How Those Little Quotes Lead to Big Success

4 ways to create your own power words

Each morning, New York author and designer Karen Salmansohn goes to work sculpting motivational phrases into vivid designs that she can then post on her Facebook page or reproduce into products and posters.

Within a few hours, those quotes have been “liked,” “shared” and “commented on” hundreds, sometimes thousands, of times. And, her work is just a fraction of the inspirational messages we are exposed to each day.

Workplace white boards are often scribbled with success-oriented quotes, and social media sites like Facebook and Pinterest have become a buffet of motivational sayings featuring famous figures like Einstein and Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt and the Dalai Lama.

We are a culture that loves its motivational messages, but what is it about these quotes that attracts us, inspires us, and causes us to comment and share repeatedly?

It’s a quick hit of “positive propaganda,” says Salmansohn, author of several books, including Instant Happy, set for an October 2012 release.

“Nobody has time to read a book these days, but everybody has time to read a poster, and these serve as a pattern interrupt,” she says.

Short, inspiring quotes bounce us out of our bad moods and rigid mindsets by reminding us that there are other options and more positive possibilities out there. They show us that we, too, can overcome adversity and prevail.

And if the quote is paired with attractive or aspirational imagery, so much the better! “Reading the happy words with the beautiful visuals is like putting peanut butter on chocolate,” Salmansohn says. “Like little thought snacks to graze on through the day to make sure that your mood doesn’t spike down.”

Lessons of life

Quotes can also provide life lessons, since one of the primary ways we learn about the world and ourselves is by watching other people, says psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D., associate director of the Motivation Science Center at Columbia University and author of Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals.

“If a respected person says something that gives you a little extra bit of faith, then we think it must be true. It’s part of how we try to figure out what’s right and what’s wrong,” Halvorson explains.

“The quotes then become part of our search for wisdom,” she adds.

The power of suggestion

In addition to making us a little bit wiser, inspirational quotes also contribute in a very real way to our own success.

Research shows that suggestions — whether deliberate and overt or subtle — can have a direct influence on outcomes. So, if it is suggested that you are capable of doing the job, you’re more likely to work hard and persist toward that outcome.

The opposite is equally true. If you don’t think you’re smart enough to handle the situation, you’ll adopt behaviors and responses that will actually sabotage your success.

This power of suggestion works even when conveyed through indirect means such as gesture, tone or touch. So while a critical tone or dismissive gesture may cause us to feel less capable, inspiring statements and uplifting graphics can help us succeed, often even without our conscious realization.

Four ways to create powerful suggestions

For this reason, it’s important to create an environment that includes triggers that suggest successful behaviors.

To do it, try these tips:

1. Consider your principles and values. Each day, spend a few minutes reflecting on your values and the qualities you want to embody. Then, find ways to express them. Often, just thinking about the things that matter most will cause you to move toward them.

2. Go to the visual. Find pictures of people who possess the qualities you aspire to and post them in your office or bedroom, or near your bathroom mirror. But be wary of the opposite effect too. Filling your office with pictures of a lazy and relaxing vacation may prompt happy memories but probably won’t boost your productivity.

3. Pick your power words. “Success,” “achievement” and “motive” are among the words that Halvorson says have been shown to inspire successful behaviors. Pick five words that resonate with you and stick them up around your workspace. Read quotes that include those trigger words. Soon, you’ll stop noticing them, but the messages they suggest will continue to work on a subconscious level.

4. Download the mood boosters. Remember the classic theme from Rocky or the inspiring instrumental from Chariots of Fire? Maybe you’re moved by “Hold On,” the Wilson Phillips hit. Music packs a powerful and suggestive punch. Just listening to a classical masterwork or the soundtrack from an underdog-does-good movie like Rocky reminds us of our own spirit and strength.

Find a song that speaks to you and play it in the background while you work. If you are in a funk, consciously turn up the tunes, and let the lyrics lead you into a better mood.

“We think of goals as being very conscious and deliberate, but the vast majority of what we do is kind of on autopilot,” Halvorson says. “The trick becomes how to use triggers to get the unconscious to get the right things going. There is not a wrong way of doing this; you just want to be deliberate in what you put around you.”


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