How Motivational Quotes Can Bring Us Together — And Tear Us Apart

With images and a few words, we can create our own story, often fitting our current situation.

I've always been fascinated by motivational quotes. Especially the ones that create action. For example, "We're in this together." Five simple words on a screen that ignited a movement across the world eight months ago. Today, the effectiveness of that quote seems so distant. How did we go from praying in hospital parking lots to fighting inside grocery stores?

For this story, I wanted to go beyond the political climate and look at the science behind motivation. Jonathan Fader is a psychologist and motivational guru in New York City. Fader has worked with countless athletes and businesspeople on mental coaching throughout his career.

"I think the thing about quotes that's really helpful is in very few words, they help to distill a story," Fader says. 

With images and a few words, we can create our own story, often fitting our current situation.

"People are saying 'We're in this together,' that's really helpful. That's a quote," Fader says. "But the quote, the design of the quote, the way it becomes powerful is if it inspires action."

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"We're in this together," did just that. Millions across the country came together at a distance to show their support and love for their communities, from making homemade masks to delivering food for a neighbor at risk. Unfortunately, motivation seems to be short-lived. That is what makes Fader's work necessary. 

"I'm really fascinated by the stories of people that have been prisoners of war and the things that they do to help themselves get through that traumatic experience, building imaginary houses in their mind, playing golf in their mind, playing chess games in their mind," says Fader. 

Now, we are not prisoners of war, but millions of Americans are still under stay-at-home orders several months into the pandemic—many of those are hitting a wall and feeling less inspired to do more. 

"Everybody's experiencing what I think of as pandemic fatigue," he says. "We're all in this together, but we all have been in this together for a long time. And for me, this is where things like sports performance psychology come to play."

Performance psychology is what makes marathon athletes so unique. They can build routines in their minds to get through the final miles, according to Fader. Viewing the pandemic as a marathon versus a sprint helps put things into perspective. 

Author Leon Brown once said, "If you tell yourself something often enough, you will start to believe it." This quote is an inspiring one, but can be very dangerous. If we end up feeding ourselves the wrong narrative, we could create what is called an illusion of truth. 

From friends to the social content we select to consume daily, all play a role in the world we choose to create for ourselves. We can subscribe, follow, or even defriend who we want in our lives. It reminds me of my favorite quote by Lao Tzu that reads: "Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny."

"Science shows us that the coronavirus is a very real threat," says Fader. "People are definitely telling themselves stories to get through and those stories become true because until you get the virus, you can tell yourself that story and be in that kind of deluded world." 

If the election has shown me anything, it's that we are more divided right now—a long way from the inspiring moments we all shared in March. Those simple words created a movement, gave a world hope, and inspired us to take action for the better. 

"Another quote that I go to a lot is 'things are not as they are. They are as we are," says Fader. "I already have the perception that our way of looking at things determines our behavior and thus our future." 

So, how are you choosing to look at the things around you? And from that, what is the story you're telling yourself?