The Catch Phrases That Stick in Your Head

Published: September 13, 2023

Like a musical hook, there are catch phrases people say that become earworms. They come from parents, mentors, teachers, and coaches. They are kernels of wisdom that simplify our complex world. They end up on posters, mission statements, and locker room bulletin boards. They shape our perspective whenever generic guidance is needed. Below are a few examples of ‘truisms’ that, upon further review, may not be true after all.

Everything in moderation, including moderation.

This is the recipe for mediocrity. With an obvious nod to the wisdom of maintaining your health and safety, pushing some things to their edge – and maybe even a little over the line – sparks creativity and innovation. The thing about an earworm is that you want what’s stuck in your head to go away. But unexpected phrases don’t become annoying. They ignite interest and engagement. The ‘G’ note in the music graphic is dissonant. The ear wants to hear an ‘A.’ Face it, the tension is more memorable than the harmony.

When you find something you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.

On the contrary, when you find something you love, the real work begins. The fact that it comes naturally can be a trap. It might be true that you don’t have to practice to be good. And if ‘good’ is enough, then by all means, coast. But if excellent is your aspiration, you will want to work day and night to continue your growth.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

This ‘golden rule’ is selfish because it assumes that everyone likes it the way you do. The reverse golden rule is: “Do unto others the way they wish to be done on to.” Consider your partner’s history, experience, and perspective before concluding what they might want. It’s likely not the same as yours.

You only get one chance to make a first impression.

This assumes that the first impression is the only impression and that it stains you for life. The initial moment is only one piece of data, albeit important. It’s a starting point. What follows, however, is far more telling. People, relationships, teams, and organizations constantly evolve. No one is the same as they were a minute ago. Honor the evolution.

It’s essential to maintain work/life balance.

Do you really flip off the ‘life’ switch when you flip on the ‘work’ switch? Do you leave all your professional headaches at the door when you arrive home? We all have one life with many venues. We move from solitude to family, social, and colleague connections around the clock. Certain partners get to see tailored aspects of our thoughts, feelings, and behavior, but those expressions are all emanating from the same human being. The key is to find ‘fit’ rather than ‘balance.’ Life is not a scale with two competing weights. It is a many-segment pie chart where each of us is the steward of which slice gets how much attention when and where.

Sharing is caring.

It depends. Boundaries matter. Generosity speaks for itself, but the sharer is responsible for attempting to understand the consequences of the ‘gift.’ If I share a slice of pie, I’ll probably get a thanks. If I share a traumatic story, though, I’ll likely traumatize the receiver. That’s not very caring.

The examples are endless. The point is to challenge the message rolling around in your head. The phrases that stick in our minds often entered our perception at times in our lives when the parents, mentors, teachers, and coaches were simply taken at their word. But as Socrates reminds us, you need to make sure that your sources have all three elements of ethos, pathos, and logos to stand up to scrutiny. Take away any of them – credibility, passion, or fact – and the three-legged stool starts to fall over.

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.