13 Inspirational Quotes and Why They Are Bullshit


#1: Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve. – Napoleon Hill

There absolutely exists impossible ideas that we can convince of and believe as flawed decision makers. If you were somewhat deranged, you could potentially believe that you could physically become the late Michael Jackson, but that brings you no closer to resurrecting and embodying his entity.

There are people that, even to this day, honestly believe that if they blow up other people along with themselves, they will be sent to a magical land with an unreasonable amount of virgin concubines. I truly hope that we can all agree that this will not be the case.

#2: You cannot save people, you can just love them. – Anaïs Nin

If this were true, nobody would ever do anything for anyone in dire need. If we were inherently unable to "save" people, altruistic non-profits and philanthropists would not exist. Sure, on some level, you can say that these entities do "love" these people, but they are indeed also saving them. Love and assistance are not mutually exclusive concepts. For that single reason, the premise of this quote is fundamentally flawed. Join me in rejecting its sentiment.


#3: Life is 10% what happens to us and 90% of how we react to it. – Charles Swindoll

There are currently 239 million starving Sub-Saharan African people that would disagree with this statement. Even if they all made of the correct reactions to their predicament, their life would not resemble a 90% similarity to my life. Yes, there are cases where people have risen up by their own bootstraps, but claiming these examples as evidence would be a fallacy of sample size. The vast majority of people on this Earth are affected more by their origin than their decisions. We should be doing something about that instead of writing cute little one-liners that offshore responsibility.

#4: Definiteness of purpose is the starting point of all achievement. – W. Clement Stone

People discover and invent things out of pure random chance all the time. The microwave was invented because Percy Spencer's candy bar just melted in his pocket. Penicillin was discovered when Alexander Fleming left a petri dish on some old map when he went away on vacation. Superglue was first intended to be a replacement for metal in weapons manufacturing.

The pinnacle of science is not knowing what we are going for, but keeping our minds open, knowing something perfectly rad awaits our discovery. As Carl Sagan said, "somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known."


#5: Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right. – Henry Ford

We already covered being wrong about an affirmative, but it also works the other way. Stating that something is outside the realm of possibility is not an inherently false statement. Some things are impossible. I realize this type of pragmatism is unpopular, but it is more responsible and more accurately describes reality.

Tyler Durden said it best in the cult classic Fight Club, "we've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars, but we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off." Pissed off, sure, but at least we have the means to more accurately strive for attainable goals.

#6: Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you – Someone who misquoted Jesus

We need to do more than ask for things to receive them. This type of rejection of responsibility is absolutely deplorable. Even if we search or work our entire lives, there is no assurance that we will achieve. Sure, we like to assume that one day we will attain our goals, but working towards them is only a means to increase the possibility, not a flat out guarantee.

Albert Einstein's cosmological constant wasn't supported until after his death, he even called it the "biggest blunder of [his] life." Nobody believed Robert Goddard's ideas on advanced rocketry had merit until after he died, now his principles are widely accepted. Thomas Edison is credited with creating 1000+ inventions that just didn't work. You can say that he did achieve some pretty awesome stuff, but I'm thinking there are a few in there that he's pretty bummed didn't work out. Imagine how rad our world would be if he was finally able to finish those insane contraptions.


#7: Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear. – George Addair

There are things that we want that aren't on the other side of anything. Some things are impossible. I feel like I've driven that point home enough. Furthermore, there are plenty of other obstacles standing between you and your desires. Fear is not the only contributor to discontent. There is also lack of means, socioeconomic barricades, governmental laws, the laws of physics, and a host of other phenomenon that have nothing to do with fear, but still hold us back.

#8: With God all things are possible. – Mark 10:27

Can god create a stone so heavy that even he can't lift it? Either way, there is an impossibility that is irrevocably linked with that question. Can god disprove the existence of god? If he says yes, he exists, and is wrong. If he says no, he is admitting an impossibility. Some things are just impossible. It happens when you try to self-affirm a negative, and it happens a lot in reality.

Even if most things are technically possible, that says nothing about their probability of happening. Just because something is possible, doesn't mean it will ever actually happen, it could be indiscriminately close to a zero chance. When we begin to realize this fact, we can start taking responsibility for reality.


#9: You become what you believe. – Oprah Winfrey

I believe that the Universe was created in the Big Bang. That doesn't mean I will become a Big Bang. Maybe she means that you will become what you believe you will become. I still don't agree with that amended version. Believing that you will achieve something will cause you to strive harder for that thing. This is what is causing the probability to increase, hard work, not belief itself.

Moreover, working hard isn't even sufficient to insure the definite realization of your dreams, you also probably have to get a bit lucky. People who say you make your own luck do not understand statistics. This could probably be it's own refuted quote.

#10: You will succeed because most people are lazy. – Shahir Zag

A vast quantity of the richest and most successful people in the world are lazy and unintelligent. They get this way by being extremely well connected and lucky. This makes it incredibly difficult and disincentivizing for hard working people to strive for greatness. They are not lazy, calling them so is an ill-founded and irrational insult. Most people have been let down by failing social infrastructure. If they had the means to more easily become successful, they would have done so. Just because someone works hard does not make them automatically successful, especially in a world consisting of an increasingly large disenfranchised lower class.


#11: Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life. – Someone misquoting Buddha

First of all, Buddhism is a non-theistic religion, which means they do not believe in a god. Take a moment to look this up. Now, in light of this new information, if we reanalyze the quote as just saying "have some sort of introspective aspect to your life," then I am totally cool with that. I still don't believe it is absolutely necessary to live. Where I absolutely don't agree is when we define this introspection as spirituality, a word which colloquially implies connection with a higher being or deity. This seems to conflict with the overall message of the religion for which Siddhartha was later renamed (yes, to Buddha).

#12: Faith is to believe what we do not see, and the reward of this faith is to see what we believe. – Augustine

This statement is essentially technically true, but this does nothing to change actual reality, which is what matters. This is basically a poster child for circular logic. All it is really saying is, "you will think what you think." This is a very counterproductive way to live one's life. Subscribing to blind faith makes you just that, blind to things that would otherwise change your mind to certain aspects of this world. If we do not live our lives in a rationally malleable way, we will become stagnant as a species. That is not the future in which I want to live.

#13: Nothing is impossible, the word itself says, “I’m possible!” – Audrey Hepburn

Cute coincidences aside, I hope you now know enough to refute this one for yourself.

Comments 31 comments

lambservant profile image

lambservant 18 months ago from Pacific Northwest

Hi Luke, interesting here. I disagree with many of those but not all. I think often it is risky taking a quote of any kind and throwing it out there as an answer or inspiration without showing the context in which it is said. I do quote people often in my writing, or quote the Bible or other books, but I usually try to find out the context before I use it. Some quotes are not mean to take literally, but figuratively. Sometimes a word like say the word "save" needs context. Save from what? Just my thoughts. I liked your answer to # 3. I want to comment more but am on my way out the door. Perhaps again later.

Luke M Simmons profile image

Luke M Simmons 18 months ago from Encinitas, California Author

@lambservant: thank you very much for your meaningful examination and input. I agree that some of these quotes may need a bit of context, but we are never given this in practical applications. They are just put out there as standalone suggestions. I have analyzed them as such. Again, thanks for taking the time to comment.

word55 profile image

word55 18 months ago from Chicago

Hi Luke, I read all 13 quotes. Only one of them #8 is a favorite of mine. It works for me and I'm sure, many others. I'm sure that quotes like those you mentioned are only to encourage and motivate people to live and do better. If a person is encouraged and does better because of a quote then there is some positiveness to the quote. I would like to see some quotes that you believe in. What quotes if any, have encouraged you?

grand old lady profile image

grand old lady 18 months ago from Philippines

Hi Luke,

I enjoyed your article very much. Something could probably be said for every quote out there. But I do believe in the human spirit and its ability to overcome tremendous odds, and this is done through a mindset that didn't allow obstacles to get in the way. This mindset has accomplished many feats like climbing Mt. Everest or

the case of Viktor Frankl, holocaust survivor. A lot of these sayings came from personal experience and as you earlier noted, had a context to it.

Jodah profile image

Jodah 18 months ago from Queensland Australia

Hi Luke, many quotes are simply used to try to motivate people and not really presented in the context they were meant. People just pick and choose, and even alter them to suit their purpose or belief. I often do use quotes in my articles to illustrate a point if I find one that seems appropriate, so I admit I could sometimes be at fault. I do agree that some of the quotes you present here are are really "pie in the sky" stuff and just not possible for most people to aspire to, a few are possible. This is an interesting hub and food for good discussion.

frantisek78 profile image

frantisek78 18 months ago

Great hub. I agree with you about these quotes. Many people take inspirational quotes at face value and actually believe them without questioning the actual reality of them. Especially in the US, people are crammed with meaningless quotes from the time they are young, like "You can do/be anything you want to do/be, you just need to work hard." There are plenty of people who work hard for very little pay and are unable to "pull themselves up by the bootstraps" (another favorite mindless saying). Life cannot be explained and lived according to some empty simple phrases when life if a lot more complicated than this. Facebook is also full of people posting empty inspirational quotes which they think of "deep" or "meaningful" and then sit back in a self-satisfied way thinking that they have helped make the world a better place.

Luke M Simmons profile image

Luke M Simmons 18 months ago from Encinitas, California Author

@Word: I actually included a couple quotes that have inspired me in the body of the text. Pretty much anything ever said by Carl Sagan, Steven Hawking, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Shane Smith, John Stewart, Bill Mahr, to name a few.

@everyone: thanks for taking the time to read and meaningfully comment. I agree that some of these quotes can be inspirational within a certain context, I just wanted to promote realism and critical thinking. I think it's important to take responsibility for what you are saying, and mindlessly regurgitating something someone else said out of context if probably not the best way to go about meaningful evaluation of any given scenario.

Venkatachari M profile image

Venkatachari M 18 months ago from Hyderabad, India

Very interesting quotes, most of which seem funny and silly. Your analysis is good. Voted up.

Emmyboy profile image

Emmyboy 18 months ago from Nigeria

Nice hub.

Seems like the writer is extremely logical and realistic.

Thanks for sharing.

Luke M Simmons profile image

Luke M Simmons 18 months ago from Encinitas, California Author

Thanks guys.

Radical Rog profile image

Radical Rog 18 months ago from Plymouth

The good thing about bullshit is that if you spread bullshit over a field it makes things grow. These quotes may be all bullshit, but they sprout thoughts and ideas, confirmed by the comments here. So keep spreading the bullshit.

Luke M Simmons profile image

Luke M Simmons 18 months ago from Encinitas, California Author

Hahaha, yeah I'm good with that. As long as there's a net benefit, irrational means can be tolerated.

Awni Banerjee 18 months ago

I strongly agree with most but I do think some others you took a little too literally. The spiritual qoutes are bound to be mindless spread as they are with an agenda to fool people.

But what I liked best about your article is that you hit the bull's eye with the aim behind these quotes. It is easy for successful people to talk big things. We talk shit all day, but when celebs do it, they become bullshit quotes. And why not it is a wholly thriving industry after all. I loved your analyses.

Robert Levine profile image

Robert Levine 18 months ago from Brookline, Massachusetts

When I was in college working as a tutor in the Writing Center, a friend of mine told me about a rather emotionally and mentally stunted student he had to work with who had come for help w/an utterly incoherent paper for some class that he had gotten a failing grade on. My friend began by being up-front with him: "There's no way we're going to make this an A paper in an hour." The student replied, "Anything is possible if you put your mind to it." My friend told me, "I just wanted to say to him, 'No, it's not. Some things are just not possible. You can't become an Olympic athlete with two weeks of training'"--about the equivalent of making his paper A material in an hour.

Luke M Simmons profile image

Luke M Simmons 18 months ago from Encinitas, California Author

@Awni: I am very frequently charged with taking things too literally... it is a serious fault of mine I have consciously decided to forget to work on. I get that people sometimes mean something other than what they've said, but I also think that it is their error as a communicator more than mine as an interpreter. If our language gets too qualitative we will just turn into bumbling idiots mindlessly regurgitating phrases like "let's try to leverage that synergy," "let's digitize the key takeaways from our robust core-competency brainstorm," and "we tried to get them to think outside the box, but our SWAT team just couldn't get the buy-in... it is what it is Bob."

@Robert: This is exactly what I'm talking about. That kid was trained to underestimate the work needed to produce a legible paper. People everywhere are taught if you believe in yourself enough, and ask the nice man in the sky, you don't ever have to do the actual task. You hit the nail on the head with this one. (sorry more corpospeak, haha)

SamuraiMarine profile image

SamuraiMarine 18 months ago from Bakersfield, Ca.

I liked the article and I to, in part, agree with much of what you say. But I try to look at motivational quotes more for what the intent was to begin with than with the quote itself.

I will try to find ways to make someone see the positive in an issue, and sometimes these silly quotes and provide some perspective or objectivity that is needed in the situation.

Does that make sense?

FatBoyThin profile image

FatBoyThin 18 months ago from Kinneff, Scotland

There's a lot of crap talked by people who think that what they say is important just because of who they are. Great Hub.

susi10 profile image

susi10 18 months ago from The British Isles, Europe

Hmm...interesting hub but I have to say that I disagree with a lot of them. It depends on the context I guess. Great hub though!

frantisek78 profile image

frantisek78 18 months ago

@susi10: the problem is most people just regurgitate these mindless quotes without thinking about them. Most just think they are true because they get repeated all the time by people too lazy to think and questions for themselves. They are basically slogans and mottoes.

Robert Sacchi profile image

Robert Sacchi 18 months ago

I enjoyed this article. Yes, often times someone says or writes something that sounds good and others repeat it often. Rarely do people actually put the statement to the test.

colorfulone profile image

colorfulone 18 months ago from Minnesota

Who can argue with you, as you drive home valid points. Some inspiring quotes sound real good but taken out of context can be flawed.

Awesome hub! I enjoyed reading this.

Saty Simplistic profile image

Saty Simplistic 18 months ago from Chennai

Awesome hub!

lyoness913 profile image

lyoness913 18 months ago from Overland Park, KS

While I appreciate you explaining the futility of many of these quotes, I also try to see things from the sunny side. I know deep down that a lot of quotes aren't realistic- but I would like to look at 'hope' instead of 'despair.' Nice hub :)

SouradipSinha profile image

SouradipSinha 18 months ago from Calcutta

These quotes do motivate people. You never know what motivates a certain person. Its all about perspectives and the human mood, i feel so. If i am sad and gloomy and in dire need of an inspiration, then some of these quotes just might cheer me up and if i am feeling "rational" and "practical" and start to judge these quotes on the raw ground realism, then they might seem funny. Its all about the human mood and perspective. :)

Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 18 months ago from New York

How I hate inspirational quotes, good idea for a hub.

Josephfontaine profile image

Josephfontaine 18 months ago from Massachusetts

This is the first Hub I've read on this site, and I can definitely see your point. Well done! Unfortunately, most people don't live their lives as rationally as others and therefore most of these quotes are taken for what they are at face value.

Tuesday75 profile image

Tuesday75 18 months ago from Omaha, NE

Thank you for robbing me of all hope. I'm going to go die now. LOL!

Teri Stohlberg 18 months ago

Ha Ha thanks for the thought provoking and amusing article. I guess you are not a fan of inspirational quotes! You make many good points even though I am a fan of Napoleon Hill and W. Clement Stone. I guess you think "The Secret" is total bullshit too! Thank you!

Jennifer Mugrage profile image

Jennifer Mugrage 17 months ago from Columbus, Ohio

Fun rant. I do agree that the culture of "if you can dream it, you can do it," does a great disservice to everyone raised in it. I will never be an Olympic athlete. Them's the facts. Kids needs to find out early what they are good at, and work really hard on it. Plus have a backup plan. "If-you-can-dream" is intended to encourage that kind of self-knowledge and effort, but it actually destroys them by implying that you are, actually, good at everything and shouldn't need to try.

That said, I agree with other commenters that in some cases, the quote clearly implies a context and you seem to be deliberately ignoring that context.

For example, of course we can "save" people in the sense of literally saving their lives ... pulling them out of a burning building, etc. The quote is clearly talking about saving a loved one from their own self-destructive behavior, which, it's true, is pretty much impossible. It is also, as you point out, pretty much impossible to save people from evil socioeconomic systems. That is why charitable organizations that do disaster relief can be very effective, but those that try to end poverty long-term, much less so.

Similarly, "With God, all things are possible." Jesus did actually say that. The context was the disciples' question: "If it is so hard for a RICH man to enter the kingdom of heaven, how then can ANYONE be saved?" He was not trying to say that God can do inherently impossible things like drawing a square circle. Rather, He was saying that for a project that God wants to do (such as bring human beings to Himself), then nothing (no evil powers, no apparently incurable hardness of human heart) is going to stop Him. You are right that just because something is possible doesn't mean it's probable. But if it is something that God has repeatedly expressed is important to Him, then it suddenly goes from very improbable to very probable indeed.

All of the above applies to "Ask and it shall be given" as well. The context was not about asking for anything that pops into your head. It was about how do you get into the kingdom of God. Most things we do need to work for, and as you point out, we may not get even if we do work for them. But for that one particular thing, whether or not one attains it rests completely with someone else, and so all one can do is ask.

Steafan Fox profile image

Steafan Fox 17 months ago from Dublin

I feel you miss the point of the quoted ideas, especially in regard to impossibility. Sure trying the impossible will probably lead to failure, but trying and failing is one of the great human experiences... in failure you discover your strength. The greatest human strength is picking yourself up and trying again.

These quotes are intended to encourage people to try great things, be them practical or spiritual (whatever that means to a person)

You deconstruction of them is so rational, you have become one dimensional, and it seems you are discouraging taking risks.

I may have read it wrong, maybe you're being sarcastic, but please be more careful with your criticisms.

Jo 17 months ago

I actually used number #10 on my site ( Although I agree with most of your reasoning, I think you shouldn't take everything to literrally.. Example #1 is a pretty good quote, nothing wrong with it:)

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