09/07/2018 17:08 BST | Updated 10/07/2018 13:43 BST

How Motivational Quotes Are Bad For Our Health

Motivational quotes are not only distortions of reality, but by reinforcing unhelpful thinking styles, they can be sources of great distress in the long term


Who doesn’t enjoy a motivational quote? Sometimes there feels nothing better than being emotionally gripped by the succinct witterings of the great and the good. These little nuggets of advice litter our twitter feeds and bury their way into our brains. They come in the guise of being “motivational”, but has anyone taken the time to ask whether these quotes are actually good for us?

Anyone who has struggled with emotional difficulties knows that our thoughts are powerful. They can influence our emotions, the physical sensations we experience in our bodies and even how we act. Our thoughts also impact how we perceive the world around us, other people and ourselves.

If we have difficulties with the nature of our thoughts, this can be a great cause of distress. As we cannot walk away from them, it is vital that we consider what messages we feed our brains and avoid ones that re-enforce negative thought patterns.

The trouble with many motivational quotes is that, while engaging, they are steeped in a language known as “unhelpful thinking styles”. Evidence shows that it is these thinking styles which play a key role in the maintenance of depression and anxiety. With every read, we are increasing the intensity of these thought patterns in our brains and raising the chance that they will take root.

Here are some of the most common unhelpful thinking styles and examples of the “motivational” quotes which reinforce them.

Black and white thinking

Black and white thinking is the tendency to perceive situations only in extremes – failing to acknowledge that much of life is okay, enough or mediocre. Because of the intensity of black and white thoughts, they can trigger strong emotional responses. Due to the nature of emotional difficulties, these responses are most frequently negative. A typical example of black and white thinking might be “I didn’t come first, therefore I am a failure”.

Some black and white motivational quotes which reinforce this:

“You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try.” – Beverly Sills

“Entrepreneurs average 3.8 failures before final success. What sets the successful ones apart is their amazing persistence.” – Lisa M. Amos

“The best revenge is massive success.” – Frank Sinatra

Compare and despair

This habit is the ruin of many an Instagram user – the tendency of comparing ourselves with individuals around us and subsequently feeling inferior. Typical thoughts that fall into this category might be “my sister has so many friends, I will never be as popular as her”.

Some motivational quotes which reinforce this:

“Successful people do what unsuccessful people are not willing to do. Don’t wish it were easier; wish you were better.” – Jim Rohn

“People who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” – Rob Siltanen

“Leaders think and talk about the solutions. Followers think and talk about the problems.” - Brian Tracy

High and inflexible rules

This occurs when we feel the necessity to live our life in line with a set of rigid rules, which are highly difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. Individuals who experience this unhelpful thinking style may express a lot of “should” or “must” words in their language, such as “I must get top marks in all of my exams”. Holding ourselves to these extreme standards can strip us of the ability to take joy in what we do achieve and can be a great cause of distress when we inevitably fall short.

Some examples of motivational quotes which reinforce this:

“We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained.” – Marie Curie

“If you have an idea of what you want to do in your future, you must go at it with almost monastic obsession, be it music, the ballet or just a basic degree. You have to go at it single-mindedly and let nothing get in your way.” – Henry Rollins

“If you set your goals ridiculously high and it’s a failure, you will fail above everyone else’s success.” – James Cameron


We live in a world where both good and bad things do happen – with a lot of the determining factors being outside of our control. If we have a tendency for personalising, we can often attribute an excessive amount of the responsibility for negative circumstances onto ourselves, causing feelings of guilt, insecurity and distress. A typical thought might be “I ruined the night for everybody”.

Some examples of motivational quotes which reinforce this:

“Fortune sides with him who dares.” – Virgil

“Opportunities don’t happen. You create them.” – Chris Grosser

“All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” – Walt Disney

Motivational quotes are not only distortions of reality, but by reinforcing unhelpful thinking styles, they can be sources of great distress in the long term. This distress will inevitably drain our energy levels – leading ironically to a decrease in motivation.

Doing life well involves a mixture of balance and self-care - not being ordered around by buzzword-laden clickbait designed to capture retweets. Let’s all take a bit more thought with the messages we share on social media, for our own good, as well as others.