Originally published on January 31, 2021
Revisiting Mantras with “Breath Focus Outcome”
Last summer, I wrote a blog post about how we can use mantras in our daily lives to mitigate anxiety when it arises in real-time. If you’re curious to read that post, you can find it here.
Within that article, I talked about one of my favorite mantras: “Breath Focus Outcome,” which I often stylize as “Breath. Focus. Outcome.” for emphasis. After recently rebranding my first book and featuring that phrase on the back cover, I decided it was time to revisit and dig into it a bit more.
So, just what does this mantra mean, and why should we care about it? To answer that question, we first need to remind ourselves of what a mantra is. In short, it’s a word or phrase we recite to help evoke some specific emotional reaction. That emotion could be anything we choose, such as joy, gratitude, certainty, or peace.
For example, when we finally land the job we’ve been dreaming of for months, we often scream out a simple “Thank you!” Sometimes we direct such words at the universe, God, or some other external force. Other times, we simply announce them without aiming them at anyone in particular. Regardless of who or what we speak them to, such a reaction affirms and amplifies the gratitude and joy we feel as a result of landing our new gig.
When it comes to anti-anxiety mantras, specifically, our goal is to utter a word or set of words that helps us take our mind off whatever it is that’s making us fearful. This is where “Breath Focus Outcome” comes into play.
So, to finally answer the question of what this mantra represents, we can say that “Breath Focus Outcome” is a reminder to ourselves to get out of our heads and check in on the things we have at our disposal that can help us walk back fear whenever it arises.
Or, to put it in more concrete terms, by stating this mantra, we remind ourselves to take a breath, reset our focus, and put our sights on whatever it is that we want out of the situation in front of us. To really hammer this all home, let’s look at this phrase through a real-life example.
Keeping with the job offer theme, let’s pretend you’re getting ready to head to your dream company’s office for an interview. Or, if you’re reading this during the COVID-19 pandemic, let’s say you’re about to hop on a Zoom interview with said company. Now, if this sort of situation is one that makes you anxious or nervous, you’re not alone. Many folks experience pre-interview jitters — myself included.
When it comes to these high-stakes situations, it’s not all that difficult to see why such a thing occurs. Even though it can be distressing to think or talk about, we grow fearful ahead of such scenarios because they represent potential sources of future pain; sadly, not every interview we complete will end in a job offer.
Thus, it’s these sources of future pain wrapped up in the negative potential outcomes of the situation that call our fears to the forefront of our minds. These outcomes can take various shapes, depending on the exact situation in front of us. For example, in an interview, we could get turned down by the company, make a terrible mistake and embarrass ourselves during it, or get stuck in traffic and miss it altogether.
Though all of these potential outcomes have different likelihoods of occurring — some of them actually being very unlikely — even the least realistic ones can be enough to send us into our heads and force us to obsess over them. After all, overthinking is a hallmark of anxiety, and it almost always stems from two types of fear: fear that something good that we want to occur won’t or that something bad that we don’t want to occur will.
Of course, when we’re about to start an interview, there isn’t much time for us to rid ourselves of any anxiety we’re holding onto. Minutes ahead of our call or in-person meeting, we simply can’t go to the gym, have a thirty-minute chat with a friend, or do any of the other things we normally do to mitigate stress. That’s where mantras, especially “Breath Focus Outcome” come in handy.
The beautiful part about this mantra is that it’s simple and self-explanatory. By merely uttering it to ourselves, we instantly remember its commands, which we can then quickly put into practice. The first of those commands revolves around our breath.
When we’re feeling super anxious, one of the first things we do is stop breathing fully. I could talk all day about why this is the case, but I’d rather stay focused on the subject at hand. If you’re curious to find out more on that subject, feel free to check out this previous Medium article I wrote about it.
The biggest problem with not breathing fully in fearful situations is that doing so sends a signal to our brains and nervous systems that there’s danger afoot. Once our bodies pick up these signals, they send us into fight-or-flight mode and pump blood to our extremities in case we need to fight with or run from any perceived threat in front of us.
This sort of fight-or-flight activation often works in a vicious cycle, too. Specifically, we forget to breathe during stressful situations, so our bodies go into high gear. Then, once in high gear, we grow more fearful of the situation at hand, causing our bodies to turn up the dials even more. From there, the process continues until we do something to break it.
The most reliable way to get ourselves out of such a cycle, especially when true life-or-death threats aren’t actually in front of us, is to breathe. This is the very first part of our mantra. It makes us ask ourselves, “What does my breath look like at this very moment? Am I actually breathing, or am I holding it in and making it worse?” Once we start breathing fully and deeply again, we can move on to the second part of our mantra, for our breathing will take us out of fight-or-flight mode and give us the clarity needed in order to think rationally once more.
That second part is “focus.” When we’re focusing on anything that we don’t want to occur, we’re going to feel worried, scared, and dejected — plain and simple. Thus, when it comes to auditioning for our dream job, we have to be very careful that we’re not focusing on what could go wrong during the interview itself. Even though anxiety often makes it difficult to do just that, we have to do our best to let go of visions and thoughts of bombing the interview or getting turned down by our prospective employer.
And while it may often feel like we need to wrestle with these potential outcomes in our minds, trust me, doing so is something that rarely leads anywhere good. The best and most reliable thing to do when these scary thoughts pop into our heads is to just ignore them as best we can, even when it feels really difficult to.
So now we’re breathing and letting go of visions of our greatest fears coming to life. That’s a great start. To finish this thing off, we need to move to the third part of this simple mantra. That is, we need to reconnect to the outcome we want from the situation in front of us and focus on it if at all possible.
One of the strangest things about anxiety is that it can sometimes put us so far inside our heads that we forget that the situation we’re presented with is one in which something good could actually happen. That’s why we sometimes dread events we should actually be looking forward to — our minds trick us into seeing only the negative potential outcomes from them.
One reason I love this mantra so much is that it becomes a quick and effective reminder that what I want out of the situation in front of me doesn’t just exist — it’s also mine for the taking. Thus, in the situation of a high-stakes job interview, we should use the last part of “Breath Focus Outcome” to remind ourselves that we can actually land the job for which we’re interviewing, even if our anxiety is trying to tell us otherwise.
When we put all three of these pieces into play, we often find that we have a powerful tool for combatting anxiety in the moment. One of the best parts about this mantra is that it’s not just an all-or-nothing proposition, either; we’ll get some anxiety relief from it even if we only use it to remind ourselves to breathe properly once again.
When I say this mantra is simple, I really mean it. It’s not meant to be the wildest or craziest anti-anxiety strategy you’ve ever heard. It’s simply meant to serve as a tool you can put in your arsenal and pull out at the last minute to ground yourself. I use it all the time as I head into all sorts of challenging situations — not only interviews but also dates, athletic competitions, skydives, and difficult conversations.
The next time you feel anxiety coming on, be it due to an actual dream job interview or something entirely different, I invite you to give this mantra a try. It may be just the thing you need to get yourself one last bit of clarity heading into that fear-inducing situation.