The difference between motivation and inspiration: and why it’s important
By Gina Shaw
I was recently listening to a podcast about developing healthy lifestyle choices, and the speaker made a beautiful comment about the difference between motivation and inspiration. On some level, we all have an idea of what is “good” for us; perhaps that exercise and healthy food are beneficial for the body, that spending more time outside and less in front of a computer screen is better for our minds. Or that we work too hard, and relax too little. I’ve been thinking about the differences between what it means to motivate oneself opposed to inspire and the invitation to differentiate between the two is perhaps the key in truly shifting into more authentic choices.
Simply out of an awareness of my own thought patterns, I’ve found that motivation can sometimes come from a place of competitive and negative reinforcement. ‘I should do this, because if I don’t, this negative outcome will happen instead.’ We seek to create an experience that will lead us to happiness and well-being, but motivate ourselves in a way that depletes us of our curiosity and joy for life. I’ve noticed this in my own experience; pushing myself to do well on a test with the reinforcement that failing is frightening and defeating – that a failure would somehow define my worthiness. External factors have the ability to motivate actions, yet do not come from an inner place of acceptance. Motivation almost demands us to achieve whatever it is we desire, right here and now. It ignores the gradual transition of moments, pushing forward in a rather forceful way. However, with a shift in perspective I suggest what inspiration may have to offer us.
The verb to inspire is defined to cause (something) to happen or be created. The word alone evokes a desire to uplift and radiate positivity. This has the ability to create a new experience that positively reinforces our idea of well-being. For example, if one knows all the positive benefits of eating vegetables yet has an aversion to the taste of them, perhaps they can meet that resistance by seeking out a restaurant that offers delicious and healthy choices and find ways to recreate them at home. Rather than suppress the feeling of dislike – because all feelings deserve to be recognized and heard fully – to accept that current perspective and be inspired to find a way to form a new one may inevitably dissolve the perspective one wishes to change. Even with the example of studying for a test, to truly take the time to reflect on why I am pursing a degree and to feel inspired by what this knowledge has to offer me in the short and long term. This contemplation naturally softens my resistance to failure. Whether my score is perfect or not, I know that my best effort comes from a place of love and acceptance within me.
To come from this internal place of joy and acceptance may also serve a more stable and long term well-being. If we no longer feel the need to become successful right now, one may value even the smallest of steps forward. This can create an even larger space to grow and develop, judgment of the present dropped. We are free to authentically connect with who we want to be.