Do Mantras Work?

What’s a mantra?


  1. (originally in Hinduism and Buddhism) a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation.
  2. a statement or slogan repeated frequently.

I think of it as my mental cheat, or mind-hack, to get me motivated into doing something that could be framed as a negative. That negative, for me, is running.

I’ve never been a fan of running. I get bored. That, and doing something repeatedly that keeps me sweating, makes my legs moderately sore, and takes up time that I would rather be spending in other ways doesn’t seem natural to me. Often, I find myself thinking about “Run Day,” and my mind will say, “Ugh. Today is a run day.”

Something I discovered three years ago when I started running was that by framing the run as a gift instead of something compulsory, it not only improved my performance, but how satisfied I felt when I finished the run. Reading the book, “Red Platoon” by Clinton Romesha had a huge impact on my frame of mind as well. I read that book and my heart wrenched at the ordeal that his platoon endured during one of the most intense battles the US Army has experienced in the past 20 years or more. Certain individuals stuck out to me, and one day on my way home, I reflected as I was dreading a run that any of those fallen Soldiers would likely relish the opportunity to run again. That thought snow-balled into thinking of all the Marines and Soldiers I knew who had fallen, and how they would likely rather be running than lying in a grave. The thought moved even further to those who have lost limbs and the ability to run. I started seeing that I was very fortunate, especially at my older age, to be able to go out and run three miles. The next day, I told myself, “I get to run today!” and while it felt a bit artificial, the effect was immediate. I smiled without thinking about it. As the day went on, I’d keep saying it to myself, and each time, the excitement built. Even though it was fake in the beginning, I began actually getting psyched up for the run.

This morning, my mind went down the old familiar route: “Ugh. It’s run day.” But this time, I remembered my mind-hack. I changed it very quickly to, “Screw that. I get to run today!” You know what happened? Sure enough, a smile. I have been repeating it all day every time my mind wanders to the thought of my run later today. Each time, I say, “I get to run today.” Now, as I write this, it’s after lunch, and in about 4 hours, I’ll be running, and I’m actually looking forward to it.

The hardest part for me about running is getting started. It’s a bump I have to get past every time I run. Most days, I get past that bump by mindlessly changing into my running clothing, going into my gym, and just running. Some days, however, I try to talk myself out of it, and very rarely, it works. However, when I used to tell myself, “I get to run,” I never talked myself out of it. I didn’t want to miss out on the experience.

On a deeper level, when I remind myself that I get to run, I am honoring those who are currently unable to run: all the vets, injured and fallen, who have paid a high price with limbs and lives. When I feel tired, like I want to stop early, I remind myself that I get to run. When I feel like doing anything other than running, I tell myself, “I get to run.” It’s powerful. It hits me hard every time. I may be weak, but I will not let them down. I cannot.

As a leader of Soldiers, it’s my job to be in shape. Not just barely, but in good physical fitness. For them, I work hard. For them, I strive to improve every time I hit the treadmill, the sidewalk, or the road. For them, I endure soreness in my legs as I get stronger and faster. For them, I keep running. Because I get to run.

Do mantras work? I think so, and I think they are far more powerful than people give them credit for. It’s a powerful tool in your arsenal of motivation.

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