„Never do it, just give up” – contradicting motivational mottos and how to make sense of them

I can proudly admit that I am a fan of cheesy motivational quotes, and I am not the only one. According to Google Trends, over the past 12 months, the term motivational quotes had been nearly three times more popular in the search engine than productivity (which is astonishing, given the fact that productivity is a widely used term in economics AND in personal development, while motivational quotes has only one meaning). It is no wonder – when life gets tough, a few words of encouragement can go a long way.

Why are they so popular though? Well, they are short, easy to remember and remind people of things they already thought of, only in different words. Are they overused clichés? Of course. But my question is, why are we so afraid of clichés? Why can’t we admit if we like something ridiculously popular, or if we, in fact, cannot get tired of reading the three magic words: “Never give up”?

However, these quotes can be confusing. I have taken a look at my old Tumblr, which was the holy ground of quotes back in the fresher days of social media, and now I completely understand why I had no idea what I was doing most of the time.

Quite contradicting, right?

You see, my friends were sharing pictures of models looking out of windows, and sad quotes about heartbreak (which I could totally relate to, since Popularboychad didn’t invite me to the school dance, either). Looking back, I am quite proud of my past self, who didn’t dedicate an entire blog for Popularboychad (who probably didn’t even shower every day), but instead, was posting nature shots and motivational quotes – pretty basic, but again, I have no problem with being cliché and prefer being a positive cliché.

What I recognized, however, was how inconsistent the quotes were. One of the pictures I shared was a big sign that said „YOU HAVE NO REASON TO STOP!!!” but then, two months later, one of my posts went: „There is a difference between giving up and knowing when you’ve had enough.” Then, again, I saw „Just do it”, and „Go hard or go home” almost next to each other. And I, my present self, became extremely confused. Should I just do it, or should I go hard (or home)…? How do we decide which quote, which – seemingly universal – wisdom to listen to?

Image: peakpx.com
Image: amazon.com


Well, first of all, we must admit that these quotes – just like any other utterance in any language – would be impossible to understand without context. And with motivational sentences, there is a wide array of possible contexts in which we can make sense of them: perhaps we have read the book from which it was quoted, or we are in a situation where we find that particular saying very relatable. Maybe we forged some hidden, much more abstract meaning in our mind, one which we can resonate with.

And so a lot depends on our current mood: when we feel particularly motivated, we might like more strict quotes (“Excuses are for those who do not want it bad enough!”), because that will fuel the fire that is already burning. On the contrary, some days, we just want a hug and a picture that says: “Everything will be okay.” This brings us to a question I have been asking myself: how can these ideas coexist in a way that is most beneficial for the individual? How do we decide what to motivate or soothe ourselves with in difficult situations?

The right amount of motivation

Let’s tackle the most important matters first: your physical and mental health. Taking things to the extreme isn’t a good idea – you can drink water or even take breaths in a harmful way, and the same is true to any activity fuelled by motivational quotes. When you can barely stand on your feet and start to feel dizzy, maybe it’s not the best idea to start implementing “Just do it!”, and do another set of deadlifts. When you feel overwhelmed by the workload you must finish, maybe it’s better to get some fresh air before you “face your fears”.

Accept that as you engage in activities, your attitude towards them can change. You might hate your first day at a new job, but it’s too early draw accurate conclusions. Perhaps you used to love drawing trees as a teen, but it no longer interests you. In these cases, it’s best to forget about Internet Wisdom for a while: you’ll find just as much encouragement as discouragement, and now, my friend, you’ll have even less idea what to do or how to feel than before you consulted Tumblr or Youtube.

Image: Pinterest

With that in mind, I only have one advice left for you: trust yourself. No motivational quote or video knows you better than you do, and while you can certainly gain inspiration or guidance from them, the decision to implement them is yours. And sometimes, you’ll want to “Push yourself to your limits, and do not stop there”, while other times “All you need is love”. Accept both states, and trust yourself to make the best decision according to your situation. You’ll be fine.