Why Inspirational Quotes Motivate Us

Many people look to motivational quotes for inspiration when times get difficult. These sage words have been a part of the lexicon for many years. These include:

“I have never failed. “I’ve just found 10,000 things that don’t work.” –Thomas Edison

“No one can make anyone feel inferior except you consent” –Eleanor Roosevelt.

“If you don’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. But whatever you do, you must keep moving forward.” –Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

What makes certain phrases so powerful that they are a part of every conversation?

The appeal of motivational psychology and good wordsmithing may depend on who you ask. People who feel inspired by motivational quotes will find them more appealing than those who don’t find simple phrases or sayings meaningful. Jonathan Fader, a psychologist and motivation expert, is the founder of New York’s Union Square Practice.


Fader believes that motivational quotes are a result of a self-selection process. He says that the encouragement to work harder can come from hearing that someone believes you can accomplish what you want. You’re more likely than not to succeed if your coach, teacher, or mentor believe you can do it.

“There is a bit of implicit coaching happening while you read it. Fader says it’s about building self-efficacy through your dialogue with yourself.


Ward Farnsworth is dean of the University of Texas School of Law. He is also the author of Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric. Farnsworth states that people are hungry for well-expressed wisdom.

Latin students see examples of Latin aphorisms dating back to 2,000 years ago, such as Ubi Concordia and ibi victoria. These sayings usually involve some sharp insight combined with memorable language. He says they are little triumphs in rhetoric, in both the old and the word’s positive sense.

How an idea is expressed can impact how it is judged.

Effectiveness is influenced by phrasing, for better or worse. Farnsworth cites a 2000 study conducted by cognitive scientists at Lafayette College. It found that people who presented identical statements were more likely than others to believe the rhyming aphorism.

“As O.J. Simpson’s lawyer once stated, “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must bail.” Napoleon Hill offers a more positive and motivating example: “Whatever man’s mind can imagine and believe, it will achieve.”

Farnsworth believes that the finer details of language make all the difference. There are many ways to communicate the same message, but one way may be more convincing and appealing than the rest due to the arrangement of words. He says that parallel construction, where two halves of the claim are “attractively balanced”, can be very effective.

“Parallel construction is an example of this. It allows for the two halves to be attractively balanced.

A simple idea can be made compelling by the use of metaphors. People who talk about the business will often say “skate to the puck’s destination, not where it’s been”, or “dropping the ball”. These are implicit comparisons to sports. Farnsworth states that metaphors usually succeed by making the subject of the metaphor more visible or simplifying or caricaturing it. The famous quote, “Everyone is genius.” However, if you judge fish by their ability to climb trees, they will live their whole lives believing that they are stupid.” It would be less powerful and evocative if the first sentence were stopped.


Scott Sobel, a media psychologist and communications consultant, believes that some of their appeals could be rooted in biology. He is the founder of Media & Communications Strategies, Inc., Washington, D.C.

Humans are ambitious. He says that we want to be role models and leaders, and to do what they ask.” “Leaders, their words and inspirational quotes affect us on a primal level,” he says.

Recognized leaders in politics, business and the arts can also have more weight because they assume that people must be successful, wise or exceptional to hold public office. These perceptions can make the messages of leaders more powerful.

Fader states that well-structured messages with strong imagery and appeals to our aspirational nature are powerful and can change our thinking. They can also help us see something within ourselves that we need to overcome or change. This is one of the reasons why they are passed down through generations.

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