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Is The World Of Motivational Messages Spinning More Lies Than Truth?

They are everywhere– from our WhatsApp inboxes to our Instagram feed. Motivational quotes are the norm on social media these days in statuses, stories or seemingly trivial captions.

A motivation quote on success and failure
The trouble with many motivational quotes is that they are ‘unhelpful thinking styles’.

After all, who doesn’t like a good old tidbit of motivation on our timeline? They, at times, offer us advice, give us perspective or give us just the push we may need. Many times, we find ourselves consumed by the concise yet incisive writings of such quotes.

These little slices of advice and suggestions flood our feeds and more often not, find their way to our brains. While they come in the guise of their plethoric boons, rarely do we ever take the time to ask whether these quotes could do any harm.

The trouble with many motivational quotes is that, while engaging, they are steeped in, what psychologists say are, ‘unhelpful thinking styles’.

With every read, we are increasing the intensity of these thought patterns in our brains and raising the chance that they will take root. In ways, more than one, those seemingly innocent quotes can promote and insinuate ideas that may be unhealthy.

 

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Loss? Not For Me

Shelia Lirio Marcelo’s “I think in terms of evolutions, not revolutions. Failure is not part of my vocabulary” is quite popular.

A vocabulary without the word ‘failure’ is in itself a failure at the hands of one’s diction.

Many times, such quotes create ideas that tell us to live our lives with the rigid rules the quotes implicate. Rules, which are pretty hard to achieve, maybe even impossible. Holding ourselves to extreme standards can often rob us of our ability to take joy in what we achieve and cause great distress during the times we do actually fall short. It goes without saying that failure should be an acceptable norm in every way.

Moreover, the mantra of ‘blocking out negative thoughts’ seems to be in denial of reality. “Such ideas can cause great anguish even when the loss is a small one,” says Ms Aysha. When the point should have been to get comfortable with failure and awkward moments, what we get instead slowly chips away at our self-image.

An image showing motivational messages
A person who already is a workaholic can take quotes meant to motivate to an unhealthy level. Photo: YKA

A Fit For All

“They’re a one-size-fits-all,” says Ms Aysha, a psychotherapist, when referring to motivational quotes.

While certainly helpful in some situations, the ambiguity that allows us to relate to these tidbits of motivations is what can also make them harmful.

The problem with motivational quotes is that they make blanket statements for all of humankind to follow. Each one of us tries to fit them into our own contexts and circumstances and they may not always fit.

A person who already is a workaholic can take quotes meant to motivate to an unhealthy level. Sure, it can be okay for people who need a push of motivation to succeed. But the people who are exhausted working hard, and are then told “don’t stop when you are tired, stop when you are done” will probably end up burning out.

A young man working and stressed
The more we buy into quotes about pushing ourselves, the more pressure we may feel to keep working even when we have reached exhaustion.

“If you try to make it apply, you’ll think it helps you. They are helpful when you know when to apply such thinking and when not to,” says Ms Aysha.

While it really is one’s own choice whether to act upon them or ignore them, their sheer abundance in our environment makes that task a tad more difficult.

Dwindling Responsibilities

Statements are often shaded as motivation or inspiration but, the overtly motivating is covertly free of any consideration to differences.

They put the whole responsibility on the individual, Ms Aysha explains. “They promote an idea that your win is your win only and loss is entirely on you. There will be many times when there will be other factors in our success and failure,” she adds.

When you read in between the lines, what it really implies is that if you don’t reach your goals, you don’t want it bad enough, or you weren’t resourceful, strong, or have the ability.

More often than not, we are made to buy into ideas that suggest that all good things that come our way were “earned”. Ideas that are difficult to sustain, given how competition is rarely ever equal and the role chance, plays in all our lives.

In truth, rarely do they ever address what could be pre-existing inequalities and privilege, among other problems and factors that are in no way in one’s control. Moreover, such beliefs imply that those who don’t succeed are deficient, and somehow deserve the misfortune. They allow us to justify the status quo, by giving little consideration to what isn’t in one’s control.

 

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Work, Work, Work

I never took a day off in my 20s. Not one.“: Bill Gates

The more we buy into quotes about pushing ourselves, the more pressure we may feel to keep working even when we have reached exhaustion.

Doing less than what is humanly possible and taking time to rest when tired can make one more productive and happier at work and at home but such quotes, attributing success to unhealthy methods, from seemingly “successful” people implies the opposite.

Hence, making it unacceptable for one to not give 100%.

The ideas we, as a result, do end up encouraging and propagating fuel the unhealthy culture of the “hustle”, as we know it– the culture that often turns well-intentioned motivation into an arena of busyness and chaos.

Hustle until you don’t need to introduce yourself
Hustle culture is unhealthy, but it’s introduced as the be-all, end-all. Representational image.

What Then?

“Take them with a pinch of salt and know they may not always fit you,” says Ms Aysha.

Motivational quotes can work many times, but the problem with motivational quotes occurs when they are followed blindly and hence, it becomes important to not do so.

As inspiring as they may have the potential to be, they can be just as bad for one. Being mindful and self-aware is essential to know what can inspire you and when to let go of the ones that cause unnecessarily overwhelm and unhealthy stress.

Sure, reading “no pain, no gain” might lift your spirits on a particularly bad day, but it doesn’t mean that you HAVE to have a painful day to succeed. And, it also doesn’t mean you have to go through the pain of giving thought to so many quotes to gain something from some of them.

Note: The author is part of the Sept-Nov ’21 batch of the Writer’s Training Program

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