Having one or more personal mottos can enrich your life in more ways than one.
A good motto can help you come to a decision. For instance, you’ll want to know how much (or how little) you should keep trying to master a skill.
You may be an impulsive person, in this case a calming and thoughtful motto can help you take a step back, clear your mind and make a decision when you’re in better spirits.
Other times, you may need a motto to guide you through the hard moments in life, when your efforts don’t seem to connect and you’re wondering what to do.
Finally, a good life motto can often condense countless years of knowledge, and this in turn will help you correctly analyze and interpret a situation. They function like a trusty companion who has seen much of the world and is teaching you along the way.
Some mottos are universal, but most are specialized. Some mottos you’ll use for the rest of your life, others only for particular period of time.
Most motto’s are specialized and deal with a particular aspect of life: friends, motivation, habits, relationships etc. Some are very general and function as a basic guideline on living life in general.
Also, it’s very possible that a motto you use now, will become impractical in a few months or years. That’s normal. Your life circumstances change, or you grow as a person, and then you’ll abandon old mottos for new ones.
Sometimes, you might even drop a motto, but come back to it years later. It’s all part of the process.
Best personal mottos
The best mottos combine timeless wisdom, with a clear sense of where to direct your efforts and how to look at life.
Picard to Data, when Data was afraid of the mistakes he might make if he became First Officer on the Enterprise.
According to Persian fables, a king once asked his advisers to create a ring that will make him happy whenever he feels sad. After much deliberation, the advisers inscribed the phrase “this too shall pass” unto the ring.
The ring worked, but it was both blessing and curse – it helped the king when he felt sad, but also when he felt happy.
Usually attributed to Demosthenes, an ancient Athenian politician. He invented this phrase to defend himself because his contemporaries poked fun at him for deserting at the Battle of Charonea, where Alexander the Great’s father defeated the Athenians and later conquered them.
Title of a book by negotiation expert Chester Karrass, whose negotiation teaching programs are used by many Forbes 500 companies.
Usually labeled as a Zen Buddhist saying. A key concept in Buddhism is called “samsara”, which is a painful and suffering-laden cycle of death and rebirth without end. The only way to end this pain is to reach a state of enlightenment – nirvana.
Viewed from this perspective, many of the things you do in life are futile since they do not move you forwards towards enlightenment. “They journey is the reward” is a recentering motto – what you obtain at the end of a journey may not be of any use to you, but the lessons you learn along the way can potentially end an infinity of suffering.
Coined by artist Michael John Bobak. Unfortunately for him, he is more popular for the motto above than any of his other works.
Artist who earns a living creating deeply nostalgic décor products using weird designs and questionable font choices.
Stoics make for great emperors (see Marcus Aurelius) and competent advisers and functionaries (including Seneca).
Unfortunately, Stoics seem to be particularly bad teachers. Seneca was the tutor and adviser to Nero, who ended up burning down Rome and feeding Christians to lions; while Marcus Aurelius’s son, Commodus, basically bankrupted the Roman Empire, and indirectly caused a depression and famine.
Quote by a character called Lord Illingworth, a rich English lord who loved scandal as much as he loved (married) women.
Original Russian proverb suggests to “measure seven times”, but the quality control of the English translators was severely lacking.
Ancient Roman wisdom. Origin uncertain, but there is a chance it could be Seneca or another Stoic philosopher of the time.
Misattributed to Thomas Jefferson, but the earliest known mention is in an obscure medical journal.
Origin uncertain. Likely East Asian Buddhist.
First appeared in an open letter by economist Benjamin Ola Akande addressed to President Barrack Obama, urging for more forceful economic response to pull the USA out of the 2008-2009 financial crisis.
Origin and context uncertain. Most often attributed to Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Most likely said by Sun Tzu, the Ancient Chinese military strategist. He argued that even if there’s a high chance of victory, some battles may still be too costly to win.
The wife of a powerful politician is in pain at the realization her husband married purely for political reasons. Despite desperately needing an heir, he refuses to sleep with her, with all of his affections directed at a low-born and barren concubine.
As a priestess remarked, the husband’s reason was victim to his love and lust.
Said by William Griffith Wilson, the founder of “Alcoholics Anonymous”, himself a recovering alcoholic.
Famous & popular mottos
These are some of the most well-known and popular mottos ever, the quality of many has been proven by time while others by the fame of who said them.
The original Latin verse by the Roman poet Horace goes: carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero, translated as: “Seize the day, put very little trust in tomorrow / the future.”
A phrase used by American pioneers as they settled the new western territories. Back then, they had very little in the way of fire-firefighting technologies so they limited the spread of wildfire by preemptively burning certain patches in front of the wildfire. This extinguished it by exhausting potential fuel sources.
Will Durant wrote this phrase as a summary for a much bigger passage in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. In it, Aristotle argued that in order to become virtuous (such as being kind, fair or disciplined) one must achieve 3 conditions:
- The person must know that they are doing a kind, fair, disciplined or another virtuous act.
- The person must decide to do those acts on purpose, and not by chance.
- The person must do the virtuous acts from a firm and unchanging state. This means that no matter the circumstances, they will always do the virtuous act.
Some might argue the better version of this quote is “Give a man a fire and he’ll be warm for the rest of the day, set a man on fire and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life”.
The key word here is “art”. In ancient Greek, the term “art” refers more to “technique”, “craft” or “artisanship” rather the modern connotation of creating things of beauty. Viewed from this perspective, the quote means that there is so much work to be done, but so little time to do it.
For some, this may be a better interpretation than the more common one: that there is so much beauty in life, but too little time to enjoy it.
These are the first two lines in the book Aphorismi by Ancient Greek doctor Hippocrates (who also provided us the Hippocratic Oath doctors must uphold).
Quote widely misattributed to the fuzzy-haired Albert Einstein. In truth, the earliest known source of this quote comes from a Narcotics Anonymous guidebook.
It uses the quote as a way to tell addicts that continuing to use narcotics while still hoping to quit by themselves is a near-impossible strategy that rarely works.
Uttered by a high-ranking official in the Jimmy Carter presidency, who believed he could save billions in tax payer money by preventing the government from messing things and fixing them up again.
The first mention of the phrase was in 1580. Shakespeare lived between 1564 to 1616. Coincidence? Probably not. But if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
This appears in a wider passage by Seneca in his letter “Of Peace of Mind”, where he discusses how the greatest authors, statesmen and philosophers of his day were only able to produce things of great quality by throwing away inhibitions and immersing themselves in their primal sides.
Seneca provides a few examples such as Scipio, a Roman general who embraced vigorous soldier dances, or even Plato, who rarely found inspiration while sober.
The first known use of this quote is in the book “Salt from My Attic”, which is a collection of aphorisms by John A. Shedd and is the only reason the book is known in any way.
Old Italian chess proverb, originating from the Tuscany region.
This formulation above is fairly new, but the idea itself is quite old. A different wording comes from a Prussian military commander Helmuth von Moltke the Elder: “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.”
This is a simplified version of the phrase. In the full quote, Socrates essentially says that an accuser at his life-or-death trial had a sub-par intellect.
“I am wiser than this man, for neither of us appears to know anything great and good; but he fancies he knows something, although he knows nothing; whereas I, as I do not know anything, so I do not fancy I do. In this trifling particular, then, I appear to be wiser than he, because I do not fancy I know what I do not know.”
Nearly 2200 years ago, the ancient Roman Republic was locked in a life or death struggle with its arch-enemy, Carthage.
Hannibal was Carthage’s (and probably history’s) greatest general, and was tasked with defeating Rome. Because Rome had a stronger navy than Carthage, Hannibal could only invade the Roman Republic by land.
This meant that Hannibal had to travel with his army all the way from what is today modern-day Spain, through the south of France, and then pass the nearly impregnable Alps (average height = 4,800 meters / ~16,000 feet).
Not only was he successful, but he also brought his war elephants when crossing the Alps. Over the course of a decade, Hannibal proceeded to dismantle Rome’s hold on the Italian Peninsula, and nearly conquer Rome itself.
Quote widely misattributed to Winston Churchill. The original version appeared in 1943 publication called “Christian Science Sentinel” and was in the form of a dialogue:
Someone once asked a man how he was. He replied, “I’m going through hell!” Said his friend: “Well, keep on going. That is no place to stop!”
Latin proverb. In some versions, the word “Fortune” corresponds to the goddess of luck herself, Fortuna.
Meaning it’s not your problem, thus not your concern. Translated from the Polish expression “nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy”
Mottos to live by day by day
Motto’s that can be applied to situations that happen on an almost daily basis.
Shared by a reader of our blog. The reader’s friend said these words when in the late stages of a terminal illness.
Warren Buffett considers this an important life lesson he learned early on in life from a prominent business leader.
The favorite command of parents the world over and since time immemorial.
An Italian proverb Voltaire popularized after including it in the poem La Bégueule. In the poem, a beautiful woman named Arsene asks a fairy to take her away from her comfortable, but uneventful life. The fairy complies, and brings Arsene to a divine realm where magical beings fulfill her every wish.
However, she finds no meaning in her new life of luxury and leisure and soon escapes, after which she ends up in the wildlands, seeking shelter, food and drink. Finally, she stumbles upon the hut of a grimy local who will only help if she agrees to share the bed with him first.
After the deed is done, the fairy lifts the spell and bring Arsene back to her original life, and is now grateful for what she has.
Most likely source is an English writer named Mary Anne Evans, better known through her male pseudonym, George Eliot.
Benjamin Franklin wrote this under an assumed name, where he talked about fire safety regulations.
Since then, it has become probably the favorite marketing tool of insurance companies the world over.
Often misattributed to Albert Einstein. The central idea of this concept has indeed been used multiple times, but in a more narrow and specific way, regarding how to explain classical and quantum physics to the regular public.
Einstein himself did say something along these lines, but with a completely different and clunkier wording: “all physical theories, their mathematical expressions apart ought to lend themselves to so simple a description ‘that even a child could understand them.”
Shia LeBeouf in his (slightly unusual) motivational video. Many a meme has been made about this video, but the story of how LeBeouf made this is quite wholesome.
LeBeouf helped art students at a London college by filming tens of individual segments and then combining them into a single collection containing 36 segments. One of these is the “Yesterday, you said tomorrow” skit.
The script itself was also written by the students, meaning LeBeouf simply acted out the material the students gave him instead of writing it himself.
The origin of this quote is unknown, but the central idea is thousands of years old, as attested by the quote by Socrates just below.
The idea itself is part of a wider debate in philosophy (and recently psychology), as to how exactly people can change their mindset and outlook on life. “Fake it till you make it” theories argue that by behaving in a certain way, you will essentially “force” your mind to adapt and grow in the direction of your actions.
This is in contrast to “change comes from within” theories and approaches.
Roman saying, meaning you should celebrate when it’s done, not almost done.
An unusual problem to this motto that Ford faced was that his workers quit in droves because of the mind-numbing boredom of doing the same every day for months on end.
Attributed to early 20th century comedian Will Rogers. An alternate version of this idea is:
“Better to remain silent and be thought stupid than to speak and to remove all doubt.”
A father’s advice to his self-doubting daughter, in Nora Robert’s The Gallaghers of Ardmore.
Wayne Gretzky is known as the best hockey player to have ever lived, yet even he had bad matches.
Frustrated by his lack of scoring in an important game, his coach told him, ‘You miss 100% of the shots you never take.’ In other versions, the saying is directly attributed to the hockey player Gretzky or his father.
Mottos for a good life
Mottos to help you live a good life, while also containing precious wisdom for many kind of situations.
This is also called the 5×5 rule, and is a piece of advice sometimes recommended to people who suffer from elevated levels of anxiety.
Sports commentator Jeff Van Gundy had this to say about professional sport players and coaches who are often the victims of criticism from clueless media and even more clueless fans.
Said by Captain Katsuragi, as she was taking part in a defensive war by humanity against alien beings intent on causing catastrophic natural disasters.
Provided by a blog reader. Part of a larger discussion she had with her then boss regarding professional success, but the lesson is valid in all spheres of life.
Taken from a Forbes article, describing how the word “No” can limit lost time and effort spent on fruitless endeavors.
A quote that can easily be interpreted as a way to encourage dark side behavior. The full context goes something like this: If it’s a good idea, go ahead and do it. It is much easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to get permission.
Popular saying usually directed at heartbroken would-be-lovers that have explored the dark, painful depths of the friendzone.
Most likely a variation of an older proverb: “Mary in haste, repent at leisure”, the main idea of which goes thousands of years back. In regards to whether or not you should marry, even Socrates once quipped that “whichever you do, you will repent it”.
This saying is usually attributed to George Washington, since it was found in a handwritten book by him titled “110 rules of Civility & & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation”. However, this book is likely to have been a simple penmanship exercise, since the original book he copied was written by French Jesuits at the end of the 17th century.
Lao Tzu is translated as “Old Master”, and he is credited with creating the philosophy of Taoism. Taoism emphasizes that one should live a natural life and go with the flow of the Tao, a mystical force that binds and connects everything in the universe.
This quote was popularized by the Harry Potter series. A powerful character in the Ministry of Magic mistreats its house elf, a magical being that is bound in servitude by magic. This leads to the observation by Sirius Black that the character in question is of rotten character.
The origin however is more uncertain, with the earliest written reference going back to 18th century English nobility in their letters.
This is from a parody account of Wiz Khalifa. Possibly better than all of Wiz Khalifa’s lyrics put together.
A verse written by Poe in the poem titled “To – -” from the year 1829 , where he mourns the dissolution of a romantic relationship.
This particular quote has undergone multiple variations over the course of almost 200 years:
- We judge ourselves by our ideals, but we judge others by their actions.
- We should judge ourselves by our motives, but others by their actions.
- Most of us judge ourselves by our motives and others by their acts.
Popular wisdom with source long lost. Especially prevalent when navigating todays informational world.
Mid 19th century British scientist. Huxley once debated a prominent British bishop on the subject of Darwin’s then new theory of evolution. The bishop asked Huxley which of his grandparents had a monkey for an ancestor. Huxley replied he’d rather have a monkey for an ancestor rather than be related to a man who hides the truth.
His real name is Robert Lipkin, and he came up with this quote after briefly being thrown into prison in Costa Rica because they confused him with the nation’s most wanted criminal. Fortunately, things cleared up and he came out of this bitchin and swinging.
In the movie, Laine Hanson is on the verge of becoming the first female Vice President, but the political opposition mounts a smear campaign against her, the chief accusation being that she took part in an orgy while in college.
Her principle in this case is that whatever she did in college is nobody’s business, so she refuses to discuss it, even if doing so could help her get the job of VP.
Verse from the poem Maud Muller by John Greenleaf Whittier. Maud is a beautiful farm girl that meets the a judge from her small town. They both fancy each other; the judge imagines what life would be like as a farmer married to Maud, while Maud imagines her life as the wife of the town’s judge.
However, neither of them follows through with their desires, and move on from this meeting. The judge marries a woman who only wants him for the wealth and power, while Maud marries an uneducated farmer.
And yet, the memory of the encounter lingers on in their minds for years to come, and they always wonder what “might have been”.
An old saying, but it has received continuous refinement until it has reached the current wording.
Oscar Wilde was probably the first to come up with the idea in a passage from “The Portrait of Dorian Grey”: “Experience was of no ethical value. It was merely the name we gave to our mistakes.”
Over the following decades the phrase had multiple revisions, until it entered its current form in 2001 in the novel “Alma Mater” by Rita Mae Brown.
The motto first appeared as part of a policy discussion on how to teach spelling in school. George Loomis was a school superintendent from 1902, and he noticed that students were taught spelling only until they got it right. He believed students should be taught spelling until they couldn’t get it wrong.
A variation of a longer quote: “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching”.
That quote is usually misattributed to C.S. Lewis, but is in fact a phrase taken from a self-help book called Shattering the Glass Slipper by Charles Marshall.
In the play, King Lear gives all his land, power and wealth to two of his three daughters, who trick him with false confessions of love, then subsequently betray him. The quote above is part of a larger dialogue that is both prophecy, and criticism of the King’s mistakes.
Likely origin comes from the movie “The Perks of being A Wallflower”. In the film, a character justifies being in an abusive relationship by saying: “We accept the love we think we deserve”.
This quote first appeared in the English language following its inclusion in the 1640 book Outlandish Proverbs by George Herbert. In this case “outlandish” simply means “outside the country”, indicating it was a foreign quote imported into English.
The book contains numerous other famous proverbs such as “His bark is worse than his bite”. Best of all, it is in the public domain and can be found in its entirety with a simple search.
An old French proverb, dating from a poem written in the late 12th century, later included in a collection called Li Proverbe au Vilain.
Below are verses in Old French and the (imperfect) modern English translation.
Mainz hon est si hastis
quant rien an enterpris
tantost veut a chief traire
Le suen despent et gaste
et si pert par sa haste
le plus de son afaire
Rome ne fu pas faite toute en un jour,
Ce dit vilains
Much shame for being so hasty,
While they have not undertaken anything
And immediately want to succeed
But they spoil and lose by their hastiness
Most of their fortune/dignity
Rome was not built in one day
It is said miserly.
Mottos that can lift your spirits, or help you see that it’s not as bad as it seems.
This motto may be too simple to have any interesting origin, however it has been popularized by an amusing 2009 song called “It Happens” by the band Sugarland:
“Ain't no rhyme or reason No complicated meaning Ain't no need to over think it Let go laughing Life don't go quite like you planned it We try so hard to understand it The irrefutable, indisputable Fact is It happens”
From the letter “On Groundless Fears” by Seneca to his friend, Lucilius Junior, then procurator of Sicily. In the letter, Seneca praises Lucilius for the skill with which he has tackled life’s difficulties and come out victorious. According to Seneca, you can never know the extent of your abilities until they have been tested to the breaking point.
Further on, Seneca warns his friend that even greater tests and crises are yet to come. However, these crises are dangerous only in our minds, but are surprisingly easier to deal with it in reality.
A life lesson Ron learned while working two jobs, one at a sheet metal factory, the other at a tannery, where he worked with leather both on and off the cows. He was also 11 at the time and still in middle school.
Likely a popular French saying, which was adapted into verse by the 19th century journalist Alphonse Karr. Subsequent translations popularized the expression in the English language.
The character in question, Lord Darlington, has eyes for the wife of his friend, Lord Windermere, and utters this phrase while they’re having a rich boy’s night out.
The words of a psychiatrist to his patient, a female American painter in her thirties. She had become lost in Paris, addicted to drugs and alcohol and her mind in tatters, after trying to be the equal of men in her art.
Taken from George Herbert’s collection of sayings, Outlandish Proverbs.
Mottos that are wise and edgy at the same time.
A favorite saying of a one Cyril E.D. Joad, a famous British broadcaster and philosopher who lived in the first part of the 20th century. He quite liked this phrase, and had multiple variations of it until he finally settled on the version above.
As a fun fact, he famously bragged that he never bought train tickets. Well, in 1948 he was caught while riding without a ticket and received a 2£ fine and made national headlines for this indiscretion. He viewed this as a deep humiliation, was laid off from the BBC and lost out on becoming a member of the British Parliament’s House of Lords.
The resulting stress destroyed his health and brought about his death 5 years later.
This is known as a philosophical razor, which is simply a rule of thumb or principle used to decide between two conflicting ideas/theories.
Other similar razors include:
- Occam’s razor: Simpler explanations are more likely to be correct; avoid unnecessary or improbable assumptions.
- Newton’s flaming laser sword: If something cannot be settled by experiment or observation, then it is not worthy of debate.
- Sagan standard: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
Origin unknown. However, there are multiple variations that aren’t as crude, and more “high class” as it were:
• Dancing with the devil.
• Poking the bear.
• Tempting fate.
First mention is in a Latin text from the 12th century.
It is part of a longer description about a fictional character with inverted morality called Eudo, who punished good deeds, rewarded bad ones, promoted incompetent men to power, desecrated churches and other similar mischief.
While not a word for word match, Napoleon made this observation during one of his many battles, possibly Austerlitz. His generals were eager to attack, but Napoleon wanted his adversaries to complete a terrible maneuver before finishing them off.
While not a word for word match, Napoleon made this observation during one of his many battles, possibly Austerlitz. His generals were eager to attack, but Napoleon wanted his adversaries to complete a terrible maneuver before finishing them off.
This saying is part of a larger debate Greek philosophers had on the matter of essence and what is real and what isn’t.
The best example of this problem is the Ship of Theseus. Ancient Athenians supposedly kept the ship of their founding hero, Theseus, anchored in city’s harbor as a museum piece. Over the course of centuries, the ship’s wooden planks and other components rot away and had to be periodically replaced by new ones.
Once every original component is replaced, is the result ship still the one Theseus used, or is it a different one altogether?
Latin saying, translated as: “They condemn that which they do not understand.”
Henry Ford never said these words, but he would have absolutely believed them. For a very long time, Ford had argued that horses had reached the end of their usefulness. They were on the verge of becoming obsolete and replaced by machines powered by the internal combustion engine.
Also, Ford was notorious for disregarding consumer demands, and once said this about car colors: “You can have any color as long as it’s black.”
As for who actually said the quote, the earliest known reference was by a cruise ship designer called John McNeece who tried to prove a point by imagining what Ford might have believed about customer’s desires.
Likely originated from the much older phrase “do your thing”, but remastered to fit into modern tastes.
In the book, House Harkonnen and House Atreides are locked in a political and military battle for the planet of Arrakis, the only place in the known galaxy that produces a mysterious substance called spice. As the balance of power shifts from one side to another, Paul Atreides reminds his followers that he who can destroy the spice controls the spice, and by extension they control Arrakis.
Latin saying, translated as: “Be suspicious of everything.
From the epic poem “Troilus and Criseyde”. Troilus is a Trojan prince and soldier defending Troy against the Greeks in the Trojan War. At one point in the story, Troilus mocks his fellow companions for experiencing love and aching for the affections of women.
As a response, the God of Love curses Troilus, and he falls in a deep desire for Criseyde. The two eventually consume the relationship, but are soon separated because of the war. In the final act, Criseyde discards Troilus and chooses another as her lover. Soon after, the miserable and heart-broken Troilus dies in the war.
Origin comes from a nearly 500 year-old book that discusses proper farming techniques, how to manage household finances, rural customs and generally how one should live a good life in 16th century England.
The origin of this quote is uncertain, and is likely to have been refined over the years by multiple authors. Perhaps the first to express the idea was Edmund Burke, who believed it was the duty of good citizen in general to band together to oppose the malicious ambitions of a few, but powerful and wealthy individuals.