The Mantras Approach

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People often use mantras to refocus on certain beliefs. The mantras they use may consist of single words, phrases or sounds.

People also follow personal mantras in their daily lives. They follow certain internal scripts that influence their thoughts and actions.

Different people have different mantras and each of these has consequences. They may say to themselves things like:

Choose your attitude … Count your blessings … Be kind … Create beauty … Spread happiness … Put others first … Don’t disappoint people … Do your best … Life is a competition … Always try to win … Make money first and be happy later … Live for today … The world is against me.

Some people reach a point in their lives when they want to revisit their mantras. They recognise that the mantras they are following – consciously or unconsciously – are bringing positive or negative consequences.

There are, of course, other names for this process. People may talk about revisiting their belief systems, rewriting their scripts, changing their mental models or whatever.

Some people go through this process by exploring the scripts they may have internalised and are living out in their lives. They may then choose the scripts they want to follow in the future.

Some people choose instead to focus on the beliefs they want to translate into action in the future. They may, for example, start by writing a list of the Dos and Don’ts they want to follow in their daily lives. They then translate these into mantras they want to follow.

There are many ways to take this step. One approach is for a person to complete the following exercise.

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Some teams, organisations and movements also have mantras or mottos. These act as rallying calls and reminders that encourage people to channel their energies towards pursuing certain goals.

Such mantras can have positive or negative consequences. Here are some of the statements that people in these groups may follow.

We shall overcome … Equality for all … Keep improving … We have the right to bear arms … We are superior … We will discriminate against people who are different … We believe in caring for the planet.

Mantras are deeply ingrained. Those who try to change other people’s opinions, for example, are faced with the challenge of encouraging them to adopt other mantras. Such an approach is difficult to accomplish.

Many people only change their mantras when they feel that doing so will bring them greater benefits. They then need to get some quick successes in order to reward and reinforce their new belief system.

Some organisations introduce values programmes, for example, to get people to follow certain mantras. These may include phrases such as: “Take responsibility … Give great service … Deliver excellence.”

There are many approaches to encouraging people to live such values. The most effective is to follow the organic approach. It is to encourage people to channel their personalities, rather than change their personalities. This approach invites people:

To clarify when they have followed these principles successfully in the past.

To clarify how they can follow these principles in the future.

To clarify the benefits of following these principles – both for themselves and other people – translate these into action and get some quick successes.

Let’s return to how individuals settle on their chosen mantras. Alice Herz-Sommer, for example, chose to say that:

Life is beautiful. Every day is beautiful.

A survivor of concentration camps, Alice believed people could choose to be optimistic. The video below is a trailer to a documentary about her called The Lady in Number 6. Here is the official introduction.

Music literally saved her life! The Lady in Number 6 is one of the most inspirational, uplifting stories of the year.

109 year old, Alice Herz-Sommer the world’s oldest pianist and oldest holocaust survivor in the world shares her views on how to live a long and happy life.

She discusses the importance of music, laughter and having an optimistic outlook on life.

Robert Muller embodied a similar philosophy. He believed that each human being could use their talents to build a better world.

As Assistant General Secretary of the United Nations, he did all in his power to make this happen. Working mainly behind the scenes, he played an integral part in creating the UN World Food Programme, the UN Development Corporation and the first Environmental Conference in Stockholm, Sweden in 1972.

Robert worked as a lawyer, economist and diplomat, but his approach was more like a poet. He was considered to be one of key prophets of hope in the United Nations. You can learn more about his life and work via the following link.

Robert was born in Belgium in 1923 and grew up in the Alsace-Lorraine region in France. He soon became aware of the artificial differences created by borders.

Interviewing his grandparents, he found they had been known as French, German, French, German and French again. All without leaving their village.

Looking back at family albums, he saw different generations of his family dressed in the soldier’s uniforms of different nations. He dreamed of creating a world where people lived in peace.

They taught me happiness

Robert was strongly influenced by his grandfather. Writing in Most Of All, They Taught Me Happiness, he talks about how his grandfather taught him to count his blessings. He writes:

My grandfather was old, smiling, gentle, and in a constant state of love with me.

He told me stories that were close to my world: the world of nature, animals, and legends. Through his stories he transmitted to me the wisdom he had acquired in his life.

He sensed that I wanted basically to know the world as a beautiful place. He knew that the world of the very young and of the very old is essentially the same, namely a world of miracles one is about to discover or to lose. We were much closer to the truth than middle-aged people.

My grandfather taught me that every day in life I should be thankful for one of my blessings:

“You will never obtain everything in life but you will always be blessed with so much.

“Whatever your situation is, there will always be someone more unfortunate than you. Think of him and thank God for all the good things you have.”

Today, whenever despair menaces me, the image of my grandfather comes back. I hasten to count my blessings, I concentrate on one of them, and almost forthwith my worry vanishes or takes on a more reasonable proportion.

Robert had an eventful time during the war. As part of the French Resistance, he evaded the Nazis, was captured and escaped again.

During these times he always aimed to focus on positive outcomes. How did he learn this approach? Many years later, in 2006, Robert explained his philosophy when interviewed by Ode: The magazine for intelligent optimists.

Talking with Tijn Touber, he explained how he learned from the French psychologist and pharmacist Émile Coué, who introduced a philosophy of optimism and self-reliance based on self-hypnosis.

When imprisoned by the Nazis, Robert explained:

We were scared, uncertain of our fate… In the corner was a bucket with a terrible stench. It was our toilet. In that terrible situation I became aware of my thoughts. It would have been easy to panic or to feel hopeless. But I remembered Coué’s advice:

“Always be the happiest man on earth, wherever you are and whatever you do.”

If you look at it that way, being in prison is actually a rather interesting experience. During those anxious days, through will and imagination I was able to keep in good mental shape and even to attain happiness.

Many times at the UN, faced with tragic news or divisive diplomats, Muller says he would go within and switch on optimism and confidence. Here is how he explained this in the interview.

Immediately I return to a positive, creative mood.

This mysterious quantum change between a negative and a positive current is a mystery to me. I do not understand it. But it has done miracles for me.

To be unhappy, to be ungrateful, not to feel wonder and appreciation for the incredible gift of life is a most foolish and short-sighted attitude. The toughest prison of all is that which man imposes upon himself.

Robert’s work continues, carried on by his wife Barbara Gaughen Muller, and many others around the world. They do this in the spirit outlined by Robert in his book A Planet of Hope. He wrote:

This is a good planet for humans: it provides endless room for human curiosity and for participation in the process of continued creation and evolution.

The greatest task confronting us is to determine what the right future should be. This planet must be managed so that each individual life can be a work of art.

The Planet of Hope

Different people choose to follow different mantras. Looking at my own life, for example, I have been strongly influenced by people who have been positive encouragers.

Therefore the mantras I try to follow are: ‘To be positive; To do positive work; To help to build a positive planet’. You will, however, have your own approach.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific mantras you want to follow in your daily life.

Describe the specific things you can do to translate these mantras into action.

Describe the specific benefits – both to yourself and other people – of following these mantras.

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