“Frantic is not my framework!” I can often be observed muttering this to myself as I am simultaneously furrowing my brow, running my fingers through my hair in exasperation and trying to slow down a racing heartbeat. It’s a power phrase I developed a number of years ago to help me combat my tendency to get amped up and stressed out when the pressure is on or the to-do list seems to be taking over my life.
Using power phrases is one of my very favorite techniques for navigating challenging situations and overcoming negative or unhelpful thought or behavior patterns. It’s super simple but has major benefits. Essentially, a power phrase is a word, saying, or short phrase that serves as a guardrail or a guide to help you move through situations the way you actually want to instead of responding by default or out of habit. I use them in two specific ways.
First, I use them as situational supports to help me change my behavior or create an environment more in line with what I want. In that instance described above, repeating to myself “Frantic is not my framework!” when I am stressed out or falling back into unhelpful patterns reminds me that “Oh, yeah. I don’t actually want to deal with all of this while I’m amped up and freaked out. I actually want to navigate this situation in a more calm manner where I trust that I will get everything done.” Often, just that simple reminder is enough to help me ratchet down the stress and find a more powerful place from which to operate. I also recently adopted “Avoid the Undertow,” which is a phrase I’m deploying when I am getting sucked into negativity or when I’ve been triggered by situations or interactions that cause me to repeat old, negative patterns or ways of thinking.
I also use power phrases to set a tone for my entire year. In lieu of New Year’s Resolutions, I choose a power phrase for the coming year to keep me focused on what I want to experience or accomplish, and how I want to feel while doing it. The first power phrase I ever utilized was “Be Intentional.” I was in a job I knew I had outgrown and I had allowed some really bad health habits to creep in. I had wanted to make change for a while, but I wasn’t making any forward progress because – shocker alert! – I wasn’t being intentional about doing anything to actually achieve those changes. Once I chose “Be Intentional” as my power phrase, any time I started to complain about my job or health, I immediately asked myself what I could do to be intentional about making changes in those areas. That led to some action plans and micro-steps towards making changes, and by the end of the year I was in a new job and had trained for and successfully completed a half-marathon! (To be honest, I kind of shocked even myself with that last one…)
If you want to pinpoint your own power phrase, whether it’s for a situation you’re navigating, a behavior you’re trying to change, or even an entire year, explore the following questions to help you distill it down into something simple you can repeat easily and have on hand when you need it.
What is an area of dissatisfaction in your life that you’d like to change? This might be a pattern of behavior you’d like to release, a situation you would like to be different, an emotion you want to experience more (or less) of, or an experience you want to have. If you’ve ever struggled with “What should we get for dinner?”, you know that sometimes it’s easier to start with identifying what we do NOT want!
What about that area of dissatisfaction would you want to be different? Here is where you start to put some thought into how you DO want this to look or feel. Try to keep your answers in the positive, aimed at what you do want instead of identifying more things you don’t want. This might take a bit of effort, so give yourself some grace and a good amount of time to reflect here.
If this area were different, how would you describe it instead? This might yield some similar reflections as the immediately previous question, but use this as an opportunity to step into the observer role and think about how you or your situation might look to a third-party person looking in from the outside. This one usually helps me illuminate what I’m actually yearning for & strips away some of the “shoulds” that can infiltrate.
If you made a change in this area, identify some bullet points of how it would feel instead or what would be different because you made this change. This reflection might bring up feelings, sensations, physical responses, etc. Spend some time here really visualizing what life would look like if you incorporated this change.
What are some words or phrases that capture this? Don’t worry about whether or not your phrase makes sense to anyone else. You don’t need awesome alliteration, rhymes, or fancy words. Play around with acronyms, single words, phrases that make you laugh… This is where you distill down that vision and sense of where you want to make changes into a few words that you can always have at the ready to keep you focused. I like to start by just brainstorming some words or phrases and then refining it into something simple.
If you’re still stuck, here’s a quick example:
What is an area of dissatisfaction in your life that you’d like to change?
COVID has really taken a toll on my personal connections with friends. I’m feeling a little lonely and disconnected, but it’s so dang hard to get back onto the computer for video chats after being in front of it all day. I miss people!
What about that area of dissatisfaction would you want to be different?
I’d be in touch with more people, and more people would reach out to me, too. I’d laugh more because I’m connecting with people more often.
If this area were different, how would you describe it instead?
Fun, easy, life-giving. It wouldn’t be a chore to try and connect. I’d feel the love!
If you made a change in this area, identify some bullet points of how it would feel instead or what would be different because you made this change.
- I’d reach out more
- I’d make more time to connect
- I’d let people know I was wanting this connection
- It would feel fun to have more conversations with people, even if they’re brief
- I’d use text & email or video messaging more
- I wouldn’t feel disconnected/isolated
- It would be relaxed & easy to connect
What are some words or phrases that capture this?
Connection, intentional communication, outreach, receive, making it simple, staying connected, mini-connections are okay, reconnecting, reaching out more.
Distilled down: Reach out & receive.