Mottos as a way of understanding and evaluating one’s personality

Mottos as a way of understanding and evaluating one's personality
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Mottos as a way of understanding and evaluating one’s personality.

According to Robert McCrae and Paul Costa, personality psychologists and researchers, the human personality seems to be formed by a variety of characteristics which interact with one another and complete the human nature, such as the behaviour, the cognition, and the emotions. These affect the way people adapt to their environment when confronted with change. Needless to say, that each individual has a unique multidimensional personality. Absolutely no one is the same.

Consequently, each individual expresses his/her essence differently, either verbal or non-verbal, and has different goals, aspirations, fears and insecurities. One way to depict all these different aspects of the human personality is through mottos. Most people adopt mottos that reflect their wants and needs, their real self and their desired self, in other words, who they are and who they want to be. Quotes by famous people, proverbs and wise folk sayings based on common experiences that bring together people with the same goals, beliefs and visions often serve as mottos as well. Over time, mottos get into people’s minds and become integral part of their history and culture.

Mottos help individuals deal with abnormal behaviours and have a didactic intent as they are often used to express one’s moral values. Mottos derive from one’s personality. They reveal how people perceive the world around them and increase people’s belief in their ability to improve or change their behaviours, since they help them get over their insecurities, their fears and their past and turn them into a better version of themselves.

Mottos can also help individuals change a bad habit, by giving the reason why they should make a change in the first place and help them find a stronger will inside them “Quit smoking or die trying” or, “Hang tough, don’t puff” are such examples. Hence, mottos can not only help us change ourselves from the inside out but also help us change and shift the world around us.

The way mottos affect the human personality and each individual’s perspective of the world around us vary. They can for instance boost one’s morality or self-confidence. They can inspire, motivate or soothe one’s mind after a hard day and keep anxiety away. “If you’re going through hell, keep going” said Winston Churchill. A motto can also equip individuals with imagination and determination to boost their work rate and productivity because according to Benjamin Franklin “You may delay, but time will not.” Last but not least, mottos can reinforce your humour and serve as a good reminder that life is fun as well: “If it’s not fun, you’re not doing it right,” said Bob Basso.


Mottos and personal growth

Mottos reveal one’s thoughts, memories, dreams, wishes, desires, goals and motivations. They help the individuals focus on self-improvement, get far and progress in their lives. The research on how mottos contribute to personal growth and personality change might still be relatively underdeveloped. However, they are undoubtedly an important factor for shaping one’s personality, due to the effect they have on people’s thoughts and actions. Therefore, in order to study one’s personality in depth, we have to study one’s personal mottos as well.

My motto


Research Data

Since the beginning of the 20th century several research psychologists carried out survey experiments using questionnaire in order to find out the relation between mottos and personality. In 1956, Bernard M. Bass, conducted an experiment using mottos as a means of bringing to light personality traits that are correlated with professional success. The research concluded that people choose as their personal mottos those related to professional success and social recognition as well as mottos that help them overcome the fear of failure. A nice example of such a motto could be the words of Robert F. Kennedy “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly,” or Abraham Lincoln’s “It’s not about how many times you fall, but how many times you get back up.”

A few years later in 1958, Bass developed the Famous Sayings Test “a test of attitudes towards various famous sayings.” Mottos regarding personal effectiveness in the workplace were the most popular ones among the participants. In 1974, Marzolf conducted a survey amongst U.S students to study the association of mottos to personality traits. 159 students were given 55 mottos to choose from, and they chose those close related to their attitudes, customs and behaviour. The motto “where there’s a will there’s a way,” for example, was close related to traits such as conscientiousness, humility, insight and discipline, whereas the motto “prevention is better than cure” better suits to suspicious, intelligent, risky and independent people.

Some other researches provided evidence that mottos can greatly help in the recovery of psychiatric patients. In 1977, Joubert attempted to find the correlation between emotions such as hatred, condescension, fear of failure and social recognition with neuroticism and extroversion. The results of the survey showed that it is not clear whether extroversion is truly correlated with the fear of failure. Neuroticism, however, seemed to be linked to hatred and social recognition.
In 1985, under the Psychiatric Extensive Rehabilitation Program (PERP), a daily treatment program for chronic patients in Capitol Region Mental Health Center in Hartford, Connecticut. Patients suffering from schizophrenia and severe personality disorders were encouraged to create their personal mottos as a self-help approach. The therapeutic changes in emotions and patient’s behaviour were evident much earlier than expected.
Furthermore, neurobiologists recently suggested that Anonymous Alcoholics and people suffering from other addictions like drugs, gambling, etc. could use mottos as a helping hand to increase their self-confidence. Even prisoners could adopt mottos, especially those who were imprisoned by mistake. Nelson Mandela’s quote “In my country we go to prison first and then become President,” would be a nice example in that case.

Products, slogans, mottos and personality

Not only famous people’s quotes but also company slogans can inspire and be used as personal mottos. A study by Mugge, Ruth and Pascalle C.M. Govers in 2004 examined “the influence of congruity between the personality of a person and the personality of his/her product (i.e., product-personality congruence) on product attachment.” The study indicated that respondent’s attachment to products which were congruent with their personality was stronger and that they were more likely to use the product for a longer period. Future research would greatly benefit from taking this study one step further, seeing if consumers are more likely to buy a product if among other parameters its slogan suits their lifestyle and could be used as their personal motto. Taking for example Nike’s slogan “Just do it” and Apple’s “Think Different” and considering just how many people have already adopted these mottos, this assumption is highly possible to be true.

what is your motto

It takes a careful word selection, maybe even a rhyme, and nice music to make a successful slogan. In many cases it’s the slogan that’s stuck to the consumer’s mind and not the product itself. There are many products and companies that no longer exist. However, their slogans are being used by people as mottos even to date.

Mottos in literature

Mottos can be found in poetry, playwrights and novels too, and they often reveal both the writer’s and the reader’s personality. It goes as follows: The writer uses a motto to trigger the reader’s emotions and transmit a message. If the reader shares the same experiences, worries and problems with the writer, then he/she adopts the motto as well. Even if the reader doesn’t share the same experiences with the writer, every person analyzes and uses mottos in different ways according to one’s way of thinking and temperament.

There are some very powerful examples of such mottos. “To be or not to be; that is the question.” William Shakespeare wrote these immortal lines in Hamlet between 1599 and 1602, yet many sceptical people use this question as their personal motto even to date. “‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,” wrote Alfred Tennyson, in his poem “In Memoriam A.H.H” between the years 1833 and 1850 and gave courage not only to millions of heartbroken readers, but also to every romantic soul out there.


Mottos and team personality

Mottos describe our ideal self, who we want to become, and help us pursue our goals. Yet, mottos do not only affect individuals, but also play a great role in the configuration, organization and coherence of a team. They express a team’s ideology, explain its mission, and bring out the spirit of the team regardless if it’s a sport or a business team. People always have the need to belong, and a team’s motto is an important determinant of team choice.

The Scout motto for example “Be prepared,” means that one has to be in a state of readiness in mind and body to do his/her duty, ready to do what is necessary to help others. This is a motto used by millions of Scouts worldwide and teaches young people to have courage and handle anything life puts in front of them. This is the reason why people join the Scouts after all.

Relieving psychological distress through mottos

Two people never experience an event the exact same way. Traumatic experiences, major life transitions and everyday stressors are often causes of psychological distress. Thus, it is considered to be a subjective experience, dependent upon each situation and how one perceives it. The human brain reacts with an automated emotional response according to how it reacted in similar cases in the past. When this response relates to emotions such as fear or anger, the hormones produced create psychological distress. People try to eliminate the negative feelings through various ways without always being successful. Many phycologists claim that mottos can calm one down and inspire the individual to turn the negativeness into something creative. Mottos give hope and make people want to look up a change for the better and get over the disappointment.

The CDT (Can Do Treatment), a 3-day intensive social cognitive program was first introduced in 2016 in an explorative observational study by Jongen et al. They used mottos to improve the self-efficacy of persons who suffer from multiple sclerosis. The results of this study showed that adopting positive mottos helped those persons to maintain a positive attitude and improve their self-efficacy as well as their communication with others. That proves greatly that mottos can effectively help navigate the difficulties that arise.

Mottos in our daily lives

From the beginning of human history, long before the development of spoken and written language, cave men used symbols to communicate and depict their experiences. That way, they always left something behind for others to find in the future, either it was their achievements, a message, or a warning of some kind. This way they passed on their knowledge to subsequent generations and evolved. In our case, mottos act as “symbols” that will pass on our knowledge, messages and warnings to the next generation. In our everyday lives we face many challenges, and we have to adapt to a lot of unpredictable and unpleasant situations. In order to be able to overcome these difficulties we need something, a common code to live by, to help us prepare for the unknown. Mottos will guide us when in distress and find it difficult to define ourselves and find our identity.

What is your motto

Mottos channel us to our deepest beliefs and goals. They lead us out of our mental and psychological fatigue and give us courage. Most complex ideas get lost in time and space unlike simple mottos that help us easily recall what’s really essential at times. So, during hard dilemmas or unfavourable circumstances mottos should act as a compass and guide us to the right direction. They can act as a mentor, a best friend, an advocate or the inner voice that will always whisper to our ears “keep going, don’t give up.” As the aforementioned studies showed, the inspirational and soothing effect of mottos are widely acknowledged by scientists and psychologists. That’s the main reason why nations, religions, schools and universities, sport teams, political parties, the military, activists, philanthropic organizations, and companies have their own mottos. There are thousands of mottos that disclose one’s character, personality, feelings, psychology, fears, inner wishes, upbringing, dark thoughts or bright ideas that can fit to our own personality. All things considered, mottos are a great asset to our lives, a common code to live by that help us tell the difference between good and bad, friendly and hostile and prepare us for the unknown.


Recommended by Motto Cosmos.


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