6 Great Psychology Quotes

Inspiration From Psychology's Best-Known Thinkers

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Inspirational quotes can offer fresh insights and perspectives on problems that everyone faces at one time or another. If you are looking for some quotes that might help you feel motivated or energized, you might want to start by taking a closer look at these, from some of psychology's best-known thinkers.


Maslow: Finding New Ways to Tackle Problems

"I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail."

This famous quote from Abraham Maslow is often known as the law of instrument or Maslow's hammer. Essentially, it suggests an over-reliance on a familiar or favorite tool. While such tools can sometimes be helpful, they can lead to approaching problems in ways that are not helpful or even destructive.

In psychological terms, this might involve always relying on the same coping mechanisms, rather than looking for new solutions. Rather than falling prey to this tendency, Maslow's quote suggests that you try expanding your horizons a bit to learn about new ways of thinking and explore different ways of communicating with others. Maslow is also known for his hierarchy of needs.


James: Doing Hard Things Can Build Character

"Everybody should do at least two things each day that he hates to do, just for practice."

With this quote, psychologist and philosopher William James is saying life shouldn't always be about taking the easy road. Sometimes the greatest learning experiences are those brought on by adversity and challenge. It is during these times that you learn a great deal about yourself, your strengths, and your weaknesses.

As James's quote suggests, sometimes it is important to do things even if you do not necessarily enjoy or want to engage in these activities. For an ardent introvert, starting conversations with strangers would be a great example of an undesirable task that might lead to an unexpected reward.

If you find yourself falling into a rut, try taking James' advice. Challenge yourself to try something new or tackle something that you don't necessarily find enjoyable: enrolling in a new class, trying a different workout, or committing to a marathon. See what skills and knowledge you might gain from the experience.


Ellis: Taking Personal Responsibility for Your Life

"The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realize that you control your own destiny."

This quote from Albert Ellis is all about taking responsibility for your own life and choices. Clearly, there are aspects of your life that are outside of your control. While you might not be able to control all the things that happen to you or that you experience through your life, you can take charge of how you respond to these events.

In psychology, this concept is often referred to as having an internal locus of control. Essentially, your locus of control refers to whether you see the events in your life as outside of your control or whether you feel that your actions can influence your destiny.

People who have an internal locus of control tend to feel more in control, have a greater sense of self-efficacy, and are typically happier and healthier. Those who possess an external locus of control often feel helpless, powerless, and unmotivated to make changes in their lives.

Ellis is known for developing rational emotive behavior therapy, a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy focused on helping clients change irrational beliefs.


Rogers: Maintaining a Sense of Optimism

"When I look at the world I'm pessimistic, but when I look at people I am optimistic."

Carl Rogers is saying it can be all too easy to start to feel pessimistic about the state of the world. The news seems filled with stories of tragedy and human misery. Your social media feed might present you with a constant influx of stories focused on strife, arguments, and crises.

Rogers's quote suggests that while focusing on such stories might make the world seem like a terrible place, focusing on individual people can help you maintain a more optimistic and realistic view of the world. News articles and social media stories don't offer a true look at what's going on in the world around you.

If you find yourself getting pessimistic about the world, take a look at the people around you who can help boost you up. Focus on stories about inspirational people who are doing great things and making powerful contributions to society. As Carl Rogers suggests, the world is full of kind and generous people who can inspire great optimism.


Skinner: Learning That Lasts a Lifetime

"Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten."

When people think of education, they tend to think of facts and figures learned in school. However, it is often the methods, principles, and inquiry process that lie behind knowledge that really matter.

As B. F. Skinner says, the sum of our knowledge goes far beyond simple textbook learning. While the information you learn in class might not be retained in long-term memory after taking an exam, the critical thinking skills acquired while pursuing an education will last a lifetime.

The learning process never ends, even long after the days of school are over. Never stop challenging yourself to explore new information, new ways of doing things, and different ways of thinking about the world.

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Rogers: Life Is a Direction, Not a Destination

"The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination."

Have you ever been so focused on achieving a goal that you totally forget to enjoy the journey toward reaching that goal? Carl Rogers's quotation suggests that living a good life is all about the journey itself.

Instead of focusing on the things that you think will ultimately lead to "living the good life," such as having a big house, driving a nice car, and going on exotic vacations, focus your attention on the everyday good things in your life. The things you learn, the family and friends you share your life with, and the things that bring you happiness are the greatest indicators of a happy, fulfilled life.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  4. Soroka S, McAdams S. News, politics, and negativity. Political Communication. 2015;32(1):1-22. doi:10.1080/10584609.2014.881942

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By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is the author of the "Everything Psychology Book (2nd Edition)" and has written thousands of articles on diverse psychology topics. Kendra holds a Master of Science degree in education from Boise State University with a primary research interest in educational psychology and a Bachelor of Science in psychology from Idaho State University with additional coursework in substance use and case management.