Nowadays, everybody talks about self-development, self-improvement, setting goals in life, self-belief, determination, inspiration and motivation as these are all very important factors for a successful and happy life.
These topics are also generally on the agenda of the social club I regularly visit and that invites a variety of speakers to their sessions. Usually, you can tell by the number of members attending how much interest there is for a particular subject.
By far the most popular is, without doubt, anything on getting inspired and motivated. But what is inspiration and motivation? Many people think it’s more or less the same and everybody agrees that it’s an essential ingredient to success and happiness.
And it’s true: you won’t get very far and won’t achieve a lot without these ingredients. But what most people aren’t aware of is how motivation or inspiration actually works. There is a common misconception that it somehow finds you, so you just need to wait for it to enlighten your mind and provide the necessary push to help you achieve your goals.
However, this is exactly where the problem lies. If you just wait to miraculously get motivated and inspired to do something – start a new project, make changes in your life or simply start exercising – nothing will happen. Instead, you actively have to find your motivation and inspiration.
So, let’s have a closer look at these two ingredients.
Motivation is the force that makes you take action
To provide a simple definition of the term, you can say, “motivation is the reason for people’s actions” (Wikipedia), or in other words, the motive why you are doing something. For example, you might go to the gym because you want to stay fit or you go on a diet to lose weight.
To actually take action, i.e. get up from your comfortable sofa to get sweaty and out of breath or to stick to fruit and vegetables and deny yourself the chocolate and biscuits you are craving for, you need to have a good reason or motive that pulls you into action. So, the stronger your motive or reason to take action, the more likely you are to reach your goal.
However, this also raises the question of why people with the same motive don’t achieve their goals to the same extend. For example, everybody wants to be successful in life, earn a comfortable income and have time to enjoy life. Still, some people achieve that whilst others end up in a low-paid job, spending the better part of their lives doing something they hate and not really enjoying their lives.
The main reason is that the major components of motivation may have different levels of strength in people.
Same motive but different force
Motivation is made up of three main components: activation, persistence and intensity. The first one is responsible for initiating an action, such as starting a diet. The second, persistence, is the ongoing effort towards a goal and the effort to overcome obstacles. In our example, obstacles could take the form of cravings for chocolates etc. The third component, intensity, is the concentration and energy put into pursuing your goal.
One good example of that is the new year’s resolution phenomenon experienced by gyms. Every year in January, the membership numbers go up considerably and the gyms are so busy that it can be hard to find a space. But usually, by March, the number of active members drops to about half to two thirds. And this happens every single year.
This shows that generally, the activation component is quite strong in people who take action on their resolutions. However, it also shows that for the majority, persistence and intensity take a less prominent part in the equation, so they don’t pursue their goal to get fit too seriously. Those who keep going, obviously have more persistence and intensity.
So how strong a motive and the resulting motivation is, does not simply depend on how much it pushes you to take action, but also on how much persistence and intensity it will provide you with to pursue your goal. If you are lacking persistence and intensity, you need a much stronger motive to be successful.
Inspiration is an uplifting feeling
Unlike motivation, inspiration is something that can’t be pinned down. It is a ‘feeling of enthusiasm’ that ‘gives you new and creative ideas’ (Collins Dictionary). Inspiration can come from anywhere – from reading a book, listening to a speaker, listening to music, looking at art, walking in nature, eating food you enjoy or simply sitting in the sun.
It is a positive sensation that unlocks and activates your mind, re-energizes and uplifts you, and that fills you with optimism. When you are inspired, negative thoughts and feelings as well as emotional or mental blocks will be absent. Because of this positivity, energy can flow freely providing the foundation for creativity and productivity.
This is particularly important if you work in a profession that requires a lot of creativity, such as in design, architecture, creative writing or art. However, it is not that essential for repetitive tasks such as straightforward data entry, accounting or cleaning where, on the other hand, a certain degree of motivation is required.
So, if you need inspiration, do you just have to find it and you are sorted?
Inspiration is temporary and doesn’t last
Unfortunately, inspiration is quite a temporary feeling that you can’t catch and keep. It might last for minutes, hours or even days, but rarely beyond that. You might ask, ‘what about people that always have great ideas and are very creative, don’t they keep their inspiration for longer?’
The answer is, ‘no, not really’. They just manage to find inspiration over and over again.
Here is an example: Imagine you are a copy writer who has to come up with creative ideas to write about but is experiencing a writer’s block. You go to a concert of your favourite band or pop group and feel in high spirits afterwards. All of a sudden, your ideas are flowing again and you could just sit down and write an amazing story. But as it is late in the evening, you decide to start the following day.
In the morning you realize that your laptop isn’t working for some reason. You get really annoyed and all the inspiration, all the positive feeling of the night before, is gone. So, the negative experience overrides your inspiration. Now you need to find inspiration again, and if you know how and where to seek it, you will be able to spark your creativity over and over again.
When working from home you need a lot of motivation and inspiration
Being motivated and finding inspiration is particularly important when you are your own boss working from home. There is nobody setting you task and telling you what to get done each day. You are not accountable to anyone but yourself and if your motivation isn’t strong enough, you might fall victim to procrastination, lack of productivity or fear of underachieving.
So, you have to find a strong motive to help you follow and stay on your path. It needs to be strong enough to provide you with the necessary persistence and intensity on top of its force to initiate action. For some people, the extrinsic necessity to earn an income might be a strong enough motivator, whilst for others, intrinsic motivators such as freedom or self-fulfilment might be a more powerful driving force.
The same is true for inspiration if you work in a creative profession. You need to create the right work environment for yourself to continuously find inspiration. You mustn’t succumb to obstacles, such as negative experiences, procrastination or laziness and always find your way back to positivity.
If you manage to find both, motivation and inspiration, you simply can’t fail at whatever you are pursuing.
So, make sure you have a strong motive that will keep you on your path and reliable sources of inspiration to keep your mind enlightened.