Contrary to popular belief, meditation isn't about totally emptying your brain or gazing into the void. If you're new to meditation and find the idea of clearing your mind of all thoughts daunting, you'll probably benefit from adding a mantra, or a simple, positive phrase, to your practice.
"A mantra can redirect our thoughts, which has the effect of promoting a sense of calm or focus," says Marni Amsellem, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Smart Health Psychology. She adds that this can be particularly useful if you're feeling tense or stressed out: "Redirecting thoughts shifts the focus away from stressful thoughts to something that is more positive, encouraging, or otherwise mitigates distress."
But, even if you aren't the midst of a stress meltdown (but really, who isn't these days?) a mantra can help you settle into a good mood for the day ahead. "Some people like to start their day by deliberately focusing on a positive intention," Dr. Amsellem says. "It can become regular practice and part of a comforting routine."
Of course, coming up with a mantra that speaks to you is easier said than done. For those who are interested in meditating — but might not be feeling super creative — there are mantra cards, which are sort of like pre-made affirmation flashcards. Simply pull a card at random whenever you feel moved to meditate, and focus on the mantra on the card. Dr. Amsellem says that repeating the mantra, rather than reading it once then putting away, can prove particularly helpful: "When we repeat a motivational message to ourselves, we hear ourselves utter the words. Hearing ourselves say these messages aloud can seem increasingly more authentic and meaningful."