with that bloke from sales who makes you feel about nine years old…<insert your anti-mantra truths here>.

Its no wonder that after a few days of repeating an affirmation, we start to think – actually, this is bullshit.

When our reality is in such contrast to our mantra – those  hopeful thoughts of a different result – we end up feeling trapped in a circuitous loop of repeating the same crappy patterns.

You are not going mad – this is exactly what is happening. Because our brains are hard-wired to look for patterns and make connections. So when thing X happens we believe it will result in outcome 56 – we focus on the evidence that reinforces what we think about X.

But there is a way to circumvent these crappy loops!

Our super-smart brains are also the source of the magic that is meta-cognition – we can think about what we are thinking about.

Let’s slow down this loop into its component parts:

  1. something happens
  2. you have a thought about what has happened
  3. this thought creates a feeling
  4. how you feel will lead to your reaction (or inaction)
  5. your reaction leads to some sort of outcome
  6. the outcome reinforces the original thought

The key to changing the outcome is to intercept a toxic thought before it creates a yucky feeling. Our toxic thoughts are NOT TRUE. They stem from our two great primal fears: I don’t have enough and I am not enough. They are deeply entrenched in us – thats why we find it so easy to come up with a tonne of evidence that says they are true.

Try this Deceptively Simple New Way!

  • Be vigilant: notice when you have a crappy or toxic thought
  • Be a thought-catcher: what is the shortest, simplest way of capturing the thought? ‘I am: <insert toxic thought>’
  • Flip it: say the complete opposite thought (if this feels like a step too far, do your best to find a kinder thought)
  • Find recent evidence that the flipped thought is true < < this bit is SUPER IMPORTANT!

Questioning those toxic thoughts and creating a repository of evidence to the contrary is where the magic happens – you are starting a tiny revolution inside your mind. You are developing new neural pathways in your big smart brain.

In time you won’t have to be so vigilant about what your fear-ridden brain spews out. It will soon become innate to question that rubbish and flip it around –  you’ll find it easy peasy to locate the evidence that the flipped thought is just as true. We really can choose to believe whatever we want.

You’ll find mantras start to ‘work’ because they are not in direct competition with overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Health warning: go gently – our crappiest thought are long held beliefs, sometimes lifetimes old, it will take some time to disentangle them. I promise you that freedom is on the other side. Practise and play.


What are your icky, toxic thoughts? Set them free! Say them out loud, write them down, share in the comments – anonymously if you wish. Monsters live in the dark, bring them out into the light and take a good hard look at those buggers!



Hello, I'm Sas Petherick. I'm a self-doubt researcher, coach and podcaster who helps thinking humans transcend self-doubt. If you'd like to receive these posts in your inbox please subscribe here (with bonus info and first notice of opportunities to work with me). PS: I totallyInstagram - join me there?


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