Mandy Straight – TRANSCRIPT
Magic is the art of influencing events and producing marvels. What if I could give you a tool that could transform your life? Something that could make you happier, more fulfilled, something that could remind you where you come from, help you appreciate who you are, and inspire who you are becoming? That would be pretty marvelous, yes? The tool that I have to offer you today that can do all of this is what I call visual mantra.
Now, we’ve all heard of mantras. It’s the stuff of Buddha, yogis, and all those woo-woo people, right? But a mantra is a word from Sanskrit simply meaning a repeated instrument of thought. Mantras help us focus our attentions on conscious intentions through repetition. Psychologists agree that we all have repetitive mental processes, or self talk. Tony Robbins calls them affirmations, and since we’re here at TED, we can be formal and call it intrapersonal communication.
Regardless of the term that you use, repetition is powerful, for good and for bad. Repetition of input over time forms our behaviors, literally creating who we are and who we are becoming. Repetition helps us see where we are going in life. Just ask Pavlov. Who has time to be getting in all of these repetitions all the time? I want a fast track.
I want a way to be more efficient about my mantra repetition. Confucius said that a picture is worth 1,000 words. Okay, it wasn’t actually Confucius who said this; It was a newspaper editor from the 1920s named Arthur Brisbane. Arthur also knew the power of repetition, so he attributed this to a Chinese proverb, and later to Confucius, just to give it more authority. So I’ll do the same.
What we’re saying is that if I can create images that remind my brain the messages and mantras that I want to repeat to myself, that I will get 1,000 times the result out of it. Sign me up! So let’s test this hypothesis. Dr Esther Sternberg is a neuro-immune scientist. Her book “Healing Spaces” is a meta-study of the relationship of environments on our health and well-being.
In it, she cites an experiment done in a hospital in Pennsylvania in the 1970s. This hospital had two wings. One wing offered patients a view of a grove of trees. The other offered this lovely view. So, if I had just undergone gallbladder surgery, as these patients had, I’m pretty sure I would prefer the first, but is there actually a medical reason of why that’s a better view to have? The data analysis showed overwhelmingly that there was.
The patients who had the view of the trees used less heavy medication over time. In addition, they spent almost an entire day less in the hospital than those with the view of the brick wall. This tells us that our spaces are acting like 3D images for our brains. They are measurably affecting our health and are maybe worth more like a million words. Not only are they affecting our health, but also our mood and behavior.
Let’s look at a few examples. You enter here. You yell for a beer, throw your peanut shells on the ground, laugh loudly with your friends, probably using questionable vocabulary and your mouth starts watering for a hot dog. Later that evening, you enter here. Your sneakers have been replaced by something a little less comfortable. Your back sits a little straighter in your chair. Your wines are sommelier-approved and your conversation is grandmother-approved. The next afternoon, you enter here. Your creative juices start flowing, your words become multi-syllabic. And you are ready to change the world.
All of these reactions and behaviors are cued by our environments. I have to give one further example simply because of our altitude. This is a part of my visual mantra as I drive to work every morning. As I see this, it speaks to me of vast horizons, limitless potential, and infinite possibility. I can’t see these mountains without feeling tougher and full of grit and ready to face any adventure life can throw at me.
It makes me want to journey further, think bigger, and be better. What a mantra. Now you’re starting to believe, aren’t you? If I can give my brain messages that remind me of the wonderful things that I want to include in my life, then I am multiplying the pay-off of my mantra repetition. Therefore, multiplying the rate of my mental shift, and get this: it’s happening even when I’m not paying attention. My mantra feed is set to repeat, and all I have to do is be awake in order to be getting in my daily reps.
That’s a pretty marvelous influence. While we are multiplying our mantra repetitions, let’s be conscious about where we are applying our efforts. If our goal is more repetitions, and the surroundings, the spaces we spend time in, offer that to us, why not start in the spaces where we spend the most time? Our homes. I know that most of you are aware of the impact that our homes have on us. I know also that some of you out there think you are immune to this influence.
Yes? So let me show you this: if I give you a photo of a room, and another, and another, and I say, “You can live in any one of these free,” you do have a preference, yes? One of these speaks to you personally more than the others. It shows you that slice of the good life that you crave, and it speaks to your brain of the potential future that you want. If we are not intentional about the spaces we are spending time in, we are ignoring the magic wand at our finger tips.
So let me give you three steps to create your own visual mantra. First, determine the messages you are already sending yourself. See how they feel to you and really listen. Maybe you actually hate that old chair in the corner from your great aunt. Maybe every time you look at it, it tells you mean and nasty things just like she used to. Don’t let her talk to you that way.
Number two: define the mantras that you want to create. What is it you want to hear every day? Pay attention as you interact with things to what creates that feeling within you. Pay attention to the colors, and patterns, and shapes you interact with. If you’re like me, that means gorgeous mid-century modern furniture, nerdy wool plaids and tweeds, and French accordion music on the stereo. So, the weirder, the better with all of your mantra selections. You want to find those quirky things that make you, you, and include those in your mantra.
Finally, you want to delete anything that does not further your mantra, and when you have to add, make sure that it does. Take a cue from textile designer William Morris, who said, “Have nothing in your home you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” We have come to the crux of why this theory is so important. We all have areas in our lives that can be improved through the use of visual mantra. I have personally seen the transformative power it can offer.
I lived two thirds of my life in deep depression, despising my interiors, so I had to learn to redecorate. In here, and in here I had to learn to transform my spaces into something that reminded me the wonderful things about my life that I enjoyed spending time in. Through this process, I realized that as I became more at home in myself, I became more at home in my surroundings, and vice versa. When I was young, I moved my furniture around weekly, I drew on the walls in the closet, and I plastered my room with photos of milk mustache ads as motivational messages.
As I got older, I moved away to college, away to Paris, and away to the East Coast, trying to change the mantra of my location, each time reminded that I thrive on the natural visual mantra that Colorado has to offer. I realized through this process that if we can be intentional about these messages, we can truly transform who we are in our everyday life. This theory is not just about learning to paint the closet door to better hide the skeletons of our negative thoughts. It’s about opening that closet door, making friends with the skeletons, and maybe teaching them a Broadway show tune or two with jazz hands.
So I won’t promise you that visual mantra can make 100% of your life magical. It won’t. But it can offer a perspective. It can make the tough times a lot easier to face, and at the very least, it can stop making us victim to unintentional spaces. Don’t let go of your belief in magic. Fill every frame of your life with images that inspire better.
Winston Churchill said, “We shape our spaces; thereafter, they shape us.” One of my favorite authors, Roald Dahl, says, “If you don’t believe in magic, you will never find it.” I say, shape your spaces with intention, believe that they can be magic, and watch the power of visual mantra transform your life. Thank you.