Today’s quote for motivation and inspiration: Plutarch

For today’s motivation and inspiration quote I have picked a classic – literally! It’s from ancient Greece.

So, as you have perhaps seen in my exciting plans for Motivational 101 page, I had been planning to explore some quotes and what they mean in terms of motivation and inspiration. And in the few months this blog has been running there has been … oh, how many? Oh yes, one post so far.


Which means it is time to knuckle down and do some work in this area. I love to dive behind the stories of great people, and this also gives me the chance to push my accompanying artwork in a different way.

Today’s quote is from Plutarch, who once said “what we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.”

What do you think? Skeptical? Don’t believe me?

Time for an anecdote, then.

The anecdote

I remember a time when, as a student, I sold TV and audio stuff. I was a part-timer, but there were some razor-sharp salespeople on the floor with me who weren’t. One of them, a supervisior, was great at what he did. He could sell coals to Newcastle, as the saying goes. But one day I saw he was in a rut. He was not getting any sales.


He explained to me what the problem was: he was desperate.

This wasn’t about life problems or anything like that. No. It was purely about sales figures and incentives.

Targets are the life-blood in a lot of stores that sell expensive goods, and that was the case here. The targets where I worked were all about carrot rather than stick. Management wouldn’t tear you apart for not hitting them, but you earned a lot more money if you did.

And that’s fine until the moment you find you’re headed towards the end of the month and your figures are a little down. Because now you want that money even more. You want that prize.

You get desperate: that big win, after all, is only on the horizon.

And for a competitive soul like my former supervisor, you can double that want, that need to hit the target. And it can tilt into a sense of desperation. He just wanted to hit that damn target. He was competitive and wanted his monthly wage boost.

But could he sell anything? No.

Meanwhile myself – a far inferior salesperson at the time (I say that as a fact rather than a judgement) – was racking up the sales. I was probably almost half the guy’s age, and I had no problem with the sales that day.

So what went wrong for him?

Well, before I get into that, lets look a wee bit at who Plutarch – the man who came up with today’s quote – was. It’ll give us a sense of why he’s one of the oft-quoted figures in history when it comes to motivation and inspiration.

So, who was this Plutarch, then?

Well, Plutarch – an ancient Greek – was a celebrity of his time across the Roman Empire. Whereas the bar to entry into the world of celebrity might be a trifle low in our times, (Keeping Up With the Kardashians, anyone?) Plutarch cut his teeth by being an essayist and a biographer.

Truly the bearded and robed rock star of his time.

The reason we see him on blogs devoted to things like motivation and inspiration is because Plutarch is often considered an early day moralist. He explored the lives of Roman Emperors and their often tragic ends. Meanwhile was famous for accounts of (slightly) less lofty figures across the empire in his work Parallel Lives.

And if that didn’t keep him busy, he was also a magistrate, an ambassador and also a priest over at the Temple of Apollo – an initiate of the ancient god Dionysus. The Roman equivalent was Bacchus, and whatever way you looked at it he was the god of ecstasy, agriculture, wine and fertility. So Plutarch probably needed to hold his drink as well on top of all that work.

All of which means the man certainly lived.

And this is why he was well regarded for his writing through the ages, and many a historian or moralist has tried to follow his style and harness his outlook in their own work.

So, what about this saying, then: “what we achieve inwardly will change outer reality”?

Well, what I like about this phrase is that all kinds of people can take motivation and inspiration from it. It’s got both a spiritual interpretation as well as a more practical one.

The spiritual – both in mysticism and organised religion

First off then, the mystical. The quote bears a lot of resemblance to the phrase “as above, so below” which we hear time and again in hokey TV shows about people with magical powers. The reason is that it has very strong ties to modern-day New Age philosophies. The best attribution of this saying comes from something called the ‘Emerald Tablet’. Like a lot of modern New Age and mystical sources, the origins of this magical tome is somewhat tricky to discern. It seems to have appeared about 500 years after Plutarch’s time, and then translated into Latin in the 12th century.

The idea behind it was popular with alchemists, some of whom had taken on a somewhat more realistic and metaphorical view on the whole lead-into-gold thing. They believed that if you changed yourself spiritually, then your outer world changed for the better as well. Lead and gold, see?

Of course this is not without number of parallels in other religions as well. According to Christianity, for example, you can only enter Heaven via Jesus and his teachings – in other words you have to change what you believe to be true and possible for your world to improve. You have to develop a core faith in line with Christ. A later (non-biblical) phrase became very popular which also springs to mind: “God only helps those who help themselves”. This again points to an idea where you have to pull your socks up before you can get some outside and godly intervention.

The practical – happiness determines your success

You’d think it would be the other way around, wouldn’t you?

But no, it’s not. Because being happy gets the brain working. It makes you think faster, be more creative. It drives enthusiasm. And lets be honest, it also makes you a much more likeable person as well, which also helps when dealing with other people.

I’d take this a step further as well. The majority of communication between humans is non-verbal. So when you feel angry, desperate and worried, your body language will give you away as well.

Let’s go back to my supervisor – a normally brilliant salesperson. Think about how this affected him. It would have made him act different, and even when he was trying to act confident his body language would have given him away. Not consciously, not in a body-language-manual kind of way. Just enough so that the customer would sense something was up.


No matter what way you want to look at it, the phrase “what we achieve inwardly will change outer reality” is an essential tool to uncovering our own motivation and inspiration. It is about either spiritually or practically re-orientating our worldview so that we see the possibilities of what might be. If not, the penalty is that we blinker our reality, and we stifle our interactions with the outside world.

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Also, what are your own thoughts on the phrase? Let me know below.



  1. Great post! I’m a strong believer that our thoughts govern our habits and ultimately manifest in the physical. I’m glad I discovered your blog.

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