18 ‘helpful’ mantras that we need to stop using - from ‘everything happens for a reason’ to ‘don’t be selfish’

Many mantras and inspirational quotes quickly become memes - but they may not all be as positive as they first appear

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Everyone has certain sayings and mantras that they live by. These are meaningful sayings that guide us through life - be it to help us make important decisions, bring comfort in times of difficulty or motivate us in our work or leisure activities.

Some of the most common mantras may be passed down through the generations, and we may use a mantra that we heard our parents, grandparents or even great-grandparents use. In today’s society, new mantras seem to be created almost daily on social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, with people’s feeds now full of numerous inspirational quotes and mantra memes, written in stylised font and against colourful and eye-catching backgrounds. No matter where they come from, these sayings and phrases become ingrained in our minds and have an impact on the way we lead our lives.

But, with so many mantras out there, how do we know which ones to implement and act upon and which ones may actually do more harm than good? NationalWorld has spoken to several experts to discover which mantras we should think twice about following. Have a read through the list below to see what they told us.

No pain, no gain

Exercise is fundamental for our physical and mental health. You should challenge yourself when exercising, however, working out until you are in pain can be a fast way to injury which then results in not being able to exercise at all. Push yourself and feel the burn but when it becomes pain listen to your body and stop, health coach Michelle Flynn told NationalWorld.

We all have the same 24 hours in the day

We all have the same length of days, but this approach to life can be unhelpful and creates unnecessary pressure as “it’s comparing apples and pears”. Merrisha Gordon, a leadership coach and organisational consultant, told NationalWorld. She believes that a more realistic approach would be to identify the priorities that you need to get through in a week rather than a day and then block out time across the week to get them done, giving yourself seven opportunities a week to succeed rather than one day.

Everything happens for a reason

There is a reason behind everything, but in the midst of pain and sorrow this statement does little to make people feel better as it is trying to rationalise what can often seem irrational. Gordon suggests that instead of thinking of this mantra, you should consider asking the question ‘what meaning am I giving this?’ as a way of supporting what you decide to do next. She adds that everything that happens is an opportunity for us to evolve and grow.

Becky Stevenson, a business consultant, also told NationalWorld: “Sometimes, things do happen which are awful and devastating and there is absolutely no reason why it should happen to anyone, but it will change your path forever and bring changes in ways you could never imagine”.

Good vibes only

Jen Parker, owner of book publisher Fuzzy Flamingo, told NationalWorld, that she believes people can spend years worrying that they can’t say or even feel anything negative because we are told that this is harmful, but she’s realised that it’s actually okay to feel less positive emotions and discuss them with others as these are a natural part of life.

Don’t be selfish

“I believe it is better to be a little bit selfish for a happier life”, author Catherine Gladwyn, who wrote The 20% Rule, told NationalWorld. She adds: “I've always made sure my 'own oxygen is covered first' and I'm happy”.

Supposedly helpful mantras which we need to stop using, according to experts. Supposedly helpful mantras which we need to stop using, according to experts.
Supposedly helpful mantras which we need to stop using, according to experts.

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger

Wellness coach, author and cancer survivor Gabrielle Mottershead, who runs the website Confidence After Cancer, told NationalWorld that she believes this mantra is really unhelpful. She says a more truthful version of this statement would be ‘what doesn't kill you leaves you mentally, physically and emotionally wrecked, with anxiety and long lasting health issues' - but that doesn't have the same ring to it.

If a job's worth doing, it's worth doing well

The idea that every task has to be performed well has links to dangers of perfectionism and procrastination, social scientist and productivity expert Juliet Landau-Pope told NationalWorld. She adds: “I realised that the opposite is true. If a task's worth doing, it's worth doing badly. It's better done, to whatever standard, than not done at all. So even if you don't excel, get on with it”.

Blood is thicker than water

If someone is toxic it doesn’t matter if you are related to you, they won’t be good for you, yoga teacher Carly Navin told NationalWorld. She adds: “So many people have toxic family members that need to be cut out of their lives for emotional stability and to increase their mental health”. 

Ignorance is bliss

Ignorance catches people out a lot of the time, money expert Polly Arrowsmith told NationalWorld, so it’s usually actually a good idea to be completely aware of what’s happening in your personal and professional life.

Where there's a will, there's a way

This phrase promotes an unhealthy ‘grit’ mentality, Nicholas Jemetta, founder of Stories Matter, which helps people to improve their wellbeing through better habits, told NationalWorld. He adds that encouraging individuals to persistently push beyond their limits often means people neglect their wellbeing in the process. In doing so, they risk becoming unwell both physically and mentally. He believes the mantra can also create an undeserved sense of shame or guilt for individuals. “They may feel judged or perceived as unable to cope if they're unable to overcome hurdles despite their best efforts. We should bear in mind that resilience isn't about persisting at all costs, but knowing when to seek help, when to rest, and when to reevaluate our approach,” he adds.

You can be anything you want to be

This is patently not true, wellbeing coach Marie Paterson told NationalWorld. What you need to consider instead is what you are good at, what you enjoy, and also what the job market needs. She adds: “Focus on developing your skills in an area that you can be very successful in, but also be realistic about what you can achieve as well as being ambitious. Otherwise you can set ourselves up to fail, which is demoralising and can lead to feelings of inadequacy and loss of drive. We can't all be leading opera singers, premier league footballers, brain surgeons, or CEOs, but we can all find our unique gifts and talents and put them to good use for ourselves, our family and our community”. 

What's for you won't go by you 

This mantra is meant to be supportive and hopeful yet life coach Julie Leonard told NationalWorld she believes it completely negates that we have so much control over our lives and our happiness and that we can work to get most of what we want. She says: “Don't just hope it will happen, make it happen. This is a very passive response to life rather than a proactive approach to success and happiness”.

Put others before yourself

Whilst it is important to take care of others and to be kind towards people, what tends to happen as a result of this phrase is that people prioritise other people over themselves and then completely neglect their own needs, says Leonard. She adds that we must be kind and compassionate to those around us - but not to the detriment of our own health and wellbeing. “You can be a kind and caring person and still treat yourself with equal importance”. 

Actions speak louder than words 

This mantra suggests that the actions of a person are a better measure of them. To a degree it is true, reasons Leonard. Doing something, not just talking about it, speaks volumes. However, if people's words and actions are not aligned then they are not being authentic and it is not enough to only look at their actions, their words count too. The danger is that we can potentially overlook or explain away cruel or toxic speech. 

You can't have your cake and eat it too

This teaches you not to expect to have everything that you want in life and, in a sense, not to be greedy, according to Leonard. This is such a negative suggestion that tells us we are not allowed to have everything. “In my experience over the past three decades, whenever I have asked people what they want, even when I tell them not to limit themselves, people always want what is completely realistic and attainable. So, I do believe that you can have your cake and eat it too and so should you”.

Good things come to those who wait

This phrase is meant to teach us patience but Leonard believes it also sends a strong message that you should be more passive in your life and not proactive and go out there and make the life that you want, when the opposite is true.

Pull your socks up

This mantra is a classic case of ‘toxic positivity’, according to Leonard. She says: “It ignores or diminishes someone's feelings or experience and is completely unhelpful. You are allowed to go through challenging times and feel what you feel”. 

You are enough

Health and wellness coach Katie Lips told NationalWorld that this phrase doesn’t go far enough in terms of expressing self-love or love for another. She says: “Being enough feels like you’re ‘just enough’. It’s mediocre at best, and it simply isn’t ‘enough’ to describe anyone. Instead of telling yourself you’re enough, build your self-love more creatively and powerfully. You’re wonderful, fabulous, gorgeous, world-beating and awe-inspiring”.

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