Mental Health and Positive Mantras
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | March 2012 (edited March 6, 2022)
Rhymes, quotes and mantras have a purpose. They lift our spirits and motivate action. Alone, however, they are not enough.
A simple statement presented in a catchy poem intrigues; but the vagueness is often grossly misinterpreted; the listener customizes the catchy phrase to fit pre-established beliefs. I still love quotes, easily remembered and motivating. Geniuses from history, gifted in soliloquy, condense giant ideas into succinct sentences. We borrow their thoughts and create beliefs. But quotes—by themselves, are limiting. Each quote, missing the context, becomes hollow, without guiding substance, susceptible to misinterpretations, failing to challenge deep biases.
Lasting change occurs after the budding motivation of a quote is enacted and integrated into new thoughts behaviors and eventually emotions. Lasting change requires much more than a phrase or a poem.
The newness of change is temperamental. The tender new actions are conditional. Slight changes in the environment and the old rusty responses jump back into action. We must confront the patient demons that wait in the shadows, seeking a moment of vulnerability. In confidence of our new-found strength, we slip from strict patterns and open up to temptations we are ill prepared to resist.
Francis Bacon proclaimed, “fame is like a river that beareth up things light and swollen, and drowns things weighty and solid.” Only if Bacon could see America now!
Dangers of Simplicity
Simple thoughts are easily manipulated, made agreeable to many by the varying way listeners interpret the vagueness. The bearer of the over-simplified statement, without detailed qualifications, easily wiggles around future consequences, because the original lack of specificity doesn’t demand commitment.
We naturally want clarity, so we translate the ambiguousness into our own belief system. When things go awry blame is easily extended to outside sources. No commitment to soundness in the beginning and no acceptance of responsibility in the end. If the stock market goes up its my policies; if it goes down, its someone else’s fault. With this simplicity, and manipulation no matter how good or how bad, our program remains beyond reproach. American politics in a nut shell.
Human behavior is complex—consequences seldom arise from a single cause. We must gather wisdom from connections uncovered from the shadowy floors of complexity, examining consequences as a result many known (and unknown) factors. Because the lack of exactness, we easily manipulate evidence to fit personal (or political) needs—biases.
Real choice and real actions affect our lives, shaping futures. Bending, trimming and ignoring proven best practices to fit individual beliefs devalue effectiveness.
We believe we change but don’t.
When we fail to integrate proven practices into tangible choices, we remain unchanged, wasting the crumbs of knowledge, and still subject to reoccurring hurts.
"When we fail to integrate proven practices into tangible choices, we remain unchanged, wasting the crumbs of knowledge, and still subject to reoccurring hurts."
Proven Behaviors Necessary for Success
Victims of addiction provide poignant examples of this. They follow proven paths only long enough to enjoy the beginnings of recovery, but once they obtain the slightest improvements, the proven path no longer appears necessary. Holding to positive mantras, “one day at a time,” but ignoring the more substantive techniques, the sufferer justifies altering treatments and starts towards relapse.
We do the same thing but often much subtler, we fall into patterns of stagnation without realizing the relapse. Our return to frivolous spending, harsh comments, or missing workouts, doesn’t devastate our lives the same as shoving a needle into our collapsing veins but the lapse in motivation and return to the past prevents recovery and sustained growth.
A saying may be dandy inspiring thought and soothing a struggling soul. But if the poem is vague about concrete actions, the wisdom is malleable to be used in only convenient ways.
A quote, no matter how great, is not enough. Once the joyous positivity drags us off the floor of discouragement, we easily intellectualize and skirt the real work for change.
We blindly sing our little ditty and dupe ourselves into false security. Simplified philosophies of life—although soothing, fail to create a promising future. If we constantly confront the same demons, skeptically look deeper into the patterns—real tangible behaviors. Hidden through biases, self-protecting explanations, the real causes, buried deep in the psyche, remain resistant to change. We often need assistance to expose these patterns, giving gentle encouragement to buoy our resolve to continue with difficult programs, even after we erroneously believe we have achieved our goal.
We don’t need a sugar pill to cure definable ills; we don’t need a rhyme to give life meaning. The complexity of life needs more. Real problems need real answers. We discover riches only when we dig a little deeper. The weighty and solid aspects only surface through widening of perspectives, allowing for unknowns, and trusting proven remedies. By embracing complexity, we see ourselves as a piece of a much larger evolving universe. Courageously dig a little deeper.
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