Nothing happens in a vacuum. Every human action is a reaction to something else, so it’s important to find or maintain your own source of motivation and inspiration.
Unfortunately, motivation and inspiration can be a diminishing resource. What works on one day will slowly stop providing the same kick over time. Motivation comes and goes in waves. You might be raring to go in the morning, but an untimely work email can sap your energy. It’s understandable to blame outside factors in situations like this. Then again, it’s impossible to feel happy, motivated and inspired all the time. The goal instead must be to find motivation and inspiration no matter where you are and no matter how crappy the day is.
What Do Motivation And Inspiration Mean?
Let’s clarify these vague terms “motivation” and “inspiration” with a simple framework.
Motivation and inspiration come in two forms: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation refers to inspiration that comes from within a person while extrinsic motivation comes from our environment. Intrinsic motivation is prior to extrinsic motivation in that to act on any outside inspiration we must first find the motivation inside ourselves. For example, while a new diet might promise to give us extra energy and stamina, only intrinsic motivation can lead us to begin such a diet. Equally, strategies for improving our lives are readily available (and mostly free) online, but they are only useful if you do the research to read and apply those strategies.
Motivation can also flag over time as people get deeper into their careers and lifestyle. Rather than pursuing new levels of growth, we spend all our motivational energy on maintaining that lifestyle. Creating a strong source of intrinsic motivation can be done by firmly setting your sights on achieving a goal that you are willing to achieve no matter how scary or frustrating the path. It is unwise to rely on extrinsic sources of motivation since these are often little more than a wish or a fantasy – some nebulous image, ideal or identity sold to you by advertising and the desire to emulate a celebrity or model.
Both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are important components of getting anything big or small done. But there’s only one problem – we don’t always feel motivated or inspired. Every gym session will involve boring repetitions that you just don’t want to do. Burning muscles are an unpleasant feeling yet at the same time you know it is making your body stronger.
Every path will have its ups and downs which is why achieving success relies on a strong source of intrinsic motivation that isn’t buffeted by outside winds – which may even blow from the people closest to us. After all, friends and family tend to use each other as sounding boards to talk about the negative things happening in their lives. And although listening is healthy, having strong intrinsic motivation can shield your energy from being affected by these interactions.
Motivation and inspiration aren’t exactly synonyms. Motivation is the energy we need for doing small tasks while inspiration comes from a desire to improve your whole life. It is the difference between the going to the gym every second day (the process) and wanting to lose ten pounds (the outcome). Motivation is much more fluid than inspiration. For example, a sunny day will provide plenty of motivation to go for a jog but on a cloudy day watching Netflix will sound like a much better idea than exercising.
Is the answer to tie these together in some way? If motivation is just the willingness to do what is necessary, then inspiration must be about painting an exciting picture of the future. Connecting motivation and inspiration is about realistically describing the consequences of what will happen if you don’t accomplish key tasks or reach certain waypoints. Maybe you won’t have enough money to go on that long-awaited vacation or skipping the gym too many times will mean you won’t fit into that beautiful wedding dress.
Don’t expect to be excited every day when chasing a goal. That’s not how motivation and inspiration work. Developing a source of intrinsic, consistent, healthy motivation is about being willing to take the necessary steps to accomplish a goal or fulfill something that inspires you.
Inspiration starts with a clear and concise vision that can be refined over time. Not everything that you want to do is possible and other people’s success may be the result of opportunities that are simply unavailable to you. This is something I struggled with my whole adult life.
A large part of inspiration often comes from a desire to become a different person after achieving a goal. In this way, the drive to lose a bunch of weight might be about getting more energy or fitting into a tuxedo for that upcoming wedding. For me, experiences like creating, writing, presentations and networking are an important part of my amazing life. When I write and speak, I am unleashing a better version of myself since it forces me to focus on serving others and lead a team rather than waste my time complaining (always a tempting alternative). Even if you enjoy your job, there will always be parts of the daily grind that just don’t motivate you. Finding inspiration in a career is a great goal, but for many people their motivation for getting up each day to perform a job is simply to support their family. That’s where they get their deep source of inspiration.
And if you can clearly visualize payoffs down the line, you will be far more motivated to chip away at the little steps along the way. Motivation is anticipation. That’s why it is important to avoid “lazy dreams” such as the status of having a great car collection or being invited to certain parties. Wanting nice things can be highly motivating, but retail therapy is not true inspiration and will dissipate quickly like the temporary dopamine rush it really is.
Our natural human tendency for negativity can also be an advantage if we think about it differently. Maybe you don’t like going into work, but you certainly don’t want to be fired either. Attending couples’ therapy might feel like a waste of time but exploding your life through a messy divorce would be an even worse result. We go to the dentist, pay our car registration, spend thousands on insurance and discipline our kids not because these actions excite us. Rather we do these things to avoid the negative consequences of not acting in a responsible and goal-oriented manner.
However, the truth is finding motivation and inspiration is not a team sport. It is a solitary task that must follow a process of exploring all the possibilities of life. A story about my life is relevant here. I wanted to write a book the moment I finished college. I had no clue about the publishing process, but I shared the idea with my professor who introduced me to a screenwriter. Only after three attempted manuscripts which were just on my computer waiting for me to put them out into the world did I stumble into a writers’ conference with a session on self-publishing. At the time I didn’t even know that was an option. I hadn’t explored all the opportunities before spending time trying to impress the screenwriter. After that excellent conference, I got home and read everything I could find on self-publishing and managed to produce a book in only a few months.
Ultimately, it is up to you to find the right message, people and desires since the wrong ones can be poison for both inspiration and motivation. On the other hand, keep in mind that part of success is just learning how to deal with the everyday challenges of life. If you fail to clarify your inspirations, it will be nearly impossible to be motivated enough to reach those goals. But when you marry inspiration with motivation, you will be focused and on your way.