The 9 Quotes I Try to Live By
I like a good quote. Like a movie or metaphor, they’re great for repackaging complex ideas into digestible and actionable statements. They’re useful reminders, it’s easy to get lost in the minutiae of the day and lose sight of the bigger picture. Life is complicated, messy. It helps to have simple sayings to remind us of important principles we may have forgotten.
I know that my brain has default patterns that it likes to fall into. These quotes are a great way for me to remind myself of what behaviors and beliefs I need to have to escape these negative default patterns. That’s all that these are, simple reminders of personal truths that I have discovered in enough ways for them to be important to me. They may not hold any relevance for you and that’s okay. What follows are nine quotes that have been impactful for me, and why. I hope you can get some value out of them as well.
“Mood follows action”
I took this one from Rich Roll, someone who’s lifestyle and attitude inspires me greatly. I love his story, and consume his podcast as a source of mental nutrition. This saying is one that he repeats often and has stuck with me.
We often don’t feel like doing a lot of things, we’re not in the mood to run/work/study. I learned that actually, the typical pathway for behavior in the brain is this: Sensation, Perception, Feelings, Thoughts, Behavior/Action
Yet, it’s easy to reverse and lead with action that influences your thoughts which changes your feelings.
Anecdotally, we all have evidence for this is throughout our lives. Getting started helps, if you stick to it for 5–10 minutes you’ll find you don’t want to stop. It’s much harder to create momentum than to keep it, you just need a spark to start it. That spark can be some simple action towards a goal. A simple but effective truth.
“The only thing you truly control is your attention”
I’m big on the stoic principle of choosing to focus only on that which you can control. For productivity, for mental health, for so many reasons it’s a good idea. I came across the argument that the only thing we really have control over is our attention — what we choose to think about — and how it impacts everything. You don’t actually control your time or physical environment, all sorts of biological and societal factors influence where you live and how you behave in it. You could always be imprisoned or paralyzed.
What we choose to think about is the only and most important freedom that we have. How you use that freedom will impact the only real tool that you have — your brain — and the only thing that matters — how much you’re able to enjoy existence. All of the money in the world doesn’t matter if you don’t have the right mentality to use it well and to be happy in your relationships and purpose.
So practice being mindful, and realize when and where your attention is not being used well. It can make all the difference.
“Things are rarely as good or bad as you expect them to be”
Another theme of my writing — expectations. I’m big on expectations and how they influence our perception of life. In our heads, we like to hype up good and exciting future events or catastrophize about negative ones. It’s comfort food in both senses. It feels good to anticipate nice things, it’s like squeezing out some extra pleasure before the tangible thing has arrived. In this pandemic, we’ve all felt the loss of things to look forward to, it’s a great source of wellbeing to have those in our lives. Likewise, it can feel comforting to anticipate the bad, it prepares us mentally for the worst outcome so that we’re not shocked by it.
By reminding ourselves that in actuality, whatever it is, it’s probably not going to be that fun or that awkward we can keep ourselves on an even keel and better see the world. A lot of times, things aren’t inherently that disappointing, it’s that they didn’t meet our high expectations. In the words of Amos Tversky, don’t allow pessimism to make you suffer twice — once when you worry about the bad thing and once when it happens. Like the fear of jumping off of a high cliff into the water, once it’s over with we realize it wasn’t all that bad.
[Credit to Scott Galloway for reminding me of this one]
“It never gets easier, you just go faster” — Greg LeMond
To me, this one is about taking pride in your development and “embracing the suck”. I used to like a similar version to this quote that went something like “Don’t ask for a lighter load, but a stronger back”.
The level of effort required to be at the top is constant, but your progress and rewards can be compounding, and that’s worth working for. The course doesn’t change, the hills don’t get any less steep. You just get stronger, and the course feels easier and more fun.
“Every choice you make takes you further from or closer to your goals”
Okay, maybe not every choice but it’s not my quote. Regardless of the absoluteness of the quote, I like the idea. It’s about keeping the bigger picture in mind. In the moment, it can feel easy to excuse small or one-time decisions. It’s okay if I eat this one donut, if I smoke this one cigarette, if I choose to not study this night, etc.
Remember that inaction is a choice, too. I’m guilty of this all the time, it’s a cop-out. Whatever your goals are, it’s the small consistent decisions to show up and perform over time that ends up making the difference. Nobody earned a Ph.D. or won a marathon with a week’s worth of intense work. So next time you’re at those crossroads, ask yourself which choice will get you closer to your goals. Remember that stagnation usually means you’re getting further away.
“Work and love, that’s all it takes in life. Work on yourself, and for others. Love yourself, and others”
[I’ve amended this from Sigmund Freud]
Succinct. There are so many approaches and philosophies on how to live to a good life, and how to find the balance between focussing on yourself and others. This fits it into a sentence. I’ve come to believe that there are a few things that contribute to human satisfaction. One, feeling connected (relationships). Two, feeling progress towards our goals (work). Three, feeling a part of something bigger than ourselves (purpose). They intertwine and affect each other, for sure. Yet, if you can orient yourself around work and love you will find more satisfaction in your life. No need to over complicate it.
Work on yourself so that you can provide for yourself, and others. Love yourself, show yourself compassion and forgiveness. Love others, treat them how you would want to be treated, and show them that same level of compassion. The world needs more of both.
“Assume Good Intent”
It’s easy to project our interpretation of things onto other people. When someone cuts us off in traffic, it’s because they’re an impatient, inconsiderate, bad driver. If we cut someone off, it’s an earnest mistake or because we truly were in a hurry.
A lot of unnecessary strife can come from assuming bad intent. If you’re like me, you’ve seen how a series of innocent acts wrongly interpreted can lead to arguments between friends and roommates. It can lead to an outright international conflict. Country A builds a fort near the border of Country B. Country B assumes bad intent and counters with a missile defense system. Country A sees that as a threat and commissions fighter jets. Country B retaliates with a warning shot, now there’s an actual war. Why?
Life is hard enough as is but when we assume good intent from everyone, which is wise because most of the time most people mean well, it gets a little easier. If someone hasn’t responded to your request, don’t assume it’s because they don’t like you, are going to say no, or otherwise. Assume that they’re busy and are trying to get back to you. If someone doesn’t hold the door open for you, assume that they’re in a rush to get to an interview for their dream job.
Will you be wrong more often than not? Possibly. That’s not the point. The point is that we go through life with a more kind, forgiving mindset towards one another. It does wonders for your mental health, and for others.
“If you want something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done”
You have to reach out of your comfort zone to move forward in life. This applies to nearly every endeavor. If you want to run a 15 minute 5k, your legs will have to move faster than they ever have before. To get your legs to move faster you’ll have to train better than you ever have. If you want to date someone, you’ll have to talk to them in a way that you haven’t before. If you want a new job, you’ll have to add new experiences and skills or position yourself in a way you haven’t before.
A useful reminder that if you’re feeling frustrated with a lack of progress in your life, it may be because you’re trying the same things and expecting different results. (Resists the urge to put the Einstein insanity quote here). It leads to a victimhood mentality. You say “I’m doing the right things, it’s the world’s fault that it hasn’t worked out”. Change that to “Maybe I’ve been doing the wrong things, it’s the not the world’s fault, the world isn’t conspiring against me, indeed it doesn’t care. It’s up to me to figure out what works best”.
[Note: This quote is often attributed to Thomas Jefferson, but that is unproven. The origin is unknown.]
“Do your best, forget the rest”
If it sounds like a kitschy motivational poster quote, then you’re right. I saw this on the wall of one of my favorite teachers of my life, Rivers Lynch (RIP). It has stuck with me since. Regardless of the pressures, stress, circumstances, etc all you can ever do is your best. Know yourself well enough that you can put yourself in a position to be your best self and forget how it’s perceived. Once you’ve put something out in the world, that’s it, it’s out of your control. How it is received is no longer up to you, you shouldn’t worry about it. Don’t rely on how people respond to you for your happiness, it’s a dangerous gamble.
Simply do what’s best. You owe it to yourself and others to do so.
There they are, the nine quotes that I try to live by. I’ve recently printed them out and put them on my bedroom door so that I read them before I head out into the world. It’s a little tacky, sure, but I’ve come to realize that I need these reminders to be my best. A small trade-off to live a better life.
Any quotes that you love? Let me know in the comments.