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The Case For (And Against) Motivational Quotes

If Google searches are a signal of importance, then a lot of people think motivational quotes are important. In fact, the search term has over 500,000 hits per month. The more specific “motivational quotes for work” has a lower number (about 33,000 monthly), but still fairly significant traffic. It’s the foundation of a global industry that is projected to be worth around $13 billion by 2022, according to MarketResearch.com

In a world where anyone can be a publisher, motivational quotes have become a stalwart piece of content. They are the quotable and tweetable takeaways from talks. Everyone aspires to be quoted as motivational. The word “motivation” and its synonyms show up in a lot of testimonials about public speakers, business leaders, politicians, and more. If you can motivate someone to do anything, especially if you stand to profit from it, then it’s considered valuable. These quotes are just one part of becoming an “influencer,” which a MorningConsult study found 86% of millennials and Gen Z want to do as their top choice career.

Despite the size and growth of the market, there are skeptics. Are motivational quotes worth the time it takes to catalog them? Should you even read them? What do motivational quotes really mean? What value do they bring – really? These are all valid questions, which is why it’s important to look at the case for (and against) motivational quotes. 

The case for motivational quotes

The case for motivational quotes

Put simply, motivational quotes help make people feel better. And if someone feels better, isn’t that a win? Looking into a bit of the “why” behind all this, there are a few reasons for these quotes to continue being used as a formal type of content.

Motivational quotes inspire action

We all get into a funk sometimes. It can either be of our own creation or like is frankly bombarding us with a lot of crap. Success starts to feel distant. You feel isolated. Suddenly, a motivational quote appears. You read it and it resonates. You’re reminded that you’re not alone, that every successful person hit many obstacles – and they overcame them. That means you can do it too, if you take action.

Motivational quotes offer a view into what’s possible

In most cases, we don’t know the people who are quoted with famous motivational quotes. Perhaps we’ve seen YouTube videos of them, read their books, or saw them at a conference. Or perhaps they are already dead, motivating from beyond the grave. Either way, someone’s quotes can offer a view into what’s possible. If Bill Gates shares his story of hardship, it makes his level of success feel a bit more attainable. 

Motivational quotes show a different perspective

While people experience the same fundamental challenges – loss, hardship, rejection, etc. – everyone experiences it differently. Depending on a variety of factors, what is hard for one person may be easy for another, and vice versa. So naturally, reading multiple quotes about a subject will provide a different perspective. While the quotes themselves may not solve the problem, the different perspective may trigger an idea in your mind that eventually becomes the solution to the challenge you’re facing. 

The case against motivational quotes

the case against motivational quotes

If you’re looking for a case against motivational quotes, the usual argument is efficacy. Do they actually work? And, if so, what do they actually provide? 

Motivational quotes are useless and trite

Nearly everyone in the developed world has heard the phrase “Live, Laugh, Love.” On the surface, this makes sense. It’s motivational, even. Of course you should live, laugh, and love. It ties to fundamental philosophy about human nature. But what does this quote actually offer you? It’s not practical because there are no action items. And it’s not particularly helpful since it can’t be broadly applied. For example, if you started laughing at everything in life you’d be asked politely to leave a lot of places. 

Motivational quotes are annoying

If you’re feeling down, the last thing you need is a billionaire talking about the hardships they faced when they were only a millionaire. You have bigger problems to handle and chances are the person sharing the quote doesn’t have the self-awareness to know what privileges they had in life to get them where they are. Even rags-to-riches motivational speakers come to rely on generic statements like “remember, I love you” or “I’m here for you when no one else is.” These may provide some initial comfort, but are also provably false in most instances, leading to little but nuisance. 

Motivational quotes offer no context

To tell someone to “just do it” (both a corporate slogan and motivational quote) is to tell them to take action. Got it. But most motivational sayings rely heavily on devices that still make everything your problem. It’s not just “go do it” but “you know what you need to do”. There’s never a real definition of “it,” is there? They also typically make use of reference words – “that” “this” and other terms like it – to make their quote seemingly personalized but also generic. Unfortunately, this often leads to misinterpretation. 

Are motivational quotes good or bad?

Are motivational quotes good or bad?

For every person who finds value in a motivational saying, there will be someone – or many people – who finds it useless. When thinking about whether motivational quotes are valuable or not, the question it not one of generality. It’s a question of subjectivity and specificity. 

Not only should the question be changed to “Do motivational quotes work for me?” but further extended to “Do motivational quotes work for me in this context?”

Sometimes, a motivational quote is just what you need. Other times, you’ll scoff, eye roll, and move on with your day. It also depends on who said the quote and if they are credible to you, meaning that what works in one moment for one person may not work for another.

If you need some serious motivation, here are the 67 companies that Warren Buffett owns. Start the next article below.

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