“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”
People often look for motivation to spur them into action. They wait for it and complain they cannot find motivation. In fact – they are confusing motivation and inspiration. They flock to consuming motivational quotes online and paying obscene amounts of money on motivational speakers – and yet they still feel empty. Let’s explore how we can start to get motivated.
The misconceptions underlying this apparent “lack” of motivation, from my perspective, are twofold.
First of all, you are already motivated.
Secondly, it’s important to realize that the emptiness you feel is your own doing and your own responsibility alone. No one else will resolve this for you. You can repair this already now. Let’s get started.
You are already motivated.
We can start by resolving any confusion on terminology. Let’s explore the etymology of motivation for a second here and realize that motivation comes from “motive”, or having a reason to do something. Motivation, in this sense, is a purely rational process.
You are motivated when you see the benefits of a certain behavior. You are motivated to work out because you want to look like Thor or a Victoria’s Secret Angel, and believe this will increase your self-esteem or attract more of the opposite sex. You are motivated to go to work because you want to be able to pay your bills at the end of the month and not be kicked out of your home. You are motivated to take out the garbage because you don’t want it to start molding, grow legs, walk around your house and insult your wife.
Notice that all of these examples I mentioned already have a motive, and thus motivate you. None of them, though, are particularly attractive activities that make you happy inside when you think about them. And they don’t have too, they have compelling enough rational reasons that you might suffer through them and get them done regardless.
The breath of life
So it’s not motivation you are longing for, you have it already. The reason for doing anything is there. What you are missing in your heart is inspiration.
Let’s explore the etymology again. Inspiration comes from the Latin word “Inspirare” – meaning “breathe into”. It comes from the combination of “In” – meaning “into” and “spirare” – meaning “breathe”. Remember this, it is an interesting fact later on.
Inspiration is the emotional breathe of life that propels us forwards towards our goals. Although we initially set our goals with rational motivation, we live through them with emotional inspiration. It’s the soul of the activity that you feel when you are in a state of flow.
We all experience inspiration. You don’t need to get “motivated” to continue kissing a woman. You don’t need “motivation” to continue listening to a perfect symphony. You don’t need rational thought to dance and love and sing and laugh.
In fact, once people get started – they often abandon rational thought altogether as well as their original motive; This is how couples stay together in a toxic relationship and why elite athletes are often addicted to the gym, even though they already spent 10.000 hours in there honing their craft to absolute perfection.
The word’s original use was of a divine or supernatural being, in the sense that this divine presence would impart a truth or idea into someone. Some describe inspiration as this spiritual sensation – or quite literally a divine presence being imparted upon them. Those close to me – or have followed my writings for a longer period – know that I am everything except a religious being. I see inspiration for what it truly it – a positive feedback loop of neurotransmitters designed by nature to keep us going.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the original etymology of the word ‘perspire’ is so close to inspiration.
It also comes from Latin, from the combination of “per” – meaning “through” and “spirare” – meaning “breathe”. To perspire means to give out sweat through the pores of your skin.
Hard work and inspiration are two sides of the same coin; None can exist without the other. Rational thought alone will not bring you into connection with the universe, or god, or your emotional brain – whatever explanation you prefer. What is needed from you to bring this connection is hard work and action.
Inspiration does not precede action, it’s the other way around! You need an initial action, an initial push. Once you reach your first milestone – no matter how small, you will get the ever so slight dopamine boost from the achievement. This, in turn, will generate the emotional inspiration required to make your next action easier, which in turn feeds back onto itself – creating a positive feedback loop compounding upon your initial motivation and action.
A journey of 10.000 steps
A journey of a 10.000 steps really does start with the first. A great example that I can’t help but share is when I was climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. For those who have not been there, it’s a pretty gruesome hike where you scale 5.885 long, vertical meters up towards the sky in a couple of days. The difficulty of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro does not lie in the technical skill required – it’s actually quite basic – but in dealing with the great change in altitude over a small period of time. For most, including yours truly, it generates a massive, throbbing, mind-splitting high-altitude headache throughout pretty much the entire journey.
At this point – if you would start to think rationally about how much further you need to climb, how many more days of bad sleep, nasty porridge and cold nights you need to endure – your inspiration will dissipate faster than a gazelle being chased by a cheetah. The easiest way to get through the days is to take it literally one step at a time. Each step is a victory, an achievement that inspires you to take the next, and the next, and the last.
Meh. Maybe tomorrow
I see you sneaky little procrastinators reading this. You are taking in all these wise words of wisdom and thinking something along the lines of:
“Yeah, yeah. Cool story bro. But I’m just lazy, the whole point is that I don’t do the thing I know I need to do in the first place. I just postpone and postpone until it is too late.”You
I’m just going to say a few words that you need to hear but will not like. So if you don’t want to improve, stop reading here.
There is no magic bullet that will get you off your lazy ass other than cultivating discipline. You need to set rules for yourself, and mentally punish yourself if you don’t meet your own expectations.
In fact, because we are deciphering words anyway; The word discipline comes from the Latin words ‘disciplina’ – meaning ‘instruction’, and ‘discipulus’ – meaning ‘pupil’.
You need to grow up and become your own parent. You are the pupil and the instructor.
Think about it, all of the examples that were listed at the start of the article – those who have a motive, but no inspiration, yet you do them anyway. All of them share a common characteristic – they lead to negative consequences if they are not done in time. They all have a punishment attached to them. So if you are motivated by something like writing a book that does not carry intrinsic negative consequences with it if action doesn’t manifest itself you need to introduce them.
Be your own drill instructor
In fact, stop reading right now and do the following:
- Set yourself some clear rules such as “I must start writing at 8.00 o’clock, no excuses.”
- Be thoroughly disappointed in yourself if you do not meet your own requirements. Or – even better – take some time to reflect on the opportunity cost of your behavior as well as framing it as a loss of an inspired piece of life for more impact on your mind.
- As a human, you will naturally want to avoid the negative consequences and start doing it.
- Feel great about yourself that you are doing it. Savor this feeling. Maybe even reward yourself further. Notice the inspiration entering your mind and propelling you forward.
- Embrace failure – after all, failure still means that you are doing what you set out to do. Let your first 1.000 words be crappy, the next 1.000 will be less crappy. And later on, when you are wholly inspired, you can go back and improve the original 1.000.
What are you waiting for? The ball is in your hands.