Saturday, June 25, 2011

Personal Mantra and Dealing with Fears

So instead of catching up on blogging, I spent a good chunk of this afternoon reading the latest edition of Men's Health magazine. [For the record, I subscribe to only this and Atlantic magazine due to an online deal.] I remember coming across an article in which the author spoke about the importance of having a personal mantra -- funny thing is, I just spent quite a few minutes trying to find the article and unable to do so. In addition, I watched an excellent commencement speech given by cable talk show host Conan O'Brien to the graduating class of Dartmouth. Just want to take the time to expand on both topics.

First the personal mantra. You probably hear these a lot: many athletes profess to have a mantra they live by (e.g. NBA's Amare Stoudemire "Stand Tall and Talented"), as well as corporate mottos (e.g. Cisco's "Human Network"). The purpose of mantras is to sustain an individual's hopes and dreams; in other words, as an inner source of motivation, especially in difficult times. You may contend that a mantra is inherently different from a corporate motto, but I think we should view mottos as mantras because they serve the purpose of inspiring the company. We can similarly add the (cliched) Latin aphorisms -- since examples such as "Carpe Diem (Seize the Day!)" and "Succisa Virescit (What is cut down grows back stronger)" are used for the same intent.

In the article I came across, the author stated that his personal mantra is "This is is fantastic!" He uses this expression on any dark clouds that come into his daily life. The intention is not to fool oneself but, instead, to re-frame the situation from a negative into a positive. Instead of sulking or complaining about an issue, one constructs the issue into an exciting challenge to be tackled. For example, the author describes that when bad weather happens (e.g. rain, snow), he says "this is fantastic" and proceeds to enjoy the bad weather. The implied understanding is that most things are well outside our control and we should adapt accordingly.

I really like this idea of formulating a personal mantra, as an inner source of motivation/compass for most situations. Among the numerous issues I am dealing with right now (e.g. procrastination, finding housing, and even Mandy), I'd say procrastination tops the list as the most "self-destructive". The obvious remedy to procrastination is improving my work ethic -- stop wasting time and focus on tasks at hand. This includes the realm of "surfing" the internet without doing anything constructive. Yet at the same time, I think it is very important to recognize that there will be cases where work ethic is not the solution. Like the author of the article, one has to recognize these instances and be able to adapt as best as possible. Personally, being a Christian means always giving thanks to God for everything in my life.

With the above in mind, I'd set my personal mantra to be "Work Hard and Be Thankful". It's pretty straightforward, but I think it will be effective regardless. Some future revision may in the works though (I need something more creative/original).

Now on the topic of Conan O'Brien's commencement address to the graduating class of Dartmouth College, it was one of the best speeches I have watched. (Link to the speech and script here.) True to his character, Conan spent most of the speech roasting or satirizing Dartmouth --namely against its more famous counterparts in the Ivy League like Harvard and Princeton-- but offered some very good advice toward the end. The quality of his advice is compounded by the fact that he drew upon personal experiences about disappointment. Of course, his experience was parting ways last year with NBC's Tonight Show.

More specifically, Conan said that "there few things more liberating in this life than having your worst fear realized". Just take a moment to reflect on this statement. Yes it is cliched, but also truthful to the core. Have there ever been times when you feared about an outcome, yet when that outcome was realized, it wasn't as bad as you thought? Afterward you may think it's kind of silly to have feared so much in the first place. In other words, our fears for certain things is magnified through the element of fear itself. The lesson to be learned is not to succumb to our fears and instead go for things. Oftentimes, it is better to have tried and failed than having not done so at all. Disappointment strings (for sure!) but we can learn valuable things from these short-lived episodes. Almost makes you want to have your worst fears realized, huh?

Lastly, Conan ended his speech by quoting himself at the end of his tenure with NBC. On his last show, he told the viewers to "Work hard, be kind, and amazing things will happen". I think in retrospect I am going to plagiarize a portion of this saying and incorporate it into my personal mantra. It now reads "Work hard, be thankful, and amazing things will happen"

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