Motivational quotes are everywhere. They're on sports advertisements, billboards, T-shirts. In fact, there's a decent chance that many of your laptops have a desktop background that features an image of a motivational quote. Admit it.

We crave motivation, and we surround ourselves with these images and quotes in an attempt to keep us working on that business proposal, new product, or iPhone app.

But these very same sources of motivation can actually work against us. We certainly get a mental boost from seeing them, but that can be a bad thing:Research has shown these motivational pick-me-ups can trigger the same kind of psychological reward as doing the work itself, treating us with endorphins we don't deserve and actually reducing our capacity to do real work. Our minds are so happy at the prospect of having done our work that we crash down to earth when we realize we have to actually, you know, do the work!

Another major problem with motivational media is its tendency to romanticize the process of work and to provide an unrealistic view that clashes with the true nature of what you need to accomplish. Real work has extended periods of inactivity or dull grunt work, as opposed to the exciting, feverish pace of a computer programmer in a movie (I'm looking at you, "The Social Network" - programming should not look that cool). When you turn to your own work, you'll find that it doesn't go quite as smoothly, and that can be discouraging.

One last important note is the fact that our bodies are not wired to get pumped up to work. If you have to do something physical like working out, you can put on the "Rocky IV" training montage and you'll go kill it in the gym. But for us knowledge workers, it doesn't quite work that way. Getting mentally prepared for a task is useful, but only if you are putting yourself into the right state of mind.

So what is to be done? Motivation is still a very important resource for those with great work to be done. How do we integrate motivational media? By choosing the right fuel for our minds. If you want to apply a motivational boost to your work, you need to focus on the right angle, and this is why you need to get excited to do hard work.

That's right. Don't get pumped up about the end result; get pumped up about the grind. As in:

  • Heck, yeah I have to do this research!
  • Heck, yeah I'm going to write this essay, one paragraph at the time!

If you want motivation, get motivated to work hard, not to be great or successful. Take to heart the words of the workers, the guys who show up early and work when everybody else has gone home. Use motivational media to quash self-doubt and mental roadblocks that are keeping you from putting your nose to the grindstone. So the next time you're choosing a desktop background, make it one of these:

  1. "Don't judge each day by the harvest that you reap but by the seeds that you plant." -Robert Louis Stevenson
  2. "High expectations are the key to everything." -Sam Walton
  3. "Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition." -Steve Jobs
  4. "If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced." -Vincent Van Gogh
  5. "If you never want to be criticized, for goodness' sake don't do anything new." -Jeff Bezos
  6. "If people are not laughing at your goals, your goals are too small." -Azim Premji
  7. "I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do." -Leonardo da Vinci
  8. "The most dangerous poison is the feeling of achievement. The antidote is to every evening think what can be done better tomorrow." -IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad
  9. "Nothing will work unless you do." -Maya Angelou
  10. "Chase the vision, not the money; the money will end up following you." -Tony Hsieh
  11. "The critical ingredient is getting off your butt and doing something. It'd as simple as that. A lot of people have ideas, but there are few who decide to do something about them now. Not tomorrow. Not next week. But today. The true entrepreneur is a doer, not a dreamer." -Atari founder Nolan Bushnell
  12. "When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don't adjust the goals, adjust the action steps." -Confucius
  13. "If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right." -Henry Ford
  14. "What other people label or might try to call failure, I have learned is just God's way of pointing you in a new direction" -Oprah Winfrey
  15. "The secret of getting ahead is starting. The secret of getting started is breaking your tasks into smaller manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one." -Mark Twain
  16. "If you just work on stuff that you like and you're passionate about, you don't have to have a master plan with how things will play out." - Mark Zuckerberg
  17. "Do you want to know who you are? Don't ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you." -Thomas Jefferson

Which of these quotes get you pumped up? Are there any others that inspire you?