Quotations about   self-improvement

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Don’t be yourself — be someone a little nicer.

Mignon McLaughlin (1913-1983) American journalist and author
The Second Neurotic’s Notebook (1966)
Added on 6-May-21 | Last updated 6-May-21
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Every day of our lives we are on the verge of making those changes that would make all the difference.

Mignon McLaughlin (1913-1983) American journalist and author
The Neurotic’s Notebook (1963)
Added on 29-Apr-21 | Last updated 29-Apr-21
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I think one must engage in politics — using the word in a wide sense — and that one must have preferences: that is, one must recognise that some causes are objectively better than others, even if they are advanced by equally bad means. As for the nationalistic loves and hatreds that I have spoken of, they are part of the make-up of most of us, whether we like it or not. Whether it is possible to get rid of them I do not know, but I do believe that it is possible to struggle against them, and that this is essentially a moral effort. It is a question first of all of discovering what one really is, what one’s own feelings really are, and then of making allowance for the inevitable bias.

George Orwell (1903-1950) English writer [pseud. of Eric Arthur Blair]
“Notes on Nationalism” (May 1945)
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Added on 6-Apr-21 | Last updated 19-Apr-21
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Age is truly a time of heroic helplessness. One is confronted by one’s own incorrigibility. I am always saying to myself, “Look at you, and after a lifetime of trying.” I still have the vices that I have known and struggled with — well it seems like since birth. Many of them are modified, but not much. I can neither order nor command the hubbub of my mind.

Florida Scott-Maxwell (1883-1979) American-British playwright, author, psychologist
The Measure of My Days (1968)
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Added on 8-Feb-21 | Last updated 8-Feb-21
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Strive to be the greatest Man in your Country, and you may be disappointed; Strive to be the best, and you may succeed: He may well win the race that runs by himself.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American statesman, scientist, philosopher
Poor Richard’s Almanack (Jan 1747)
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Added on 29-Oct-20 | Last updated 29-Oct-20
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But since it is no more in a Man’s Power to think than to look like another, methinks all that should be expected from me is to keep my Mind open to Conviction, to hear patiently and examine attentively whatever is offered me for that end; and if after all I continue in the same Errors, I believe your usual Charity will induce you rather to pity and excuse than blame me.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American statesman, scientist, philosopher
Letter to Josiah and Abiah Franklin (13 Apr 1738)
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Added on 24-Sep-20 | Last updated 24-Sep-20
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One must not always think so much about what one should do, but rather what one should be. Our works do not ennoble us; but we must ennoble our works.

Meister Eckhart (1260?-1327?) German Dominican mystic, theologian [a.k.a. Eckehart von Hochheim]
Work and Being (14th C.)

Note: I haven't found a text by that name in Eckhart's bibliography, nor this quotation anywhere connected with anything but that title or none at all.
Added on 23-Sep-20 | Last updated 23-Sep-20
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Every fellow is really two men — what he is and what he might be; and you’re never absolutely sure which you’re going to bury till he’s dead.

George Horace Lorimer (1867-1937) American journalist, author, magazine editor
Old Gorgon Graham: More Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son, ch. 12 (1904)
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Added on 8-May-20 | Last updated 8-May-20
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You have to look at yourself objectively. Analyze yourself like an instrument. You have to be absolutely frank with yourself. Face your handicaps, don’t try to hide them. Instead, develop something else.

Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993) Belgian-English actress
Quoted in Barry Paris, Audrey Hepburn, ch. 4 (2002)
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Added on 24-Jan-20 | Last updated 24-Jan-20
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It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mine worker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farm workers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.

Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) South African revolutionary, politician, statesman
Long Walk to Freedom (1995)
Added on 12-Sep-16 | Last updated 12-Sep-16
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People seldom improve when they have no other model but themselves to copy.

Goldsmith - no other model - wist_info quote

Oliver Goldsmith (1730-1774) Irish poet, playwright, novelist
“On Our Theaters,” The Bee, #11 (13 Oct 1759)
Added on 14-Jul-16 | Last updated 14-Jul-16
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You convey too great a compliment when you say that I have earned the right to the presidential nomination. No man can establish such an obligation upon any part of the American people. My country owes me no debt. It gave me, as it gives every boy and girl, a chance. It gave me schooling, independence of action, opportunity for service and honor. In no other land could a boy from a country village, without inheritance or influential friends, look forward with unbounded hope. My whole life has taught me what America means. I am indebted to my country beyond any human power to repay.

Herbert Hoover (1874-1964) American engineer, bureaucrat, President of the US (1928-32)
Letter to George Moses (14 Jun 1928)

When learning of his nomination for President; Moses was the chairman of the Republican National Convention.
Added on 9-Jun-16 | Last updated 9-Jun-16
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I live my life in celebration and in praise of the life I’m living. What you focus on expands. The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate. The more you complain, the more you find fault, the more misery and fault you will have to find.

Oprah Winfrey (b. 1954) American TV personality, actress
“Words of the Week,” Jet (27 Oct 1986)
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Added on 13-May-16 | Last updated 13-May-16
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You’re not supposed to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it.

Malcolm X - wrong is wrong - wist_info

Malcolm X (1925-1965) American revolutionary, religious leader [b. Malcolm Little]
“Prospects for Freedom in 1965,” speech, New York (7 Jan 1965)
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Added on 20-Nov-15 | Last updated 20-Nov-15
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We must be something in order to do something, but we must also do something in order to be something. The best rule, I think, is this: If we find it hard to do good, then let us try to be good. If, on the other hand, we find it hard to be good, then let us try to do good. Being leads to doing, doing leads to being. Yet below both as their common root is faith, — faith in God, in man, in ourselves, in the eternal superiority of right over wrong, truth over error, good over evil, love over all selfishness and all sin.

James Freeman Clarke (1810-1888) American theologian and author
(Attributed)

Quoted in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895).
Added on 24-Oct-14 | Last updated 24-Oct-14
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True religion invites us to become better people. False religion tells us that this has already occurred.

Abdal Hakim Murad (b. 1960) British Muslim shaykh, researcher, writer, academic [b. Timothy John Winter]
“Contentions 2,” #11
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Added on 26-Sep-14 | Last updated 26-Sep-14
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“Be yourself!” is the worst advice you can give to some people.

Tom Masson (1866–1934) American anthropologist, editor, author, humorist [Thomas Lansing Masson]
(Attributed)
Added on 18-Jul-14 | Last updated 18-Jul-14
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I had become a new person; and those who knew the old person laughed at me. The only man who behaved sensibly was my tailor: he took my measure anew every time he saw me, whilst all the rest went in with their old measurements and expected them to fit me.

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) British playwright and critic
Man and Superman, ch. 1 (1903)
Added on 16-Apr-14 | Last updated 16-Apr-14
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KING HENRY: Presume not that I am the thing I was;
For God doth know, so shall the world perceive,
That I have turn’d away my former self.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Henry IV, Part II, Act 5, sc. 5, l. 60 (1597)
Added on 9-Apr-14 | Last updated 9-Apr-14
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Self-knowledge is the beginning of self-improvement.

Baltasar Gracián y Morales (1601-1658) Spanish Jesuit priest, writer, philosopher
The Art of Worldly Wisdom [Oráculo Manual y Arte de Prudencia], # 69 (1647) [tr. Jacobs (1892)]
Added on 4-Dec-13 | Last updated 31-Jan-20
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The virtues of society are the vices of the saint. The terror of reform is the discovery that we must cast away our virtues, or what we have always esteemed such, into the same pit that has consumed our grosser vices.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Circles,” Essays: First Series (1841)
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Added on 6-Sep-13 | Last updated 27-Feb-17
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The best reformers the world haz ever seen are thoze who commense on themselves.

[The best reformers the world has ever seen are those who commence on themselves.]

Josh Billings (1818-1885) American humorist [pseud. of Henry Wheeler Shaw]
Everybody’s Friend, Or; Josh Billing’s Encyclopedia and Proverbial Philosophy of Wit and Humor, “Nosegays” (1874)
Added on 22-Aug-13 | Last updated 5-May-19
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I just finished with nine months of treatment for cancer. First they poison you, then they mutilate you, then they burn you. I’ve had more fun. And when it’s over, you’re so glad that you’re grateful to absolutely everyone. And I am. The trouble is, I’m not a better person. I was in great hopes that confronting my own mortality would make me deeper, more thoughtful. Many lovely people sent books on how to find a more spiritual meaning in life. My response was, “Oh, hell, I can’t go on a spiritual journey — I’m constipated.”

Molly Ivins (1944-2007) American writer, political columnist [Mary Tyler Ivins]
“Cancer, II” The Progressive (Oct 2000)

In a similar vein, Ivins wrote in "Who Needs Breasts, Anyway?", Time (18 Feb 2002): "Having breast cancer is massive amounts of no fun. First they mutilate you; then they poison you; then they burn you. I have been on blind dates better than that."
Added on 3-Oct-11 | Last updated 2-Mar-21
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Learning makes a Man fit Company for himself.

Thomas Fuller (1654-1734) English writer, physician
Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs, #3163 (1732)
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Added on 21-Jun-11 | Last updated 26-Jan-21
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If your religion does not change you, then you had better change your religion.

Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915) American writer, businessman, philosopher
One Thousand & One Epigrams (1911)
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Added on 27-May-11 | Last updated 14-Sep-20
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Bear with the faults and frailties of others, for you, too, have many faults which others have to bear. If you cannot mold yourself as you would wish, how can you expect other people to be entirely to your liking? For we require other people to be perfect, but do not correct our own faults.

Thomas à Kempis (c. 1380-1471) German monk, author
The Imitation of Christ, Book 1, ch. 16 (c. 1418) [tr. L. Sherley-Price (1952)]
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Alt trans.: "Try to bear patiently with the defects and infirmities of others, whatever they may be, because you also have many a fault which others must endure. If you cannot make yourself what you would wish to be, how can you bend others to your will? We want them to be perfect, yet we do not correct our own faults. We wish them to be severely corrected, yet we will not correct ourselves. Their great liberty displeases us, yet we would not be denied what we ask. We would have them bound by laws, yet we will allow ourselves to be restrained in nothing."

Alt trans.: "Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be."
Added on 2-Jun-10 | Last updated 14-Sep-16
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Failure: A man who has blundered but is not able to cash in on the experience.

Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915) American writer, businessman, philosopher
The Roycroft Dictionary (1914)
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Added on 9-Mar-10 | Last updated 14-Sep-20
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Bear patiently with the Defects of others, and labor to amend thy own.

Thomas Fuller (1654-1734) English writer, physician
Introductio ad Prudentiam, # 389 (1725)
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Added on 17-Aug-09 | Last updated 26-Jan-21
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The church is always trying to get other people to reform; it might not be a bad idea to reform itself a little, by way of example.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
A Tramp Abroad (1880)
Added on 16-Aug-07 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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Our bodies are gardens, to the which our wills are
gardeners.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Othello, Act 1, sc. 3, ll. 315-6 (1603)
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In the Folio, this is given as, "Our bodies are our gardens ...".
Added on 12-May-04 | Last updated 6-Jul-20
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There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self.

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) English novelist, essayist and critic
Time Must Have a Stop (1944)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 15-Sep-16
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We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.

Carlos Casteneda (1931-1999) Peruvian-American writer, mystic, anthropologist
The Teachings of Don Juan (1968)

Also attributed to Journey to Ixtlan (1972).
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 19-Sep-16
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We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Nicomachean Ethics (c. 350 BC) (paraphrase)

Variants: "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." "We are what we repeatedly do, therefore excellence is not an act, but a habit."

Not actually Aristotle, but a summary by  Will Durant,  The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the World's Greatest Philosophers (1926), ch. II "Aristotle and Greek Science," Part VII "Ethics and the Nature of Happiness" (1926):
Excellence is an art won by training and habituation: we do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have these because we have acted rightly; 'these virtues are formed in man by his doing the actions'; we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit: 'the good of man is a working of the soul in the way of excellence in a complete life... for as it is not one swallow or one fine day that makes a spring, so it is not one day or a short time that makes a man blessed and happy.'"
The quoted phrases are from the Nicomachean Ethics, Book 2, ch. 4; Book 1, ch. 7.
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 2-Jun-17
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