Mantras and affirmations work like lighthouses for me. 

They help me to ensure that I’m on the right path, guiding me in the direction I want to follow, even when I feel unsure or lost. This week’s blog post explores the differences and similarities between the two tools and offers prompts you can use to discover which mantras and affirmations can help you to thrive and navigate your own seas, be they smooth or rocky.

What’s a Mantra? What’s an Affirmation?

While many people (including me) often use the two words interchangeably, mantras and affirmations technically are different tools. According to the Institute for Integrative Medicine, “Mantras are words, sounds, or invocations either in Sanskrit or any other language, that aid the individual in focusing concentration and deepening meditation while also uniting him or her [or them] with a higher power. Mantras are associated with mysticism and spirituality and aim to liberate the mind from thought in order to facilitate inner peace.”

Affirmations differ from mantras in function and purpose: “Positive affirmations were developed in the 1970’s by neuroscientists, incorporating a modern understanding of psychotherapy and linguistics in order to consciously rewire thought patterns towards more desired outcomes. Affirmations can be stated anytime and tend to be complete sentences addressing something we wish to have or be as if we already have it in the present moment.”

So, mantra = tied to sound, used in meditation;

affirmation = tied to perspective, used as tool to shift perception.

All that being said, the terms “affirmation” and “mantra” function pretty much interchangeably in contemporary personal development discourse. While it might not be technically correct, it’s probable that when you hear someone say “mantra” outside of a meditation practice they are referring to the repetition of a personally meaningful statement (aloud, read, or written) for the purpose of changing one’s perception.

Three Ways to Use Mantras and Affirmations

Predetermined And Practiced

One way to use a mantra or affirmation is to predetermine one and practice it for a set amount of time (year, month, week, day, hour). You can root your mantra or affirmation in your intentions, goals, or values, or use it as a guide to tending to a particular theme, such as self image, abundance, or challenge. There are a number of guides out there that categorize mantras and affirmations by theme, such as Shannon Kaiser’s Find Your Happy Daily Mantras or lists such as this one by Kate Snowise. Choosing a mantra or affirmation ahead of time will enable you to practice it repeatedly and reinforce your mind/body connection to its message.

For Self Soothing During Difficult Times

Just as you can have awareness of your triggers before you enter into possible triggering situations, you can have go-to mantras or affirmations for difficult times. To determine what statements might assist you should you find yourself in need of one, try this short exercise.

Jot down your answers to the following questions:

1) What negative feelings do you experience most often? Mine are fear, disappointment, envy, and confusion.

2) Do you experience any negative self beliefs alongside the negative feelings? If so, what are they? Mine are “I’ll never be good enough,” “this is impossible for me,” and “I just don’t deserve (insert positive thing).”

3) What would you LIKE to believe about yourself when you have that negative self belief? Mine are “I am enough just as I am. I have the skillset to achieve my goals and dreams. My best is okay.”

If they aren’t already in the form of a statement, restructure your answers to question three into a statement that you can turn to if you feel triggered into negative feelings or self beliefs. Here are some of mine: “I am safe. I am loved. Who I am is enough. Trying my best is good enough. It’s okay.”

Make Your Mantra/Affirmation Accessible. Access it Often.

In addition to preparing your affirmations or mantras ahead of time for practice and acute usage, you can pepper them throughout your life so that you encounter them passively as you move throughout your day. One way to do this is by making a vision board or small vision pictures and displaying them in your home. Another is by setting mantras and affirmations as your computer or phone background so you will see them regularly. You can find stunning artistic renditions of mantras and affirmations on Pinterest and Instagram by searching for keywords (here is a Pinterest board of visual mantras and affirmations that I’ve collected). You can listen to any number of guided meditations based in affirmations and in mantras (including literal mantras, not the mantraffirmation combo I’ve been using throughout this post) in the Insight Timer app or on Youtube. Think of these as small ways to reinforce your mantra and affirmation practice through the guidance of external sources that greet you on your path.

Because my three examples above were sort of takeaways in themselves, I’d love to use the takeaway space this week to provide you with a list of the mantras and affirmations that mean a lot to me personally. Hopefully some will resonate with you, too.

I give myself permission to…

I use this both as a predetermined rule (“I give myself permission to take breaks when I need them”) and as a way to cope acutely with difficult situations, as in “I feel upset. I give myself permission to feel my feelings instead of trying to problem solve or bury them away.” Read more about giving yourself permission here.

Create your own expertise.

Kate Snowise said this once in a group coaching session, and I immediately wrote it down. I now use it as guidance for building my career as a self-employed coach and writer.

It’s okay.

This is my go-to mantra and affirmation and all around reminder to stay calm, grounded, connected, and be kind to myself. I literally have an IT’S OK banner by Ashley Brown Durand (Secret Holiday Co.) hanging on my bedroom wall so it’s the first thing I see in the morning and last thing at night:

a banner that says

Try your best.

I say this to my loved ones, my pets, and myself. If you’re trying your best, you’re doing wonderfully.

Turn it over.

Part of my spiritual practice involves acknowledging when I’ve done all that I can, and then choosing to turn over my fears to my own expression of a higher power.

Be curious.

I originally started using this phrase in therapy: what would it mean to be curious about thinking or talking about something different, new, or scary? Turns out that I like being curious, and since then, I’ve nestled into this mantra when I encounter the option to try something new that may serve to teach me a valuable lesson.