Each year since 2021, I’ve chosen a mantra to help focus my mind for the year.
In 2022, it was “I have no enemies”, inspired by a dharma talk by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. This mantra was largely inspired by the atmosphere of vitriol and tribalism in communities, the media, and the world. It also helped to remind me to speak ill of others less, approach challenging people and situations with more understanding and empathy, and even remind myself that my own challenges (such as fear or anger) are not my own enemies.
In 2021, it was “Strong back, soft heart”. This mantra reminded me that I can both live by my values with strength and confidence, but also be able to simultaneously display compassion for myself and others. In other words, we don’t need to choose between strength and vulnerability; we can be mindful in selecting which approach is right for each situation.
In 2023, my mantra is “Movement creates motivation”. This is inspired largely by own personal struggles with energy and focus over the past two to three years. As I’ve struggled more with lethargy and jumping around from goal to goal without seeing any one item through, those actions have given rise to strong, recurring feelings of guilt and disappointment with myself. Not working with these feelings feeds a vicious cycle wherein I blame myself for not feeling the “spark” I need to suddenly feel like taking focused, productive action.
Inspired by my wife Heidi’s rock-solid habits, reading about others like painter Henri Matisse, and through testing the theory in a variety of ways, I’ve come to learn that sitting and waiting for energy or motivation to strike is a failed strategy.
Instead, the times when I’ve started with simple movements even when I didn’t feel like moving resulted in an increasing build-up of energy and motivation. Instead of a vicious cycle, this created a virtuous cycle wherein I saw progress, felt confidence arising, and then ultimately felt motivation to continue going down whatever path I was on.
Once in a while a magic spark does come along and get me out of bed early, but I’m increasingly learning that by building the habit of initial actions, I can give rise to ambition and motivation myself.