10 motivational phrases that can backfire big-time

That poster in your office with the cute cat hanging on a tree branch with a motivational phrase in cheesy cursive may actually be doing more harm than good – just like any of these phrases below.

1. Always believe in yourself

While the sentiment of this statement seems innocuous, believing in yourself can really hurt your motivation. By believing in yourself without stopping to question whether or not you’re qualified, experienced enough, or skilled enough to accomplish your goal, you’re essentially going to cash a check with nothing in the bank. When you fall on your face and crash, the verve you once had will fall away with it.

2. Working hard or hardly working?

This old unhelpful adage assumes that if you’re not working hard, then you’re not working at all. You might think that pushing yourself to work hard will foster motivation, but in reality, putting an immense amount of pressure on yourself for little to no reason can be damaging for your work ethic.

3. Think outside the box

Thinking outside the box might be good sometimes, but if you do it too much, you’ll lose motivation. By posing ideas that directly contradict your coworkers simply for the sake of being “creative” or “innovative,” you’ll be ostracizing your teammates, creating unnecessary tension, and ultimately isolating yourself – and we all know what the science says about loneliness impacting motivation.

4. If you want to achieve greatness, stop asking for permission

Even variations of this statement, like “great women never ask for permission,” can be devastating for one’s productivity. There are certainly times where you do need to ask for permission, and thinking otherwise can foster a grandiose sense of narcissistic entitlement rather than a selfless drive to work.

5. Patience is a virtue

Thinking that patience is a virtue may indeed motivate you to some degree, but don’t rely too much on this kitschy saying, as you may end up losing motivation. Waiting for something for too long can cause the fire inside you to burn out into embers, and before you know it, you’ve gone from patient person to chronic procrastinator.

6. Your limitation is your imagination

Assuming that you have no limitations can be devastating for your motivation, as it’s a bit of a catch-22. The fewer limitations that you believe you have, the harder you’ll work on things that you’re not very good at – and the quicker you’ll burn yourself out

7. Push yourself because who else will?

This motivational saying is another situation in which you’ll find unnecessary overwork glorified for little to no reason. As it turns out, if you have people around you who are interested in facilitating your growth, you’ll most certainly be pushed by others, and you won’t need to use pushing yourself as a sadomasochistic excuse to torture yourself with feigned productivity.

8. Step outside your comfort zone

Again, while seemingly motivational, stepping outside your comfort zone a little too much might cause you to become unmotivated. If you chose to help with a project you know nothing about, citing that you’re “stepping outside your comfort zone,” this is once again just a sign of immaturity and hubris that can ultimately can you to fail beyond your wildest expectations, impacting your overall self-esteem, and your ability to feel motivated concerning the tasks you used to excel at.

9. You are what you do

This phrase can seem motivational in that it inspires you to act rather than think, but sometimes, doing isn’t the same as being. In order to truly be what you do, you have to take some time to think about who you are, and why you act that way – if you don’t, there’s a huge chance that you’ll act quickly and impulsively, burn out fast, and lose your motivation along the way.

10.  Look to the future, not the past

This motivational phrase may be the most anti-motivational yet, as looking to the future alone can only make you feel hopeless in the end. Without reflecting on your past mistakes, how your past impacts you and what kind of a person you are as a result of what you’ve been through, you’re doomed to repeat the same patterns of behavior.