Imagine you have to do something very difficult, be it passing an exam, a complicated physical exercise or getting ready for a presentation. What could you do to motivate yourself? While optimism and self-confidence are important, this small trick can also have a positive effect: read and reflect on inspirational phrases. That was the conclusion of an investigation from Jesús Alcoba and Laura López, recently published in Europe’s Journal of Psychology.
What we say affects us. And what we say to ourselves, affects us even more
As is the norm in these experiments, people were divided into two groups and told to do a difficult exercise. Before taking on the task, participants from the first group were told to choose from a list of motivational quotes, such as Michael Jordan’s famous: “I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” People from the second group chose from less interesting and neutral phrases like: “The lack of manual labor has made it difficult to collect the strawberry harvest in Huelva.”
After this exercise, they were told to complete another, practically impossible task, and this is where the difference between the two groups was seen. While the second group abandoned the task after 758 seconds, the first, which had read and reflected on the inspiring phrases, continued for 1,109 seconds – 46% longer than their counterparts.
In a second experiment, participants were asked to take a test aimed at exhausting their willpower and boring them. They were then invited to participate in a second activity and once again, split up into two groups. Those who reflected on motivational phrases lasted 35% longer than the other group. In other words, inspiring phrases not only motivate, they also revitalize.
So why do inspiring phrases motivate us? What we say affects us. And what we say to ourselves, affects us even more. If we continuously tell ourselves we are useless, we condition ourselves to face difficulties in a negative way. If we think the opposite, that we can accomplish the task and have the capacity to achieve it, we improve our chances of succeeding. As the author of The Art of War, Sun Tzu concluded: “Every battle is won before it’s ever fought.”
Language not only shapes our reality, it also influences our potential
What is interesting about this research is that inspirational messages also work if they come from other people we admire (as long as they have been selected beforehand). As Jesús Alcoba explains, “inspiring phrases that we constantly share on social media, not only help us reflect, they can also be a powerful ally to help us reach our objectives.” If our minds work this way, we have a great trick to get us motivated, especially on days when we feel down or need an extra push. So how can we incorporate it into our daily lives?
Choose quotes from people you admire that inspire you and put them somewhere visible, whether that’s on the fridge, your work desk or your favorites section on social media. Read and reflect on these phrases before facing a problem or task. You should also mix up the phrases once in a while, so you don’t get used to them and get bored.
Language not only shapes our reality, it also influences our potential, as investigations such as these show. That’s why our internal dialogue and truly inspirational phrases can be so powerful.
English version by Laura Rodríguez.