Clients sometimes ask me what I say to myself to reduce stress and distress. I use three major phrases, which are based on truths I firmly believe in. It’s crucial to have a set of phrases or mantras, because you want self-soothing self-talk to kick in as soon as you need it and don’t want to be wondering what’s going to work to settle you down or set you straight. Occasionally, I’ll say something else to myself to suit a particular situation, but these are my routine go-to messages:
I’m doing the best I can: I say this to myself often, as a quick-fix antidote to perfectionist tendencies, which I have on occasion. Many of us keep pushing ourselves until we’re hurt or exhausted and for what? Usually to come close to or reach some abstract ideal. However, what if, due to inborn limits, our best isn’t going to get us that ideal—ever? Sometimes our best is good enough and sometimes it isn’t, but often it’s as far as we can go. Reminding myself that I’ve done my best and can do no more makes me proud of my efforts and achievements and helps me let go of my imperfections and limits.
This is good enough: This phrase goes along with “I’m doing the best I can.” It means that I get to decide what’s enough, not some ideal to measure myself against or another person’s vision for me. The phrase is full of empowerment and generates self-confidence. It says, “I don’t care what you think or what anyone thinks about how I’m doing. Instead, I care what I think and I’m satisfied.” It’s not an excuse or a way to avoid accountability. It’s a statement that I’m in charge of how well I do, no matter what.
This too shall pass: There’s a reason that this phase is so often said. It exudes wisdom and is a reminder that life is always transforming itself and that we get to hold onto neither the parts that bring us pleasure nor those that bring us pain (except through memory, of course). Usually physical and emotional suffering pass and that’s important to remember when we’re in their grip. Remembering that there were and will again be pleasurable times puts whatever pain we’re going through into perspective and gives us hope of a better future. Even the pain of dying passes eventually.
Would you go through life feeling better if you used the above self-talk? If you could magically awaken tomorrow morning and from then on would use these positive messages, how would your life improve? Of course, you may have other phrases that would work as well or better, ones that are uplifting and affirming, speak a universal truth, lower anxiety, and make you feel empowered in a healthy way. Take some time to consider what phrases would work for you—and don’t hesitate to borrow mine.