First of all, let me kick off with a dictionary definition of what mantra actually is:
1. (originally in Hinduism and Buddhism) A word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation.
2. A statement that is frequently repeated; a characteristic formula or refrain.
Whilst out on a club efforts/intervals session on the sea front with Bournemouth AC recently, when we were gearing up for the final interval, World 50km champion and leader of the session, Steve Way determinedly shouted out the words “leave it all out here” referring to using up your reserves and really pushing it hard for the last rep. No sense in doing intervals if you don’t really push yourself after all, eh?
I was properly heavy legged up until then. Though as I repeated those words “leave it all out here” I mustered up more energy, I chased down a couple of guys who had been consistently in front of me and kept on repeating that to myself.
It worked wonders. The new expression served up by someone who inspires me combined with repetition and a sense of meaning as I repeated it to myself, really worked wonders.
It is this “sense of meaning” point from that previous paragraph that punctuates this blog entry a great deal. I mean, any old repetitive thoughts are often the domain of runners whose internal dialogue turns into something akin to that of someone suffering from OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) from time to time… Most regular runners will know what I am talking about I think.
It is easy to repeatedly utter words in your mind when running, it easy to continually count your steps or your breaths or even to devise repetitive strategies that simply distract your mind from what is happening in your body.
If I am going to use a mantra, it needs to be more than another way of distracting myself or dissociating from my ongoing experience. It needs to be more than just an aid to my concentration. I can do that in a number of more productive ways (one such dissociative strategy for runners is detailed here).
My earliest experience of mantras was very enjoyable and I got to use Om and Om mani padme hum in guided group meditations. When I say ‘use’ I mean that I got to speak them out loud, chant them, and say them to myself throughout meditation sessions. Though I did not know what they meant, I was told about what they stood for and were used, and the exotic nature (exotic in as much as it was not English, I loved that) of what I was learning was exciting.
As I developed my love and penchant for self-hypnosis and wrote my first book on the subject all those years ago, I started to dismiss the idea of mantras; considering them to be an old-fashioned, less effective way of doing self-hypnosis. Yet, the ease of use and the brevity of a mantra really does have it’s place, especially for us runners.
Whilst researching for my upcoming evidence based self-hypnosis book, I discovered that some self-hypnosis authors and hypnosis historians consider mantra to be a historical precursor to self-hypnosis as we know it today.
However, when you then start to fully explore the history of mantra in and of itself, it is a subject matter that is vast and complex. To really get immersed in that was not wholly necessary or relevant to my own studies.
The mantra was another way of using words, often by chanting, almost used as a spoken charm or hymn that was often directed to the Gods and were used for a wide number of purposes. They were used for protection, for increasing harmony, for achieving success and alleviating discord. Different traditions have different ways of using mantra and it would take an age and an entirely different book to do that any justice or explain in anything like an exhaustive fashion.
Through my explorations, as I looked at some more traditional mantras and some that had been westernised, many seemed to be like hypnotic inductions. As featured in Edmonston (1986) the Charm of Assignation does draw parallels indeed:
The mother shall sleep, the father shall sleep, the dog shall sleep, the lord of the hous shall sleep… O sleep, put thou to sleep all people with the magic that induces sleep….
(Bloomfield, 1964, pp. 105-106)
Originally, the words used in mantras were important tools to elicit external power and to obtain guidance from these external forces, often from the Gods. Today, we can use words in a much more self-directed fashion, to elicit the will, the strength and the resources from within ourselves. It makes sense therefore, to use the knowledge we have today about modern self-suggestion, self-hypnosis, affirmation and linguistic structures to make mantras as effective as possible if we are going to use them.
During my recent examination of runners using mantras, I found quite a few references in Runners World magazine. Some were simply forums where runners shared their mantras – which if you seek out, offer up some hilarious insight to the sense of humour of the runner! In particular, however, this article entitled The Magic of Mantras whereby the subheader is “Think strong words. Repeat inspiring phrase. Run even better.”
The Runners World article suggests using mantras is useful and effective:
To achieve your running goals, powerful legs and big lungs aren’t enough—you also need a strong head. Doubts and distractions can derail your attempts, but a well-chosen mantra can keep you calm and on target. “Repeating choice words whenever you need to focus helps direct your mind away from negative thoughts and toward a positive experience,” says Stephen Walker, Ph.D., a sports psychologist.
Much of what is written here is inherent within this entire blog and I concur, of course I do, it is sage advice. Then though, when we ask what makes a good mantra, according to Runners World, this is it:
One that’s short, positive, instructive, and full of action words. Walker suggests preparing multiple mantras before a race tailored to various challenges. And don’t limit yourself to “real” words.
I think some of what is missing here, is some conviction. The article subheader does suggest you “Repeat inspiring phrase” but the way the mantra is spoken is not addressed. The language is there and the brilliant instruction, and the insinuation is that you “create a motivational, get-it-done power chant” but the tonality and way that it is said is not addressed.
When I ran my five consecutive marathons in Spring 2012 and got my personal pace bands emblazoned with the words “mind over matter” it was not just to remind me to use all the cognitive strategies, mental imagery processes and self-hypnosis techniques I write about so often:
It was also to remind myself of the tone of my internal dialogue. I wanted to convince myself, unequivocally convince myself, with 100% belief at an emotional level, that I was in control and that my mind was running the show.
Emilie Coué devised the globally recognised (moreso in it’s day) process of autosuggestion back in the 1920s. He had rejected conventional hetero-hypnosis because he believed individuals could talk themselves out of or reject suggestions given by the hypnotist.
His process became entirely self-directed. He would help individuals believe in their autosuggestion statements they spoke to themselves by practicing certain types of phenomena (such as not being able to stand up, or not being able to drop a pen etc – you can read more about Coués imagination experiments here), and he taught that people gently assure themselves of the suggestions. Belief was invested.
I think congruence is vital, belief is vital. There is no point repeating something to yourself unless it has belief instilled in it. This is where the problem can sometimes arise for runners. If they choose to use a mantra for the first time when they are feeling tired, they might say it to them self in a way that does not inspire and it might not have the meaning and emotive drive inherent within it.
Therefore, I suggest a more diligent and thorough process to making sure your mantras contain the responses you are after from them, by preparing them before hand and installing them with self-hypnosis.
Prior to showing you how to do that though, lets look at some principles of how to devise the mantra before we install it.
Some principles to effective mantra are very simple to a number of key principles used within effective hypnotic suggestion use:
1. Make it realistic and achievable. In line with the theory of SMART goals, the mantra you use is not going to help you if you keep insisting or repeating to yourself that you are going to run a sub 2hour marathon when you have trained aiming for a sub 5 hour one.
2. Make it brief, simple and concise.
This is the essence of mantra. They are simple, they are easy to repeat and get a rhythm with (I repeat mine in time with my breathing pattern, almost singing them to myself!).
Some people simply string a series of words together that are what they want to feel:
3. Aim at what you want, not what you don’t want.
I am going to build upon this point with the strategy I am sharing later on. However, do make sure that you think progressively and positively. You want resource.
If you want energy, use energising words and aim for energy. Do not repeat “I am not tired” over and over again, because that tends to suggest those words to yourself, doesn’t it? You may as well tell yourself that you are tired over and over!
4. Make it relevant.
Maybe have a few mantras developed for the type of response you want. At the beginning of a race, you want to keep to your race plan as you feel energised and raring to go. Toward the end of a race you may require more energy and strength to motor on despite some discomfort. At other stages of training or racing, you may have doubts, if you feel that you are hurting, those feelings can affect the nature of your thoughts and beliefs; an inspirational mantra could be the tonic.
It is ok to have a panacea mantra that you use whenever you like. However, if you have specific, laser beam directed mantras for particular outcomes, they are going to provide you with more specific outcomes and less generic effects, which could be much more important at particular times.
5. Mentally rehearse your mantra use.
Practice it. Yes indeed, practice it inside of your mind when you are feeling well, energized, fit and strong and when you are relaxed. Then you’ll know the right tonality, you’ll have taught yourself an effective way to say it and it will be less vulnerable to the tonality of being 20 miles into a marathon.
It’ll be more useful and will be associated with beneficial sensations as I am going to demonstrate to you later on in the self-hypnosis strategy.
6. Attach emotive content to your mantras by setting them up before using them.
Ask yourself: how would I like to feel? Then use words that describe that feeling. Alternatively, think of an occasion when you felt that way in the past, and describe that experience – the words you used to describe that experience can be effective words to use in your mantra.
List how you want to feel and then find the words that help elicit that feeling for you: Strong, Healthy, Peace, Balanced, Harmony, Relaxed, Confident, Fast, Happy, Powerful, Joyful, Calm, Light, Assured, Vibrant, etc.
7. Consider using motivational material.
Ok, there are marvellous quotes out there that drive us, and some can even help us form our mantra. I’d prefer my own mantras to be constructed by me in a personallised way, however, there are always expressions and sentiments that we attach meaning and value to that can enhance the effectiveness of a mantra, such as the following:
– Pain is temporary pride is forever (I originally got this from reading Lance Armstrong’s book and in light of recent revelations, I am not sure if it is deemed cool to refer to him in a laudible fashion, however, it is a mantra I used on a number of occasions to help me shift my focus from the discomfort of now and into the jubilation of the future)
– Leave it all on the road – is motivational and inspiring to me because it was used directly in my presence by someone who inspires me, that I look up to and the notion resonated well with me.
– Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’ (A favourite quote of mine from the brilliant film, The Shawshank Redemption) – defies a number of key principles of mantra development, but heck, I wanted to show that you can still be driven by a mantra even if it does not fit in snugly to all the principles I mention here.
8. Be progressive.
This is a notion I teach all my self-hypnosis students and features in my first self-hypnosis book.
Think about the words “more and more” and “increasingly.” These words are going to be important to create flow, power and fluidity in your mantra. Let me explain how.
Consider the mantra “running makes me happy.”
This is a nice way to remind yourself that you are enjoying what you do. Heck, isn’t that the point behind it all for us?
However, we can make that more powerful by changing a rather static “happy” to “more and more happy.” I don’t know about you, but I would never want to think that I ever reached the pinnacle of happiness and could not go any further.
“Happy” is static. In order to supercharge your mantras you might choose to mobilise the words and get them moving onwards and upwards for you. You can change “Happy” to “Happier and happier” or “more and more happy” or “increasingly happy” or “progressively more happy” or “more and more appropriately happy. ” Use whatever feels right for you to power up your mantra.
9. Avoid negativity unless you are certain of it’s beneficial effect upon you.
Some of these words and ideas may seem fine and feel fine to use for you. I am just giving you ideas and considerations when using these words in and out of your mantra.
Here are some words that can elicit bad feelings: Try, can’t, won’t, don’t, shouldn’t, mustn’t, sad, difficult, etc.
The word “try” for example, tends to insinuate failure. When you are trying to do something, you are not doing it. You may build in failure by using the word try.
You want to do the things you want to do, you want to achieve the things you want to achieve; you don’t want to try and do them or try and achieve them.
You can allow yourself to find the right solutions and methods for you. As you get more and more used to using mantras or just communicating with yourself more progressively when running, then you can fine tune your use of them. I do not subscribe to the notion of being unnecessarily sickly-sweet or happy-clappy with yourself if you are not that way inclined. Be congruent, be as progressive as is useful, comfortable and natural for you.
With all this in mind, lets show you how to use self-hypnosis get your mantras really firing on all cylinders in a way that is going to jettison you beneficially during your runs.
How To Supercharge and Install Your Running Mantra With Self-Hypnosis:
Step One: Choose what you want to use this mantra for. Be specific about it’s use and desired outcome. Do you want to go faster, feel stronger, feel lighter, use it to motivate, or combat negative thoughts, or be inspired during the final stages of a race? Etc.
With that in mind. Design and create your mantra. Use the principles above in this article and get it written down or at least be very aware of it in your mind. Then you are ready to install it as a powerful force to use at will!
Step Two: Induce hypnosis.
You can do so by any means you desire or know of. You can use the process in my self-hypnosis book, use the free audio at this website to practice or have a look at the following articles as and when you need them; they are basic processes to help you simply open the door of your mind:
Once you have induced hypnosis, move on to step three.
Step Three: Attach emotive content and attach to feelings of desired outcome.
When you think about the desired outcome for this mantra and how you want it to make you feel, think of a time when you felt that way in the past.
Re-live that memory, be there, see what you saw, hear the sounds, feel the feelings and as you engage in it, repeat your mantra over and over to associate those feelings with the words of your mantra.
Repeat this step with more memories for additional effectiveness. When you are sure that you have got your mantra dowsed in the feelings you require from it’s future use, move on to the next step.
Step Four: Mentally rehearse using your mantra in the future.
Imagie being out on a typical run, or racing, or a time when the mantra is going to be required. Engage with the surroundings, see the sights, hear the sounds, feel the feelings of being there.
Then repeat your mantra and mentally rehearse your positive response to it: see yourself getting faster, feel yourself getting stronger, hear yourself being more positive and assured etc. Associate with the future memory – be there and experience the benefit of your mantra being used in the future.
This mental rehearsal will make sure your mantra is effective, but will also ensure that you use it well and get the effects reaffirmed in your mind before you use it in real-life running situations.
Step Five: Say your mantra to yourself in a way that is convincing, in a way that is undeniably convincing to you. Say it with absolute belief.
Know it’s effectiveness. Know it to be true.
The more belief you invest in this now, the more useful and effective it will be when you use it in real-life running scenarios. Say it to yourself in a way that makes it feel 100% true at an emotional level. Be authentic, sincere and genuine with it. Assure yourself with it’s repetition. Repeat the mantra in your mind and build the feelings to it.
When you are convinced that it is a powerfully installed mantra, move on to the final step.
Step Seven: Exit hypnosis.
You might count from 1 to 5 as I direct in my classes or in my book. Or wiggle your fingers and toes, take a few deeper breaths, energise yourself and open your eyes.
All that then remains is for you to go out there and use it, convince yourself. Install a super-charged running mantra and your diligence will be rewarded, I assure you.
Aschwanden, C. (2011) The Magic of Mantras. http://www.runnersworld.com/race-training/magic-mantras
Bloomfield, M. T. (1964) Hymns of the Atharva-veda. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidirs.
Coué, E. (1922) Self Mastery Through Conscious Autosuggestion. New York: Malkan Publishing
Edmonston, W. E. (1986) The induction of hypnosis. New York: Wiley.
And for those wishing to understand about the traditions of mantra, the etymology of mantra and much more besides, the Wikipedia mantra page is probably a good starting point.