Top 10 Self-Help Quotes (My Hall of Fame)

By Martin Grunburg

As many of you know, I’m a huge fan of personal development/self-help quotes. The right quote at the right time might shave off years or even decades of pain, struggle, and hardship if the message and lesson resonate just right.

This is an important point: The message must resonate. It seems that sometimes I can hear or see the same quote over and over, maybe hundreds of times, before — for whatever reason — the message finally strikes a chord with me and truly has personal meaning.

For your review, here are my favorite self-help/development quotes and, in brief, what they’ve meant to me. Perhaps one might strike a chord with you someday.

“When the student is ready, the master appears.” ~Lao Tzu*

It may be worth keeping this quote in mind as you review the following quotes.  ; )
*(attributed to multiple sources, sometimes noted as ‘teacher’ vs. ‘master’)

It’s worth noting that the order of these quotes is somewhat meaningful relative to its importance and when the message came into my life.

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” ~Henry David Thoreau

I tripped upon this quote almost a quarter century ago as I embarked on my very first entrepreneurship adventure. Feeling wholly inadequate, even blind, and with immense pressure to forge our new company (with partner investors), I found great comfort in Thoreau’s guidance and, frankly, his assurance that so long as I moved confidently — even when things on the “inside” didn’t feel so certain — I would be assured a “success” in common hours.

(I expand on the quote and some of these ideas in this fairly recent interview on the Knowlege for Men podcast, Listen Here.)

“Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.” ~Henry Ford

Henry Ford’s brilliant insight helped to affirm a long-held belief that we tend to project our expectations (often without conscious thought), and then these expectations greatly influence our efforts, abilities, and ultimately our consequences/outcomes.

The quote parallels the idea of the “placebo effect” and how our expectations even about the medications we take can affect our health.

“Wisdom is equal measure experience plus reflection.” ~Aristotle

Speaking of experience, so many of us will chase knowledge. Knowledge. Knowledge. Knowledge. As though that were the holy grail.

Ultimately we recognize knowledge doesn’t quite equate to success. We used to have to wait three days for a doctor with specialized knowledge to travel across three states on a horse and buggy just to impart his knowledge.

Today, we can Google just about any question on our smartphone and within a seconds have an answer 99.9 percent of the time.

Wisdom, on the other hand, is timeless.

What is wise today will be wise in 300 years. The Golden Rule, for instance, is a beautiful example of wisdom. Knowledge, though, tends to be tied to the past. Knowledge tells us on one day that there are nine planets in our solar system, and then later we’re informed that there are only eight. Knowledge changes. Cholesterol is bad, then cholesterol is good, then there is a good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. Wisdom says let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food.

In order to gain wisdom, though, we must reflect as much as we act. Wisdom demands both action and reflection— in equal measure.

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. ~Calvin Coolidge

Persistence. Persistence. Persistence. What if the path of least resistance is persistence?

Coolidge nailed it! It’s a stunning observation, as I’ve been witness to great talent wasted and genius that has been starved without action. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent!

“If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful after all.” ~Michelangelo

It must be human nature: We all want to find a shortcut or “secret” that will lead us to a life of success and happiness.

Yet, we have ample evidence from the greatest achievers throughout history. Their stories share a consistent theme: hard work.

History’s greatest achievers encountered multiple defeats and failures (see persistence, above). Almost unanimously, they fought a difficult and honorable battle in order to claim their “success” — and along the way, each revealed their path.

Yet we’d rather learn about some “secret” that doesn’t exist! This actually makes sense. HARD WORK sucks, right? Unless, that is, you and I can become a craftsman like Michelangelo. That is, to slow down and enjoy the process of the work.

There is no secret. And, if there was one it would be this (next quote) … and it’s only because it makes the hard work easier over time.

Imagine Michelangelo chipping away at the statue of David (which took over four years to create) and starting to look for a shortcut. Or, while painting the Sistine Chapel thinking it could go faster if he just cut some corners. Nope: The results show something different, don’t they? Hence, he’s heralded centuries later as a “Master.”

“All mens’ natures are alike— it’s their habits that carry them far apart.”


Habit. That is it.

This is the closest thing (answer) you will ever find to a secret.

Your thought habits and your behavior habits are what put you on autopilot since they reside in the subconscious and they are repeated over and over. Set up the wrong habits and you’re destined for some serious challenges. Set up the right habits and life is likely to work out very well for you.

The beauty is, when it comes to habits, you can create any habit you’d like. You must first craft your habits consciously, but know that implementing them takes action — repeated action. Therefore, even the popular book and movie (tremendous marketing ; ) The Secret doesn’t work without the force of habit. (watch this great video explaining exactly that by John Assaraf, a contributor to the movie).

Nobody achieves their goals without HABIT.

Without habit, there can be no Compound Effect (a terrific book by Darren Hardy, former Publisher of

HABIT (or, The Habit Factor) is the force multiplier. It’s what makes the “secret” or “the compound effect” or “the law of attraction” or any special sauce/magic formula, work.

Habit (or The Law of Cosmic Habit Force) was the great discovery by Napoleon Hill after he authored one of the greatest self-help books of all time, Think and Grow Rich. He called The Law of Cosmic Habit Force the secret and “missing link“.

In many ways, this — the Confucius quote above — is the quote that launched The Habit Factor®. Not to mention, it helped to establish a previously undocumented method for goal achievement (Habit Alignment), something even the most notable goal achievement methodologies and personal development legends had failed to identify!

Habit (your habits of thought and action), as Confucius noted, is what separates any “success” from the “failure.”

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”


And why wouldn’t Socrates and Aristotle, regarded as perhaps the greatest philosophers of all time, have two quotes on my top-ten list? Interestingly, both involve awareness and self-reflection.

With this he leaves us to wonder, how could a life unexamined be worth living?

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” ~Albert Einstein

Oh.. the ever-elusive life-balance question. How can I keep my wife, kids, boss happy, and have fun, and stay fit? Read Einstein’s quote once again and the answer should appear. Balance is NOT found as a moment in time — a static destination. Rather, balance is the RESULT of oscillation, adjustments and constant movement. Acting, assessment, and self-correction.

There are some (fools) who insist balance is bogus. I submit to you that it is essential: Balance equals harmony, and harmony equals…

“Set peace of mind as your highest goal, and organize your life around it.” ~Brian Tracy

Perhaps overly simplified. But what is success without peace of mind? Mr. Tracy is a living PD legend, and I think he’s on to something here. The fact is, if we do not possess peace of mind (most of the time), any success is likely to be short-lived if experienced at all.

Organizing your life around where you like to live, what you like to do, and with whom you’d like to do it is essential. This may sound a little Pollyanna-ish, but in many ways, it’s a concept that brings us nearly right back to where we started this post with our good man Thoreau’s advice, “to move confidently in the direction of our dreams and endeavor to live the life we have imagined.”

Not only is that certain to bring us success in “common hours,” but just as importantly, it will bring us peace of mind.

Hope you enjoyed this list as much as I have enjoyed sharing it!




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