“Because it’s a great line and it stood out to me. I wrote it down, I’ll want to have it around for later reference, for potentially using it in my writing or work, or for possible inspiration at some point in the future.” – Ryan Holiday
“We learn new things every day. But an education is worthless if you don’t make the lessons a part of your life. Write down any key learnings from the past week: major lessons, meaningful quotes and things that inspire you.” – Scott Dinsmore
I love quotes. A lot. It’s why nearly every article and every page starts with a quote – or two or three.
I started deliberately curating a personal collection around four years ago, when I was introduced to the idea via the Tony Robbins inspired 5-Step Weekly Planning process from Live Your Legend.1 My weekly process has evolved since then, but it still includes recording and saving meaningful quotes and major lessons.
Along with journaling and meditating, creating a collection of ideas, inspirations, and lessons was – and is – practiced by many of history’s greatest individuals. I would later discover, through the work of Ryan Holiday, that the act is often referred to as keeping a “commonplace book.”
How and Why to Keep a Commonplace Book
As Holiday explains in an article titled, How and Why to Keep a “Commonplace Book:”2
“A commonplace book is a central resource or depository for ideas, quotes, anecdotes, observations and information you come across during your life and didactic pursuits. The purpose of the book is to record and organize these gems for later use in your life, in your business, in your writing, speaking or whatever it is that you do.
Some of the greatest men and women in history have kept these books. Marcus Aurelius kept one–which more or less became the Meditations. Petrarch kept one. Montaigne, who invented the essay, kept a handwritten compilation of sayings, maxims and quotations from literature and history that he felt were important. His earliest essays were little more than compilations of these thoughts. Thomas Jefferson kept one. Napoleon kept one. HL Mencken, who did so much for the English language, as his biographer put it, ‘methodically filled notebooks with incidents, recording straps of dialog and slang’ and favorite bits from newspaper columns he liked. Bill Gates keeps one.”
The answer to “how” can be as simple as copying, recording, or saving wisdom that speaks to you.* Although Holiday encourages keeping a physical version, I prefer using digital tools – my collection started in Evernote, but has since migrated to Workflowy. I even take pictures of my handwritten journal pages to digitize them.
*For more comprehensive tips, check out the rest of his article at ryanholiday.net.
Start Now! Quotes to Live and Lead By
My commonplace book contains several thousand quotes, with the number of “favorites” in the high triple-digits. While I don’t have the infrastructure in place to share them all (yet), I thought it would be fun to include a few of my favorites here. You can also find them on this quotes page, which will be updated periodically.
For full disclosure, the following list was mostly put together in 2015. A lot of learning has happened since that time, but, it was true then, as it is now, that if I live and lead according to the ideas below – things tend to go pretty well.
What are some of your favorites? What’s one idea that, if you applied it starting today, would have the biggest impact on your life?
- “Success follows a predictable course. It’s not the brightest who succeed, nor is success simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf. It is rather, a gift. The successful are those who have been given opportunities and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.” – Malcolm Gladwell
- “It is in no man’s power to have whatever he wants; but he has it in his power not to wish for what he hasn’t got, and cheerfully make the most of the things that do come his way.” – Seneca
- “Do one thing every day that will make someone else happy” – Tom Clark
- “Whenever you encounter a problem, shift your thinking until you see the opportunity.” – Leo Babauta
- “Discipline: a body of practices and habits that consistently delivers desired results without the expenditure of excess mental, physical, or temporal resources.“ – Dad
- “Something to remind yourself no matter what you’re working towards: you don’t have to do it all right now, you just have to start doing it.” – James Clear
- “This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple, the philosophy is kindness.” – Mahatma Gandhi
- “You have to outwork everyone else. If you don’t, talent will not help you.”- Joe Echevarria, CEO of Deloitte
- “The world without spirit is wasteland. People have the notion of saving the world by shifting things around, changing the rules, and who’s on top, and so forth. No, no! Any world is a valid world if it’s alive. The thing to do is to bring life to it, and the only way to do that is to find in your own case where the life is and become alive yourself.” Joseph Campbell
- “Pessimists complain about the wind; Optimists expects it to change; Realists adjust the sails.” – William Arthur Ward
- “Let go of who you think you should be in order to be who you are.” – Brene Brown
- “In three words, I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: It goes on.” – Robert Frost
- “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.” – Henry Ford
- “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” – Pablo Picasso
- “Can’t I be both?” – Doug “Joe” Balchan, Jr.
- “The more I think it over, the more I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.” – Van Gogh
- “Never confuse yourself with visions of a lifetime at once.” – Marcus Aurelius
- “Work diligently, diligently, work patiently and persistently, patiently and persistently, and you’re bound to be successful, bound to be successful.” – Satya Narayan Goenka
- “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” – Rumi
- “By drawing on wisdom that is balanced – ancient and new, Eastern and Western, even liberal and conservative – we can choose directions in life that lead to satisfaction, happiness, and a sense of meaning.” – Jonathan Haidt
- “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” – John A. She’d
- The Dexter Gate, between Harvard Yard and Massachusetts Avenue, the outside of which says “Enter to grow in wisdom,” while the inside bears the message, “Depart to serve better thy country and thy kind.”
- “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” – Mahatma Gandhi
- “Pain is inevitable, suffering is a choice.” – Zen master Jun Po Denis Kelly Roshi
- “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.” – Mother Theresa
- “People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. All is a miracle.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
- “You can have neither a greater nor a lesser dominion than that over yourself.” – Leonardo da Vinci
- “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” – Carl Jung
- “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” – Mark Twain
- “If a man empties his purse into his head, no one can take it from him. An investment in knowledge always pays the highest return.” – Benjamin Franklin
- “No price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
- “Learn from the past, set vivid, detailed goals for the future, and live in the only moment of time over which you have any control: now.” – Denis Waitley
- “The general idea is simply that we need to exercise body, mind, soul, and spirit—and to do so in self, culture, and nature.” – Ken Wilber
- “Love is our highest word and the synonym for God.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
- “It’s time you realized that you have something in you more powerful and miraculous than the things that affect you.” – Marcus Aurelius from Meditations
- “There are seven days in a week and “someday” is not one of them. You need to start now.” – Benny Lewis
- “The great geniuses are those who have kept their childlike spirit, and have added to it breadth of vision and experience.” – Alfred Stieglitz
- “Whenever anyone asked me how I’d done it, the answer was simple: I decided to be able to.” – Alexandra Heminsley
- “Use for yourself little, but give to others much.” – Albert Einstein
- “With focus, motivation, and, above all, time, the mind can be trained to do extraordinary things.” – Joshua Foer
- “Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice.” – Jim Collins
- “Billionaires realize that the world is pliable. With enough pressure applied to an endeavor (either through effort, application of capital, or rouser of public support), sufficiently resourceful people really can change the world.” – Patrick Mathieson
- http://liveyourlegend.net/how-i-plan-my-week-my-5-step-process-free-worksheet/ [↩]
- https://ryanholiday.net/how-and-why-to-keep-a-commonplace-book/ [↩]