There’s a reason why most people are the way they are.
There’s a reason why they’re, on average, 23 pounds overweight, why they do just 3 hours of real work and watch 5 hours of TV per day, and why they’re over $130,000 in debt with less than $1,000 in savings.
There’s a reason they sit, eat, watch, and die, an anonymous statistic.
It’s because escaping the gravity of mediocre is hard.
You don’t get to eat all the sugary, fatty foods your inner fat kid desires. You don’t get to buy all the shiny things your ego swoons over. You don’t get to carouse through life with reckless abandon and blame everyone else for everything that makes you unsatisfied.
You have to exercise self-discipline in all areas of your life. You have to take personal responsibility for your circumstances and refuse to complain. You have to get very good at saying “no” to all the people and things that might derail your efforts, and at doing all the types of things that most people don’t want to do.
To make matters worse, you can make all the hard sacrifices and still come up short of the brass ring.
So it’s easy to understand Everyman’s predicament. It’s also easy to fall prey to it ourselves.
It’s all well and good to intellectually understand the myriad benefits of health, wealth, and wisdom, but it’s something else to come to the end of a long, stressful day and choose the gym over the couch, the salad over the spaghetti, and the book over the TV show.
And that’s where motivational quotes can help.
The right words at the right moment can pick you up when you’re down, steel your nerves when you’re afraid, and even transform the way you view yourself or the world around you.
I’ve been collecting such quotes for years now, and in this article, I’m going to share 55 of my favorites organized by theme (mindset, goal setting, doing the work, overcoming obstacles, and staying on top), as well as books on those topics that I’ve found particularly helpful.
I come back to many of these quotes regularly for guidance, inspiration, and reassurance, and I hope that some of them resonate deeply with you as well.
If anything here does speak powerfully to you, please do let me know in the comments at the bottom of this article. I’d love to hear which quotes meant the most to you and why.
Furthermore, feel free to share favorites from your own collection, too. I’d love to see them!
The greatest discovery of my generation is that you can change your circumstances by changing your attitudes of mind.
Never cease chiseling your own statue.
When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe. But that is not what great ships are built for.
—DR. CLARISSA ESTES
In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.
You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf.
Be less concerned with what you have than with what you are.
If you have the power to change your body, you have the power to change your life.
Bad men live that they may eat and drink, whereas good men eat and drink that they may live.
There are people who do not live their present life; it is as if they were preparing themselves, with all their zeal, to live some other life, but not this one. And while they do this, time goes by and is lost.
I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies, for the hardest victory is over self.
Excellence is born of preparation, dedication, focus, and tenacity; compromise on any of these and you become average.
Don’t sacrifice who you could be for who you are.
—DR. JORDAN B. PETERSON
Even if you fail at your ambitious thing, it’s very hard to fail completely. That’s the thing people don’t get.
Giving up on our long-term goals for immediate gratification, my friends, is procrastination.
Mental health is based on a certain degree of tension, the tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish, or the gap between what one is and what one should become. Such tension is inherent in the human being and therefore is indispensable . . . What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.
I have always been contented, but I have never been satisfied.
—JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER
Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
So what you need is . . . confidence in yourself and the belief that you are on the right path, and not led astray by the many tracks which cross yours of people who are hopelessly lost, though some are wandering not far from the true path.
We who cut mere stones must always be envisioning cathedrals.
—QUARRY WORKER’S CREED
We are what we repeatedly do. Greatness, then, is not an act, but a habit.
Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.
Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules.
Seest thou a man diligent in his calling, he shall stand before Kings.
We do two things here. We work hard. And we win. The reason we win is that we work hard. So really, we only do one thing here. If you don’t want to work hard, don’t waste my time.
You know that all things require work and that work might be quite difficult. But do you really understand? Do you have any idea just how much work there is going to be? Not work until you get your big break, not work until you make a name for yourself, but work, work, work, forever and ever.
To know and not to do is not to know.
—WANG YANG MING
In the elder days of Art,
Builders wrought with greatest care
Each minute and unseen part;
For the Gods see everywhere.
—HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW
The best performers are not consistently great, but they are great at being consistent. They show up every day and they do the work.
Lots of people want to be the noun without doing the verb.
To get what you want, you have to deserve what you want. The world is not yet a crazy enough place to reward a whole bunch of undeserving people. Slug it out one inch at a time, day by day. At the end of the day—if you live long enough—most people get what they deserve.
The value of a thing sometimes lies not in what one attains with it but in what one pays for it— what it costs us.
In this age, which believes that there is a shortcut to everything, the greatest lesson to be learned is that the most difficult way is, in the long run, the easiest.
The worst form of stress is an absence of stress, because the feeling that there is no life before death gives rise to a despairing feeling of emptiness in the face of the void.
He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.
He who wrestles with us strengthens our nerves, and sharpens our skill. Our antagonist is our helper.
Life is one long battle; we have to fight at every step; and Voltaire very rightly says that if we succeed, it is at the point of the sword, and that we die with the weapon in our hand.
Don’t assume other people are smarter than you, or more talented than you, or more magic than you. Nobody knows anything. Everybody’s faking it.
Not dead. Can’t quit.
‘Tis not in mortals to command success, but we’ll do more . . . we’ll deserve it.
Show me a man who is not a slave! One is a slave to lust, another to greed, another to ambition, and all men are slaves to fear.
The common denominator of success—the secret of success of every man who has ever been successful—lies in the fact that he formed the habit of doing things that failures don’t like to do.
—ALBERT E.N. GRAY
It’s not the strongest species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
We all need something to struggle against and to struggle for. The aim in life is not to avoid struggles, but to have the right ones; not to avoid worry, but to care about the right things; not to live without fear, but to confront worthy fears with force and passion.
There are many who find a good alibi far more attractive than an achievement.
Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life.
Not what we have, but what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance.
Heroes have the whole earth for their tomb . . . There is enshrined in every breast a record unwritten with no tablet to preserve it, except that of the heart.
Let it be our pride that we ourselves may put meaning into our lives, and sometimes a significance that transcends death.
—WILL & ARIEL DURANT
The first thing which gods bestow on one they would annihilate is pride.
It can ruin your life only if it ruins your character.
It is not our memories but the person we have become because of those past experiences that we should treasure.
In pleasant peace and security, how quickly the soul in a man begins to die.
Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure.
If you have everything under control, you’re not moving fast enough.