You most likely have heard of intentions, affirmations, and mantras. But what are they? What do they do? How can they help me? Are they interchangeable? What are the differences between them? How do they apply to my journaling practice and my life? How can I write my own?
The most powerful advantage is they are written in your own words. While you may find suitable words and phrases on the internet, the impact of your own words is deeper and more meaningful. All three of these vehicles are fluid. They are guidelines and reminders of your goals. You may change them at a moment’s notice, several times, adjusting until the words are exactly what you want to live by now. Or you may keep one as the overarching guide for the remainder of your life. You have absolute freedom to discard them entirely if you so choose. So, let’s unpack them and look at their similarities and differences.
Intentions are formalized declarations of commitment to something you want to experience. There is more at stake than “painting the bathroom.” Intentions focus on how you want to feel when you finish painting the bathroom. Intentions often address health—physical, mental, spiritual—needs. “My home is my sanctuary and I keep it well maintained.” (Physical—moving the body, mental—relief from frustration of not getting to the project for a long time, spiritual—gratitude for the materials and time and ability to carry out the project.) Intentions help you home in on the positives of what you want and set you on the path to achieve them or to provide you with additional information for clarity and decision-making.
Resolutions, on the other hand, which many people proclaim at the start of a new year, a milestone in their life, or following a life-changing experience, are disempowering and ineffective. Resolutions focus on negative aspects of a situation and the need to fix them. Example: “I put painting the bathroom on my list of New Year’s resolutions, again. I’m sick of looking at it the way it is. I don’t even want to go in there.” So, this is the year, no excuses.” versus “I’m excited about painting the bathroom in the new colors I picked out. It’s going to look sooo nice.” The bathroom is not a problem in and of itself, but a reflection of your feelings about its current state which you want to change. Yes, the difference between intention and resolution is often subtle.
Affirmations are statements of self-appreciation. Use affirmations to give a boost to your self-esteem, to uplift and encourage you as your project unfolds. Going back to school? Write your affirmation as a strong statement of self-care, and determination. Example: “I’m excited about returning to school to get my degree.” “I’m intelligent, psyched up, and fully capable.” As the excitement of the first semester wanes as the semesters seem to drag on, you may become disillusioned and even cranky. Then, you have a moment of clarity and thumb through the ever-growing stack of wonderful affirmations you have written and placed on your desk. “Ahhh, here it is: ‘I am smart. I am persevering. I love learning. I am getting closer to my degree every day”. “The lectures are technical and dry, but each one teaches me something. I like this. I can do this.” Finish with a (genuine) big smile and hug yourself to let your inner self know she/he is safe and supported.
Mantras are statements that arise out of deep reflection and introspection. As such, they declare the response to an inner longing. Meditation is a good time to practice mantras although it is not necessary. You may say them anytime, anywhere, even when other people are with you. When you consciously repeat a mantra often, it can help you create an inner sense of safety; connection with yourself and others; your spirituality; inner peace; self-esteem; and relief from suffering. Authenticity is the only requirement for a mantra as it is based on your personal experience—an aspect of your life you want to live differently.
Decide where you want to focus—clarity, inner peace, healing, etc. Practice writing an emphatic statement and imagine your desire as reality. Write what will help you stay focused on your end-goal. You may have to write mantras that work as steppingstones to your end-goal. That is perfectly fine and provides you with benchmarks and milestones.
You may have several ideas resulting in many mantras. Keep them together in a notebook or file box if you are using index cards. Choose a mantra and focus on it, then when you feel ready, focus on a new thought. Working on several goals divides your attention and leads to confusion. Try to spend one half hour journaling your desire, refine what stood out or speaks to you, and spend ten minutes daily sitting in silence or walking slowly while you repeat your mantra either out loud or to yourself.
As you work with these three forms of manifestation (a word I use cautiously, as I make no claims about their ease of practice, mode of application, or effectiveness.) hold your desires lightly in your heart. Be open and ready to receive what you asked and be prepared for your desire to arrive in a form different from what you envisioned, or perhaps, not at all. There no guarantees. Sometimes the gift of using them will be peace of mind, clarity that helps you accept a situation, or strengthening your determination. Above all else, remember this is about you, your experiences, your desires, your feelings, your practice. Silence the voices in your head that are telling you to quit, or not even start, because…whatever reason they come up with. What someone else says about what is and is not good for you is null. They do not know. You do. Turn on your courage and know you are, and you have all you need to move forward. The words you write are personally, uniquely yours, and from your heart. Believe in yourself and your dream, treat yourself with self-compassion. If an intention, affirmation, or mantra feels awkward, toss it out and rewrite. The goal is for you to envision the joy of your success, however far away it may be.
It is now time to put these concepts into practices. Notice the word “practice” as you may need several attempts to refine what you want and express it clearly. So, get out your journal and get comfy. Start a fresh entry with the following details:
- What do you want to do? What is your end goal? Be as specific as possible.
- Why is your project important to you? How will your life change?
- What obstacles do you need to overcome?
- Fear of failing?
- Fear of succeeding?
- Shame, guilt?
- Warnings and judgment of others?
- Dream feels too big, too lofty?
- What skills, experiences, and education/training do you already possess ,if applicable?
- What skills, etc., do you need, if applicable?
- What words do you want to hear from others? Incorporate those words into your intentions, affirmations, and mantras.
- Who are your allies, support system, and network of people who can help you?
- Review the entry and highlight or circle positive words,
- Write several versions of your statements and select the one(s) that feels best, that says what you want it to say. Be sure your words are positive and in the present. Example: “I don’t have to go out into the cold and snow and ice and fight traffic every day. Instead, write, “My days are filled with joy and peace.” Write as many versions as you need.
- Write your final version(s) separately on index cards or post on a wall or add to your vision board, if you have one.
- Enlist your trusty journal. Do this exercise in the morning before your mind gets caught up in the day or in the evening when the busyness of the day has ended. Free-write your desire, using as many words as come to you, without hesitation, analysis, or judgment. This will help you clarify what is most important to you in the moment. Relax. Have fun with the process of discovery
Intentions, Affirmations, and Mantras are powerful tools to help you with self-discovery, clarity, decision-making, in every area of your life. While they use similar power words, you have learned they are different and perform different functions. You may want to use all three at the same time on the same issue, providing a view of the issue from three different vantage points. You now have the flexibility of three forms of declarative, uplifting statements in your own words. Read them often. Experiment with all three to learn the power of each form.
Take a deep breath and smile. Feel the joy of your experience within you.
Happy writing. Happy introspection. Happy growing.
Billie Wade, a lifelong journaler, believes people are precious, sacred, resilient, and stronger than they know. She created Journaling to Heal, LLC which helps people discover the power of writing in their process of recovery from emotional stress and trauma. Visit her at www.billiewade.com and find more of her writing on www.dmpcc.org/billie where she writes a monthly newsletter column for Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center.