Psychologists have devoted their lives to the scientific study of the mind and behavior. They know success leaves clues and their findings and insights have provided fundamental footsteps for others to follow.
The quotes below are from some of the greatest psychologists our world has known, reflecting their individual areas of expertise and the wise words of wisdom they have to share.
21 Important Psychology Quotes
and the Life Lessons They Provide
1. "The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes of mind." - William James
William James was the first psychologist to teach the subject matter in the US. Through research, study and practice, he repeatedly observed that a person's thoughts dictate their reality. This is why two people can be exposed to the same situation, yet have very different experiences. While controlling our thoughts is not always easy, it’s an exercise worth practicing and perfecting. When one learns to alter restrictive or negative thoughts, they can change the trajectory of their life.
2. "People’s beliefs about their abilities have a profound effect on those abilities." - Albert Bandura
Bandura, who played a significant role in advancing the understanding and application of cognitive psychology, recognized early on that an individual’s perception of their abilities dictated the success or failure they would have with those abilities. If someone viewed themselves as a poor reader, they would perpetuate their struggle with reading. However, if someone had a positive view of their abilities, then they would excel in those endeavors. Take time to evaluate your beliefs about your skills and abilities, then work to reframe those for which you hold a negative view.
3. "The more a job inherently resembles a game - with variety, appropriate and flexible challenges, clear goals and immediate feedback - the more enjoyable it will be." - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Csikszentmihalyi, a leading researcher on happiness, creativity, and the state of flow, found that when people apply game-like elements to their work, they inherently enjoy the associated activities at a deeper level. This approach works well for mundane activities that tend to be boring but necessary, as well as for more exciting activities that can be gamified to increase the challenge and induce a deeper state of flow. Pick an activity that you regularly perform, then look at how you can turn it into a game to increase your enjoyment.
4. "Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” - Brené Brown
Brown, an esteemed psychologist and all-around bad-ass, took her research on an explorative journey into the depths of shame, vulnerability, empathy, and courage. Her findings revealed that true courage starts with just showing up and putting oneself out there. This first step is the catalyst to making goals a reality, but without first showing up, nothing else can happen. Take stock of where you’re at now and where you want to be in 5 years. Where do you have to show up and be seen to make that dream a reality?
5. "Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare." - Angela Duckworth
Duckworth’s area of expertise is grit, and her research findings revealed that while many people hold excitement and enthusiasm for their goals and dreams, very few possess the endurance to achieve them. Endurance requires commitment and persistence; it requires an individual to get up more times than they get knocked down. Enthusiasm can get you started, but endurance is what gets you over the hurdles. Remember, the journey of life is a marathon, not a sprint, and only those with the endurance to see their goals and dreams through to the finish line will reap the benefits and rewards.
6. "People who have a sense of self-efficacy bounce back from failure; they approach things in terms of how to handle them rather than worrying about what can go wrong." - Albert Bandura
Bandura’s studies on self-efficacy revealed that when an individual takes intentional, deliberate action toward developing a particular skill set or area of interest, they naturally build an arsenal of tools with which to overcome related challenges. As one gains confidence in that particular area, their self-efficacy improves, allowing them to approach things from a position of confidence instead of a position of worry or angst. Establishing a habit of lifelong learning is the antidote to worry and the key to developing a sense of self-efficacy that will repeatedly bounce back from every challenge or failure.
7. "Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves." - Carl Jung
Jung’s studies into the human psyche explored the important role that reflection and introspection play in everyday life. As his findings revealed, by digging deeper into the things that irritate and annoy us in others, we gain a better understanding of ourselves. Repeated disdain for a certain trait or characteristic is like a road sign trying to get our attention; it provides an opportunity to explore why this annoyance exists. Jung’s findings and quote are an important reminder that introspection is a powerful tool.
8. "Becoming is better than being." - Carol Dweck
Dweck’s research has focused on mindset, specifically evaluating the varying outcomes people experience based on whether they have a growth or a fixed mindset. A fixed mindset is rigid and closed, holding a belief that intelligence, abilities, and talents are fixed traits that cannot be developed. A growth mindset, on the other hand, understands that deliberate efforts and learning can serve to enhance and develop these traits. When one understands that lifelong learning and the journey of development are the keys to a growth mindset, they can unlock their potential and fully enjoy “becoming” the person they’re capable of being.
9. “For happy people, time is filled and planned. For unhappy people, time is unfilled, open and uncommitted; they postpone things and are inefficient.” - Michael Argyle
What’s on your calendar today? As Argyle’s research and studies have shown, those who plan their time in advance are happier than those who don’t. Additional studies have shown that “planners” have increased well-being, heightened self-esteem, and lower rates of depression. When we don’t have a plan, it’s easy to fall into a trap of being busy without being productive or spending our time in areas that detract from our happiness and well-being instead of building them. Take charge of your happiness by taking charge of your daily schedule… your future self will thank you.
10. "It seems that the necessary thing to do is not to fear mistakes, to plunge in, to do the best that one can, hoping to learn enough from blunders to correct them eventually." - Abraham Maslow
No great success comes without some element of failure. Maslow’s research led him to the conclusion that in order to achieve success, one must embrace challenges and failures, then apply the lessons learned to future endeavors so they can continue to grow and expand. However, if one is so fearful of mistakes that they hold back on action, success will always remain out of reach. Blunders and mishaps are the guardrails of life; they let us know when we’re veering off course so we can make adjustments and get back on track.
11. “Nothing in life is quite as important as you think it is while you’re thinking about it.” - Daniel Kahneman
Kahneman’s work has established him as a notable, leading expert on the process of decision making. His findings conclude that when the brain is focused on a problem or challenge, it tends to make the issue much larger than it actually is. In other words, our problems and their resulting consequences are rarely as big as our overactive brains them out to be. This is a process known as “catastrophizing”. But if we learn to identify our catastrophizing thoughts before they affect our emotions and decision making, we can significantly improve our outcomes.
12. “Discussing positive experiences leads to heightened well-being, increased overall life satisfaction, and even more energy.” - Nathaniel Lambert
Lambert has focused much of his research and studies in the area of positive relationship processes. His research has confirmed decades of evidence pointing to the fact that when we have a trusted circle to share our positive experiences with, the results are astounding. Who do you share your big wins and positive experiences with? If doing so isn’t a regular part of your routine, evaluate how you can make this practice a regular habit.
13. “Vulnerability is not weakness. And that myth is profoundly dangerous.” - Brené Brown
Brown’s research has drastically shifted the conversation surrounding vulnerability. Once believed to be a weakness, her extensive research and data are dispelling the myth that vulnerability is negative, bringing its positive benefits to the surface. If you want a renewed perspective on how positively powerful vulnerability can be, check out Brown’s TedTalk
on the subject. It’s 20 minutes incredibly well spent!
14. "The more you know yourself, the more patience you will have for what you see in others." - Erik Erikson
Erikson is best known for his groundbreaking (at the time) theory on psychosocial development. As his research revealed, social interactions and influences impact and shape our personalities throughout our entire lifespans. Staying aware of our social situations (both in-person and online) and taking note of the impact they have on us allows us to know ourselves at a deeper level. When we deepen our understanding of ourselves and the battles we’ve fought, we’re able to have more patience and empathy for others, making the world a better place for all.
15. "The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change." - Carl Rogers
Rogers was a leader in the humanistic psychology approach who furthered the conversation on the innate human desire to grow and expand throughout one’s lifespan. As his research revealed, in order for someone to achieve their goals, live into their fullest potential, and achieve the highest level of “human-beingness” within their capacity, they first had to recognize and embrace who they were in the moment, flaws and all. Only when someone truly accepts and loves themselves as they are and where they are, can they grow into their fullest potential.
16. "Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a magnetic force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand." - Karl A. Menninger
Menninger was an expert in the science of psychiatry who dedicated his life to helping those suffering from various mental illnesses. His notable work and research posited that the difference in mental health between healthy and unhealthy populations only varied by a small degree. In addition, he found that when focus was placed on listening to others, healthy and unhealthy alike, the results were profound. The simple act of listening was shown to help people grow, expand and overcome many of the challenges they faced. While we need people in our life who are great listeners, it’s equally important to be great listeners ourselves.
17. “Happiness, not money or prestige, should be regarded as the ultimate currency - the currency by which we take measure of our lives.” - Tal Ben-Shahar
Ben-Shahar is a positive psychology and leadership expert who has focused much of his research on the study of happiness. (If the subject matter interests you, many of his Harvard lectures are available on YouTube.) After extensive research, his data revealed that while people work hard for money, power, status, and prestige, these weren’t the factors that ultimately determined their quality of life. Instead, happiness and balance were of utmost importance. It’s only when we are truly happy that the fruitful rewards of our hard work can bring real meaning.
18. "What we achieve in the marathon of life depends tremendously on our grit - our passion and perseverance for long-term goals." - Angela Duckworth
Duckworth focused her studies and research on grit, but her findings repeatedly point to the importance of having concrete goals that one applies their grit to. Long-term goals shape our lives and inform our short- and medium-term goals and activities. Goals serve as a rudder in the sea of life, pointing us in the direction we want to go. Without them, we can become lost and adrift, but with them, we are empowered to become our best selves.
19. "Realize what you really want. It stops you from chasing butterflies and puts you to work digging gold." - William Moulton Marston
Marston was an interesting character with many successes and accolades to his name. He was a psychologist, inventor of the first lie detector, a successful author of self-help books, and, under the pen name Charles Mouton, the creator of Wonder Woman. His research led him to the conclusion that people operated from one of two planes, passivity or activity, and when one is clear about what they want, activity becomes their dominant axis. If you want to spur yourself to action, spend time getting clear about what you want and why.
20. "The good life consists in deriving happiness by using your signature strengths every day in the main realms of living. The meaningful life adds one more component: using these same strengths to forward knowledge, power or goodness." - Martin Seligman
Seligman, a highly renowned psychologist who has devoted his life to the development and enhancement of positive psychology, has evaluated human flourishing from several different perspectives. His research repeatedly brought him to the conclusion that utilizing strengths, as opposed to overcoming weaknesses, is the foundation of a good and meaningful life. If you want to excel, take stock of your strengths and evaluate how you can further grow, develop and expand them. In doing so, you will become a better you.
21. "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms - to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way." - Viktor Frankl
Viktor Frankl was a notable psychologist as well as a Holocaust survivor. His book, "Man’s Search for Meaning” chronicles the gut-wrenching atrocities that destroyed the lives of so many, but it's also an enlightening and uplifting tale of the realities we can create for ourselves, even in the direst of circumstances. As Frankl demonstrated both in captivity and in his practice as a psychologist, choosing one’s attitude in any given circumstance is the most powerful human freedom we possess.
Each of these quotes speaks to an element or aspect that can move an individual from floundering to flourishing.
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