I’ve never been a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. In general, I’m big on goal setting, but something about New Year’s resolutions feels like a set up for failure. So instead, I choose a mantra at the start of each year, meant to guide and direct me all year long.
In case you don’t already know, I’m a big fan of mantras. Mantras are short and simple statements that capture big ideas. They’re typically action oriented, and they’re super helpful to use in moments of choice and decision. Mantras remind you what you want to do and how you want to be, particularly in moments where that’s the last thing you want to do.
In 2017, I adopted the mantra, “Be courageous.” This mantra was meant to help me lean in, challenge my anxiety, and be brave in the face of fear. I whispered this phrase to myself daily, using it at work and home, in relationships, at the gym, and with big life decisions. It was an intentional reminder to feel the fear and do it anyway. I’m not exaggerating when I say this mantra was lifechanging. 2017 was one of the most growthful and rewarding years of my adult life. (If you want to read more about my year of being courageous, you can check that out here.)
So, near the end of last year, I started looking ahead to 2018. I thought about what I wanted to focus on, how I wanted to grow. I thought about what was getting in my way and what I needed to overcome. After a year of being courageous, I’d gotten a lot better at leaning into fear. I’d gotten better at taking risks and being brave. I’d gotten better at saying “yes” when all I wanted to do was run the other way. Courage became easier.
But I noticed a small subset of courage that still needed some work. An area that felt harder for me to pin down. It wasn’t fear per se, but it was related. Then I nailed it down. Uncertainty. Not feeling sure, not totally knowing what I was doing. I realized just how much I let uncertainty and feeling unsure get in my way.
I’d think about pitching a new idea, but I wasn’t totally sure how to go about it. So I’d shrink back, telling myself I’d do it later. I’d move forward when I felt surer of what I was doing. (Surprise, I never felt surer.)
I’d consider doing a new intervention with a client, but I felt unsure about how they’d respond. I don’t quite feel comfortable yet. So I’d tell myself, “Maybe next session, after I think about it more and feel ready.” (Plot twist, I’d never feel ready.)
I’d think about changing to a new a software or system at work, but I wasn’t completely familiar with the new platform, so I’d back down. I’d procrastinate on the decision, telling myself I’d make the switch when I had enough time to compare the options. (Guess what? I never had enough time.)
I took feeling uncertain or unsure as a sign that I wasn’t ready, that I didn’t know enough. That maybe it wasn’t the right move. I tricked myself into thinking I’d learn more, do more, or prepare more, and then I’d do it. But guess what?
I just ended up stuck. I hemmed and hawed, waited and procrastinated. I thought about it over and over, but still no sparkling clarity. Projects went undone. Things got pushed to the back of the line. And dreams fell by the wayside. I knew I had to get more serious about challenging this uncertainty. I realized it was keeping me stuck. And I knew I needed to push past it. So for 2018, I adopted this mantra. “Be uncertain, be unsure, and do it anyway.”
This mantra isn’t nearly as sexy or simple as, “Be courageous”, but it spoke to what I needed most. It spoke to what I was avoiding most. This mantra isn’t about making rash decisions or not thinking through things. It’s about thinking through things, being logical, making the best decision you can, and then moving forward. Period.
At the start of 2018, I made a vow that when I felt unsure or uncertain, I would weigh my options and then just do it. I wouldn’t avoid. I wouldn’t procrastinate and lie to myself about doing it later. Even when I felt shaky and unsure, I would press on.
Here’s a few examples of how I used my mantra, “Be uncertain, be unsure, and do it anyway.”
Just over a year ago, I got a polite “thanks but no thanks” on a guest post pitch I submitted. It was to a huge website, with a major following, and I really wanted it. I knew I was a great fit for their audience. So just over a year after my rejection, I tried again. I sent them another email. I wasn’t sure if it was the “right” thing to do. Did I sound too desperate? Was the wording right? I felt uncertain. I felt unsure. And I did it anyway. And guess what? It led to one of my biggest and most rewarding guest posts to date.
I was nervous earlier in the year when I posted a video about the BetterHelp/YouTube controversy. I didn’t want to ruffle feathers. I didn’t want to be misunderstood. And I certainly didn’t want to seem like I was slamming a mental health service. But the video felt important, and as a psychologist, I had some genuine concerns. I felt my doubt and uncertainty. I paid attention to the little voice in my head that asked, “Are you suuuure?” And then I did it anyway. It’s one of the videos I’m most proud of, but not because of the views or the comments. I’m proud of it because I did it, even the face of uncertainty.
There have been countless mornings at Orangetheory when our trainers tell us to bump up our speed on the treadmill or add more weight. A part of me thinks, “I don’t know, can I do it, is that too much for me?” I start to waffle, the self-doubt shooting me down before I even attempt it. I’ve learned to be unsure but do it anyway. I turn up the speed a notch or two. And guess what? I haven’t fallen or buckled yet.
Uncertainty is sneaky. It’s pretends it’s helpful, that it’s protecting us from harm. And while this is sometimes true (i.e. feeling uncertain about walking down a dark alley or investing all your money in a risky venture), it usually goes too far. It protects us from any risk and all discomfort, which in turn protects us from growth. And that is not something I want for my life.
“Be uncertain, be unsure, and do it anyway.”
After a year of saying this on repeat, whispering it in difficult moments, I’ve stretched my limits. I’ve pushed past what I thought I could do. And I got a whole lot more done. So if uncertainty, overanalyzing, and uncertainty are your kryptonite, feel free to borrow my mantra for the upcoming year. I know firsthand it works!
Did you adopt a mantra for 2018? What did you learn?
PS: Want to create a mantra of your own for the new year? Here are three simple tips to get your started!