I want my banana shirt.

That was the chant that I heard repeating in my mind again and again, in step with my cadence, in stride with my gait, perfectly timed to my run.

I want my banana shirt.

I don’t know where it came from. It just spontaneously developed in my head and wouldn’t quit.

I want my banana shirt.

Those five arbitrary words repeated over and over distracted me from any pain, prevented evil thoughts of walking from entering my head, and kept me to a suitable pace.

One of hundreds of shops in Hoi An that almost certainly sold banana shirts

I want my banana shirt.

I hated those shirts. They’d damn ugly. But they seemed to be the in thing if you were a fat white tourist visiting Danang in 2018.

Some fabric wholesaler must have dumped their ugliest material there.

In the film Anger Management, Jack Nicholson’s character has his clients chant this Eskimo word to calm them down.

The tailors in the picturesque town of Hoi An must have had a hunch that drunk tourists with more money than fashion sense would pay to have them tailor-made to fit their pear-like figures.

I want my banana shirt.

Chanting is a form of meditation. You just breathe, make the sounds, and relent to the rhythm. Better if you are moving.

Religious chants often include clapping, rocking, dancing; victory chants include pumping the fist; military chants always include marching. They all include moving and what movement beats running?

All chants have movement

I was running.

I want my banana shirt.

Chants serve a few purposes. They keep your cadence or pace. They distract you and occupy your mind, preventing it from wandering to anything negative. They improve your morale.

Once your mind can give in to the chanting (I don’t do it out loud, but that could be even more effective, albeit a bit weird), you let go of your thoughts and bring your awareness to the present moment.

Like I said, that’s called meditation.

I want my banana shirt.

It’s a meaningless chant. It’s not motivational. It’s not aspirational.

Well, in retrospect, I guess it had some meaning. Irreverent or sarcastic meaning.

It was funny, to me at least. I was making fun of the ugly shirts. I was making fun of the tourists.

I was dreaming of being a lazy tourist eating a greasy hamburger and drinking tasteless Hanoi beer on the beach, without a care in the world.

So it did have some aspiration, but nothing really in terms of inspiring me to achieve a faster run or race.

But if it had some more purposeful meaning, it could be more powerful. What if you chanted your pace, your finish time, your kids’ names, or any other motivating mantra?

What if you could ingrain that thought in your head and really commit to it? Do you think it could help you finish stronger or faster? I do.

The TED talk by Ned Phillips entitled, “How endurance athletes are using the power of the now” explains how simply counting steps during a race can distract your mind.

Ned likens the mental state you gain while counting to that of a child on the beach, stuck in the fleeting now, with no regard to the past or the future, purely enjoying his time and his experience.

I have used his technique and counted close to 2,000 steps in one session.

All in my own world of now. Seeing life through a blinkered, immediate, present lens. Almost how an animal would think.

A word of caution, though. That banana shirt chant has stuck with me for the past two years. Like a bad Vanilla Ice lyric, I can’t extract it from my brain. It’s tattooed in my memory.

So I suggest you choose something truly meaningful.

Now I think I will actually buy that damn shirt next year to see if I can get this chant out of my system.

1 thought on “#46: Come up with a chant or mantra”

  1. Great essay, Andrew. I enjoyed its sense of relevance and purpose. I, now, have your mantra stuck in my head. Darn it. I hate yellow bandanas.

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