What is inspiration and how important is it in shaping who we are? We use the words motivation, influence, and inspiration interchangeably. Still, there is something unique and exceptional about the word inspiration that makes it different from other similar expressions. Interestingly, inspiration is a commonly used but underemphasized word in our daily lives.
We frequently use it in our conversations but hardly reflect on its meaning and the impact it has on our lives. This, despite the fact that it is such a powerful expression with the capacity to transform and change lives. Even the most charismatic and popular people in the world were inspired by something – a person, a piece of art, or an idea – that triggered their latent powers, energized them and enabled them to advance toward their goals. For instance, Oprah Winfrey was inspired by the poet and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou; Steve Jobs was inspired by Zen Buddhism; Former President Obama was deeply influenced by Martin Luther King Jr and the civil rights movement, and Mahatma Gandhi’s inspiration was his mother and the anti-violence philosophy rooted in a religion called Jainism.
Inspiration is not just an elevated emotion, it’s also contagious. People who seek inspiration also inspire and motivate other people. Given its ability to make an imprint on our thoughts and change our lives, it is worthwhile to think about what inspiration really means and how we can be inspired to explore our full potential and worth.
What Is The True Meaning of Inspiration?
Collins English dictionary defines inspiration as a feeling of enthusiasm you get from someone or something, which gives you new and creative ideas. We can all relate to this feeling of enthusiasm when we hear some inspirational words, read poetry, or meet someone who gives us motivation and hope.
There is an emotional component attached to inspiration; for when we feel inspired, our emotions make us feel extraordinary. We feel passionate about a goal and that we can overcome any obstacles and limitations on the way. Inspiration encourages us, makes us feel positive and determined. It is often defined as a transcendental experience that is different from ordinary or routine life experiences.
All of us have hidden talents, potential, and faculties that sometimes lie dormant. What we need is some kind of inspiration to kindle it and make us realize our abilities. When such a ‘yes I can’ moment arrives, it can have a transformative effect on our lives. We experience a metamorphosis, as we uncover our innermost yearnings and start leading a more fulfilling life.
Since inspiration is an extremely important phenomenon for all individuals – professionals, artists, writers, homemakers, or people in businesses – it is being studied by psychologists, scientists, and neuroscientists.
Psychologists and researchers, Thrash and Elliot, in their study have described inspiration as a three-stage process. According to them, inspiration is not just a moment but an entire experience comprised of evocation or when we feel triggered by someone or something; transcendence when we take a moment to pause and become aware of new possibilities within us; and approach when we try to actualize our new possibilities. This research is important since it implies that it is not sufficient to feel influenced by an idea. If you want to bear the fruits of inspiration, you would also need to make an effort and work towards translating your vision into reality.
But is inspiration the same as motivation? Not really, since motivation is more like encouragement coming from outside. For instance, motivation is when you are giving yourself some incentive to work towards a goal. Here, you are compelling yourself to push the limits. Inspiration has more of an abstract and passionate quality. When something inspires you, your will to do something comes from within you. It involves your heart and soul without a need to push or compel yourself. While motivation might be short-term, exhausting you in the process; inspiration has a long-term effect that gives of a sense of inner peace and enjoyment. It is connected to our values rather than just superficial and quantifiable goals.
Why Do We Need Inspiration In Our Lives?
Why should we have inspiration in our lives? Simply because without inspiration, our soul and inner spirit would be like a thirsty plant in need of water to grow and flourish. Inspiration makes our inner-selves bloom, offers us a bigger purpose in life, helps us engage with something that we really like, and makes us creative in whatever we do. We need inspiration in our lives to grow, flourish, reach for the horizon and to become aware of the limitless possibilities we have within us. Inspiration makes visible these unapparent talents that lie hidden within us.
All of us are unique in some sense. We are different from one another and possess distinct potentialities. In today’s goal-driven society, we do work towards a given goal in our respective workspaces. Often, we do not even know what we enjoy doing or what our real passions are. You may be an excellent professional in your office, but it is possible that you have many other latent abilities such as writing poetry, spiritual understanding, dancing, entrepreneurship, or something delectable as cooking. Often when we meet or listen to inspiring people engaged in similar activities that we recognize and discover our deep-buried interests. Even in our respective jobs, we can seek inspiration and be more creative and meaningful. Thus, it is important to keep an open mind and be inspired by an idea, a poem, music, movie, or a person in our lives. We never know what may evoke our senses. Be receptive to new ideas, and you never know when you may get inspired and discover a newer inner self.
Inspiration Can Find You Anytime!
David Zurak, a member of the Martha Graham Dance Company, was an electrical engineering student and considered himself a book worm. When he saw the dance performance of the artist Peggy Baker he got inspired and found his passion for dancing and was 23 years old when he took his first dance class. Another example is that of the famous Nobel Prize-winning author, Toni Morrison. Morrison was a teacher at Howard University. Influenced by the Black Art movement, she published her first book, The Bluest eye when she turned 40. Inspiration need not be exclusive to these big names. In fact, all of us can speak to our passions when we seek out and find real inspiration in our lives. Inspiration can find you anytime; just keep an eye out for it.
How Do I Become Inspired?
Inspiration is something that comes to you rather than you searching for it. Yet, there are ways you can seek it or be on a lookout for it. Having an open mind is very important here. Closed-minded people rarely find inspiration in their daily lives. Those who are eager to learn and receptive to new ideas are more likely to be inspired by something or someone. So, if you want to find your source of inspiration, keep an eye open for extraordinary people and ideas. Observe people around you, and learn from their achievements, struggles, and visions. Explore different activities and be engaged in creative endeavors to understand your profound interests.
Another key is to be self-reflective and find time to introspect about your likes and desires. In our fast-paced lives, we hardly pause and find time to talk to ourselves. It is crucial to take a break from our fast-moving routine and ask ourselves a few self-awareness questions – What am I doing in life? Is it in sync with my desires? What really inspires me? Where do I look for inspiration in life? Even if you do not get an immediate answer, these moments of pause and self-awareness will increase your likelihood of finding inspiration in life, sooner or later.
Creative people are more likely to become inspired. Indulging yourself in innovative and creative activities will enable you to find your source of inspiration. Be bold, imaginative, and unconventional. Make time to engage in new activities rather than routine work.
Increasing one’s knowledge, whether through reading books, watching movies, or developing new skills, increases one’s chances of finding profound meaning and inspiration in life. People who explore their passions are more connected to their deeper emotions and sources of inspiration. Inspiration comes to them quickly and frequently.
Another simple idea to seek inspiration, recommended by a group of researchers at Stanford, is walking. According to a study, co-authored by Marily Oppezzo, a Stanford doctoral graduate in educational psychology, and Daniel Schwartz, a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education, walking boosts creative inspiration. Walking allows an individual to think, observe, and find creative inspiration. One can apply this simple suggestion in life to discover inspiring thoughts and content.
What Makes Someone Inspirational?
Generally, those who seek inspiration are also a source of inspiration to other people around them. There are varied attributes that make people inspirational. Typically, those who inspire others are capable of compassion and empathy. Self-centered people can hardly play an influential role in other people’s lives. Inspirational people, in contrast to self-centered or opportunist individuals, are more humane and can reach out to others. Another related aspect that makes someone inspirational has a visionary personality that goes beyond short-term, self-centered interests. Visionary personalities have a positive outlook on the future and inspire people to work towards it. Looking beyond immediate results, money, and quick fame, inspirational people, share a larger philosophy about life, work, or art that benefits others. They believe in collective power and the common good that can benefit society in some ways, and not just about self-seeking goals. Inspirational personalities are value-oriented rather than simply goal-oriented. Another essential attribute of such individuals is that they implement and actualize their values and ideas. Combing effort with passion leads to the fruition of ideas and makes a difference to humanity. Those who are capable of doing this are inspiring to others.
Unlike a motivational leader who would directly instruct people what to do, an inspirational person would influence them by simply being themselves. They would influence others by standing for their cause and emotionally connecting with people around them. Martin Luther King Jr., for instance, did not lead people by telling them what they should do and how they should act. His beautiful proclamation, ’I have a dream’ had an instinctive powerful, genuine, and visionary effect on people that surpassed any act of motivation.
One doesn’t need to be popular or a celebrity-like figure to inspire others. One can be an honest and passionate believer in one’s ideas to inspire people. If you are creative, compassionate, have new ideas and take people along in your work or life journey, you can be an inspiration to people around you. If you are a team leader, try to share your vision with your employees, follow a team approach, and make suggestions as you work towards a common goal. Having a personalized approach, rather than a one-size-fits-all attitude, will help you to connect meaningfully with each of the team members. Such attributes often inspire people and make them follow a collaborative rather than a competitive and aggressive work approach.
Be sincere, authentic and imaginative, and you are sure to find inspiration and influence people around you – a simple mantra that one can follow. Be in touch with nature and yourself to discover your path towards inspiration.
Thrash, Todd M. and Elliot, Andrew J., 2004, “Inspiration: Core Characteristics, Component Processes, Antecedents, and Function”, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 87, No. 6, 957–973.
Oppezzo, Marily and Schwartz, Daniel L., 2014, “Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking”, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, Vol. 40, No. 4, 1142–1152.