One scroll through your Instagram feed and you should be ready to conquer the world. Why? Because “you are more important than the numbers” and “the only bad workout is the one you didn’t do.” We are bombarded day after day with wrongly attributed quotes and inspirational posters all desperate for us to do our absolute best. Talk about pressure.

The question is, do motivational quotes actually work? Do they really make you want to get to the gym and smash your PBs? Can some words on a lovely background really inspire you? The short answer, it depends.


What is motivation?

Broadly speaking, motivation is the sum of factors that provide the energy required for you to stay interested in a project, goal, outcome etc.

For example, going on holiday could be the reason you to keep saving every month. Fitting into your old jeans might be the drive for your 5am gym sessions. Whatever gets you up and focused on the task at hand is what you can attribute your motivation to.


Motivation central system

When it comes to inspirational quotes however, they don’t often succeed at getting the reader up off their feet. In fact, more times than not, it evokes the opposite reaction. The reason is complex and can vary from person to person. Research has found that when reading a motivational quote, it can trigger the reward system in the brain responsible to making us feel good. By releasing endorphins that we haven’t earned, we are instantly satisfied and are less likely to get on with the task at hand.

This can hinder our productivity and so, when you see your favorite athlete post something on Instagram like: “the earlier you start working on something, the earlier you will see results, the brain registers and rewards you for thinking about being active instead of doing the task.


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The psychology behind it

The great thing about humans is that we’re aspirational. We constantly want to improve. In 1987, Edward Higgins came up with the self-discrepancy theory. It argues that we have three types of self: the ideal self, the ought self and our actual self. Our ideal self encourages us to take action to get closer to that state and our ought self prevents our actual self leading away from it.

Perhaps then, a well-placed motivational pick me up could be just the thing to remind us that our hard work to become our ideal self, is worth it. However, this is dependent on the consumer, the moment, and a whole range of factors that are usually out of our control.

The other issue is that, because we see these words of encouragement everywhere we go, from the gym to our office and now all over our social media feeds, it’s all become too much. Even if at one point a motivational poster may have worked, we are now more prone to ignore them due to oversaturation. The posters at the gym become part of the furniture and we’re less inspired, reading them only when we need something to focus on to get us through those dreaded 10 minutes on the treadmill.


How to combat it?

Instead of buying into the romantic notion that hard work is actually easy, break down each task into smaller chunks. If you think you have 1000 emails to reply to, you will become overwhelmed and ignore the problem. If you tell yourself you have 20 emails to reply to within the next few hours, the task will seem achievable rather than daunting.

Not only is this a productive way of working, but it will see you working for longer. Focusing too much on the final result only hinders us from getting there as we’re more likely to give up when we feel like we’re a million miles away from our goals. In essence, the best way to motivate yourself is to get excited about the work instead of the outcome.


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