When Lori Coulter shared her business plan for Summersalt, a direct-to-consumer swimwear line, with Reshma Chamberlin at a serendipitous meeting in New York, Chamberlin asked to be her cofounder on the spot. As Chamberlin sees it, their immediate partnership fulfilled her mantra for 2017–Ask and you shall receive–an annual framework she’s found herself relying on to make intentional decisions and seize opportunities.
Many of us resort to New Year’s resolutions in order to commit to big goals and habit changes, only to find ourselves quickly reneging on them. If that’s the case with you, Chamberlin’s approach might be worth trying out.
Give Yourself An Anchor
Chamberlin discovered the concept of an annual mantra while running her former branding agency, where, like many, she felt stretched too thin. Chamberlin (with whom, in full disclosure, I’m planning to collaborate on a project next year) found herself struggling to keep things running smoothly while her business partner was on maternity leave, serving on the board of one organization, participating in another, keeping up with her book club, and several other commitments besides. It was too much. Eventually, when Chamberlin discussed all this with her business partner, her partner asked, “Why are you doing all of these things? Just say no.”
“It revealed to me that you don’t have to justify doing things that add anxiety to your life,” she told me, looking back. “That’s when the light bulb went off that I need a yearly guide post to focus my energy.”
The difference between setting a yearly mantra and setting a goal or a resolution is that the mantra anchors every decision you make for an entire year. “It’s not a single objective, like go to the gym every day. Your mantra is a conscious choice to take control of your life,” Chamberlin asserts. That year, her mantra was: The grass is greener where you water it. “I started only dedicating my time to the parts of my life where I wanted to see growth,” she says. “Before making every decision I asked: Is this serving my mantra?”
Simple as it sounds, the strategy worked. After stepping down from the board, leaving the book club, and scrapping a few other activities, Chamberlin was able to refocus on her agency. Over the course of the year, it added new clients and doubled revenue, and Chamberlin had more time for family and travel.
Use Your Inner Monologue To Find Your Mantra
So how do you discover a yearly mantra to carry you through the next 12 months? Chamberlin suggests starting by keeping track of all the times you find yourself thinking, “If only I could do X,” or “I wish I was better at Y.” Those recurring thoughts about how you need to work on yourself are your light bulb moments, she says.
Look for common themes: What’s holding you back, and what will it take to regain the control you need to accomplish whatever you’d most like to? If you don’t feel those inklings, spend a few hours quietly journaling or taking a walk to think about how you’d like to improve in the coming year. It’s much the same thought process as the one you’d use to arrive at a New Year’s resolution, with the key difference that you don’t end up with a single, imperative command about a specific action to take.
There are no rules for setting your mantra, but Chamberlin shares three tips to keep in mind:
- Make it positive. “Embrace the power of ‘no’,” for instance, might be an effective way to protect your time, but declining and rejecting things obviously has a negative vibe. Instead, try something like, “Prioritize what is truly important.”
- Be deliberate. “Your mantra will dictate every decision you make,” Chamberlin points out. “Be intentional about how you want your life to unfold.” If it doesn’t empower you to take action, you may need to think again.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself. “Mantras are about experiencing achievement and joy every day. Design one to set yourself up for success,” says Chamberlin. If you’re worried that your mantra might push you toward unrealistic goals or encourage habits that make you unhappy, try a different one.
Once you set your mantra, keep it top of mind by pasting a note on your desk or mirror and repeating an affirmation throughout the day. It’s also helpful to share it with friends and family who can help hold you accountable.
Commit To Daily Practice
Like all meaningful endeavors, seeing the results of your mantra requires sustained effort–you can’t just “set it and forget it.” Chamberlin references her mantra multiple times a day to gut-check her decisions. “2017 was about affirming and proving to myself that I deserve to get what I want,” she explains. “For the first time, nothing held me back. Not my race. Not being a woman. Not being an immigrant or my location. If I was negotiating a contract, instead of starting from a place of doubt, I asked for exactly what I wanted upfront, and we got the terms.”
The more you embrace your mantra, the more likely you’ll be to see real progress as a result. Chamberlin advises acknowledging and appreciating all milestones–even the small ones–that it leads you to, from getting the window seat you wanted on a flight to closing a business deal. “When you have a zest for life, things start happening to you because you are putting yourself out there,” she adds. “Mantras aren’t about waiting for things to happen. They’re about going after what you want every day.”
In fact, that’s pretty much Chamberlin’s mantra for 2018: Just go for it. What will yours be?
Jenna Abdou is the host and producer of Beyond the Headline at 33voices, a podcast where founders and investors share their stories and highlight the tactics they use to build industry-changing companies. Jenna also works closely with startups and venture capital firms to produce unique content series in addition to writing about startups, consumer trends, and women in business.