It’s no secret that our words hold great power. Especially the ones we say to ourselves. “How we talk to ourselves can affect not only our mood, but how we show up in the world,” says AbleTo Coach Advisor Carolyn Oldham. “By aligning our thoughts with our goals and values, we help ourselves move toward personal growth.”
There are lots of ways you can start using your words to influence your actions. Three of our favorites include setting positive intentions, creating a mantra, and giving yourself pep talks. These techniques might sound a little woo-woo. But bear with us. Because they work.
It’s easy to move through life on autopilot, especially when things get busy. Setting intentions is a way to become a more active participant. They are, simply put, statements that describe how you intend to think or act. And they work best if they tie back to your personal values.
For instance, if you value family, your intention could be “I will be present with my child today.”
Notice that you’re not saying how you will be present. That’s because intentions aren’t goals that you’re checking off a list. Think of them more as a compass that guides your actions and helps you achieve your goals.
“Reflecting on our intentions can help us realign to our ‘north stars’ and live our values,” says Oldham. “Intentions empower us to write our own story instead of getting swept away by thoughts and actions that don’t serve us.”
How to set and use positive intentions
You can set an intention at any time, but it can be helpful to do it regularly, whether that’s every morning or every month. Begin by thinking about what you want to experience. Or, consider what matters to you in life and how you can nurture or create it. Then think, speak, or write down your intention.
Intentions can support short- or long-term goals. They can focus on any area of your life, from your career to your relationships. They often start with the phrase, “I will.” And they should always be personal and positive.
For instance, let’s say you want to stress less. An intention won’t help reduce the amount of stress in your life. But they can help you manage how to respond to it. In this case, your intention might be, “I will keep my cool in stressful situations.”
If it helps, attach a “because” that can serve as your anchor. “I will keep my cool in stressful situations. Because when I keep my cool, it helps others stay calm, too.”
Consider writing down your intention and posting it somewhere you’ll frequently see it. Revisiting it regularly can help you stay grounded and in tune with yourself. You’ll become more aware of your thought patterns and the actions you take.
Remember: Intentions state the direction you want to head toward. If you veer off path, that’s okay. Just course-correct as soon as you notice.
Mantras are positive statements about who we want to be. And, how we want to live our lives.
“By repeating mantras, we can disrupt thoughts that don’t support our goals,” says Oldham. “They remind us exactly who we are and what we’re capable of.”
How to create and use mantras
Mantras are usually a single word or sentence. When creating one, it can be helpful to journal about an idea, emotion, or goal that you want to focus on. Without judgment, see what emerges.
Once you have more clarity, turn what you desire into a positive, declarative statement. It can help to start with the phrase, “I am.” Or, simply focus on a meaningful word.
For example, if you’re seeking a career shift, your mantra could be, “I am open to new opportunities.” If you’re experiencing self-doubt, your mantra might be, “I am enough exactly as I am.”
Return to your mantra throughout the day, as needed. You can repeat it during your commute, while looking in the mirror, or while meditating to quiet mental chatter.
“There’s no right or wrong way to use a mantra,” says Oldham. “The key is to make it feel authentic and meaningful to you.”
If you’re like me, you have a tendency to be your own worst critic. Maybe you even say things to yourself that you would never say to someone else.
If so, you may benefit from some words of encouragement. Also known as a personal pep talk.
How to use pep talks
Whenever you could use some support — before a first date or just during day-to-day life — pause to offer yourself acceptance and kindness.
Ask yourself what you need in this moment. Then assure yourself that whatever you’re feeling is valid and OK. Talk to yourself as you would to a young child or a best friend. You can speak the words aloud or just in your head. Do what feels right to you.
“It might initially feel awkward, says Oldham. “But pausing to pump yourself up can help you replace unhelpful thoughts with reassurance.”
You could also try talking to yourself in the second or third-person (i.e. you, he, she) instead of first-person (“I”). Multiple studies show that doing this can help us better deal with negative emotions. Researchers believe this type of “distanced self-talk” can help us “zoom out” to see the bigger picture and approach situations with an open mind versus just reacting.
For example, let’s say your name is Miguel and you’re nervous about an upcoming job interview. You might say to yourself, “Miguel is qualified for this job. He has prepared to the best of his abilities and is going to do a great job. Any company would be lucky to have him.”
Live your values
Using intentions, mantras, and personal pep talks can bring clarity and focus into our lives. They provide direction during times of uncertainty. And they encourage us to love ourselves along the way.
But we know adopting new habits isn’t always easy. If you’re not sure where to start, support is available. From 1-on-1 virtual therapy and coaching to on-demand self care, AbleTo’s programs can help you reach your mental wellness goals.
Whether you go it alone or with support, here’s to showing up for yourself.
By Katie Nave
Katie Nave is a writer and mental health advocate living in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has been featured in publications including Newsweek, Glamour, Business Insider, and Motherly. She has served as a producer for the National Women’s March and worked with organizations like Girls Inc. and CancerCare.
Clinically reviewed by Sarah Dolling, LPC, Clinical Content Producer at AbleTo.
Photo by Julia Amaral/iStock. Individuals in photographs do not represent AbleTo participants.