It was over lunch in a posh hotel where I first heard what would become my mantra. The person telling me was Victoria Beckham’s PR. A colleague and I had just asked her if we could shoot her for the cover of the magazine we were working on and she looked at us straight in the eye and answered, “Baby steps, baby steps…”
Argh! At the time, her answer was both frustrating, yet encouraging. And while this meeting was long ago, plus several jobs ago (I actually moved before we shot VB for the cover), the phrase stuck with me and has done for years. It’s something that I’ve applied to my career and family life, and it’s stood me in good stead whenever projects seem too big and overwhelming. It comes up whenever my husband and I discuss whether we are going to press “go” on remortgaging our house for an extension (it hasn’t inspired us into action, though; this conversation is at least five years old). And it’s the perfect phrase for putting things in perspective and for when I need to remind myself to slow down and be more patient, like recently, when I started learning yoga and got frustrated that I couldn’t do all the moves immediately.
There is something about having an inspiring mantra or quote that lifts you up and carries you through (and Lord knows, they’re useful to have in these first dark days of January). They’re a useful thing to have up your sleeve to help guide you through certain situations; what’s more, there are millions out there to choose from, so you can really choose one (or ones) that you identify with.
If you don’t have one of your own, check out our Today I’m Channelling blog (7am every day), or adopt one of The Pool’s January mantras here. As you can see here, it worked for them…
How to be better at saying no
“At school, my friend Jo coined the mantra ‘Don't put your name on stupid lists!’ – and I find myself chanting it regularly in adult life to calm my people-pleasing, over-committing, stresshead ways. I think, at the time, she was talking about volunteers for a hockey tournament or something, but it works quite nicely for myriad unnecessary adult commitments. Sort of the anti-Yes Man philosophy, I guess. Just let yourself be, for a bit.”
How not to feel intimidated
“‘Don't worry about what people think of you, because they are too busy thinking about themselves,’ my old boss told me ahead of my first fashion week, when I was having a massive panic about being in a high-pressured environment. I remind myself of it all the time – especially when social media gets nasty.”
How to get what you want
“Somebody once told me that if you want your life to change, you have to tell people what you want. It's sort of like ‘putting it out there into the universe’ except for a way more useful purpose. I think it works in two ways: first of all, by admitting it out loud you are more likely to pursue your ambitions; secondly, other people will be more likely to help you because they actually know what you're looking for. Try it out!”
How to not feel overwhelmed
“I have always moaned bitterly about management training courses, but it was on one of these that the trainer suddenly stood up and said, ‘How do you eat an elephant?’ We looked at her dumbstruck. Should we stage an intervention? When we failed to answer, she looked triumphant and announced, ‘One mouthful at a time!’ It sounds trite, but I've never forgotten it. If you try to eat the whole elephant, you'll fail, but if you eat the elephant bit by bit, you will eventually devour it.”
There is something about having an inspiring mantra or quote that lifts you up and carries you through (and Lord knows, they’re useful to have in these first dark days of January).
How to fight stress
“One thing that helps me is saying, ‘You won't remember this in three weeks/months/years’. When I'm getting mad because the Tubes are hellish, I think about how inconsequential it will be to me in a matter of hours. Or, I might be beating myself up for not writing well enough/being organised enough. If something has hurt me, I extend it – ‘In six months, I won't feel so bad; in five years, I won't remember.’ There's something about it which seems to give me a better perspective, and propel me forward enough that I can feel better, or just know that I will feel better. On an entirely different note, our new house mantra is that we do not: overthink, overshare, overcook.”
How to be more assertive
“My early twenties were times of confusion and dwindling self-esteem. So I wrote ‘If you don't ask, you don't get’ on my bathroom mirror (with lipstick, like they do in the movies) and repeated it to myself every day for a year. ‘If you don't ask, I just assume you're happy!’ said my brother-in-law, anecdotally referring to the employees he manages. Something just clicked in my head when he said that and I realised that I needed to stop making myself suffer and worrying about how I am going to be perceived.
That year, I asked for a lot of things that I wanted: I asked for my role to change at work, I asked for more money, I asked someone out on a date and I even asked some soldiers on visit to Lebanon if I could hang outside their tank for a little bit. I am happy to report that all of my requests were well received and I am a much more confident person today because of that mantra.”
How to be happy
“One I *try* to live by is 'Don't worry, be happy.’ Trickier than it sounds, as everyday life woes can get in the way, but I try to think, ‘Will this feel like a big deal a year from now?’ Hopefully, the answer will be ‘No’ and you can get back to being happy.”
How not to settle for things just because you feel obliged
“I can't remember where I first read the saying ‘The biggest human temptation is to settle for too little’, nor who said it, but it was about 10 years ago and it just clicked with me. I actually wrote it out in big black painted letters above my bed, embracing being an 'expressive teenager', (which my parents really loved, obviously). It sounds pretty grandiose, but it's more a little jingle I say to myself; you don't have to say yes to something you're not happy with just because it feels awkward to say otherwise; you don't have to be friends with girls who are mean to you (that got me through school); you don't have to give up your ambitions just because you're sick and your body is failing you (that got me through university) and today it even convinced me to have an extra slice of pizza, even though one could argue I'd already had enough ;)”
How not to take any shit
"’Do no harm, but take no shit’ or, more specifically, ‘Be as nice as you possibly can, but the second people start to take the mick, stand your ground as firmly as possible.’ I will happily help anyone who needs it and frequently offer advice and support and practical help to my friends and even people I only slightly know if they need it, but as soon as people start taking and giving nothing back, I refuse to engage with them any more. Being a nice person doesn't necessarily make you a mug!
I'm also a huge fan of Mindy Kaling's mantra, which is ‘Why not me?’ It means I go for things I would otherwise be too scared of doing, and keeps me hopeful without making me entitled.”