Are Motivation and Inspiration the Same?

When it comes to visualising our own unique approaches to work and achievement, inspiration and motivation are always going to be concepts that play into productivity. However, are these two the same thing? Or entirely different?

We all want to reach a point where we’re operating at our optimal level, not just getting the right amount of work done, but also developing, regularly feeling inspired, motivated and engaged. There’s some essential questions we need to ask ourselves to reach that point, and build some real understanding of our own work ethic and individual approach to getting things done. When it comes to motivation and inspiration, they’re far too complex things to label as the same. Here’s why that is.

What is Motivation?

When it comes to defining motivation, I’d term it as the tipping point beyond which self-discipline becomes less necessary as passion and drive take over your work. It’s that feeling of being on the right path, absorbed by your work, and time flies by without you noticing. This to me is motivation. This is being motivated and it’s a great feeling. For many, you won’t feel motivated at the outset, but rather, it develops after you put in some time working and getting on with it. This means there’s always going to be a balance between self-discipline and organisation and motivation, and later, potentially inspiration.

Inspiration can be viewed as ideas that occur once you’re in a state of motivation. Inspiration rarely happens when you’re at rest and disinterested, it strikes when you’re already working hard and engaged with the given area. It’s a product of budding experience, expertise and skill, rather than a lightning bolt out of the blue. Motivation, I view as more of a middling stage, the point at which you’re really getting up to speed with your work.

How Inspiration is Different

It’s easy to think that motivation and inspiration are the same, for instance, you can be inspired to work, but this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re inspired in terms of your work itself. Motivation is all about being in a state of absorption, engagement and readiness.

Inspiration is the level above, where you’re performing at your highest level, generating great new ideas and approaches, and really having fun with your work. You can be motivated but uninspired.

There’s a risk with inspiration to start viewing it as some kind of divine, nebulous thing that strikes out of the blue, giving you the gift of fresh ideas, breakthroughs and creativity. The Ancient Greeks even had the nine muses as gods and goddesses of inspiration. However, the risk of viewing inspiration like this is that you can become lazy, waiting for it to strike. In reality, it’s much better to view it as a lucky coincidence that occurs when you’re already working, building the skills and getting after it. If you start waiting for it, it’ll never arrive.

How Motivation and Inspiration Are Similar

All that said, there are definitely similarities between inspiration and motivation. They are not disconnected things, but rather waypoints along the same road. We’re all striving to reach a point of skill or reward through work, we start out with just self-discipline, with spurts of motivation, and eventually, inspiration can strike. As Picasso once said, inspiration always seems to strike while I’m working. You could view inspiration as a more engaged, creative version of motivation, an airiness and openness in your mindset, allowing you to generate great ideas and really play with your work.

The important thing is that, while you may need to really utilise self-discipline and organisation to reach a point of working hard, its key that you allow your work to be natural free-flowing. You relax into it, feeling competent and engaged. If you’re constantly bullying yourself into it, you’re going to limit the ways in which you can flourish and grow. There always needs to be a sense of exploration and play. Of course, with some tasks, this free organic approach is almost impossible. However, whenever you can, this free flowing, organic approach is the best way to go. It allows you to really engage, enjoy and discover the unique ways in which you can approach the work in question.

Building Motivation

The question inevitably comes to pass, how do we start building consistent motivation into our lives. How do we build a lifestyle where our work comes to us easily, and we enter that motivated, dedicated and productive state without massively corralling ourselves. There’s a number of ways we can start building a more motivated, driven lifestyle.

Routine, health and balance are all key. Without a balanced, healthy lifestyle with some kind of routine, how can you expect to cultivate the consistency necessary to really start enjoying serious motivation?
Motivation is the product of dedication, skill and engagement. Click To Tweet
You only get these things if you’re doing something regularly. If you’re flitting between different areas, behaving self-destructively or neglecting the hard work, motivation will always elude you.

Don’t buy into the idea of the self-destructive, erratic but inspired creative. That’s almost always just a persona. Occasionally, you’ll come across a real Jim Morrison or Don Draper, but chances are, if you’re not already that, you’re not going to suddenly become extremely talented and charismatic. More often than not, it’s years of hard work and engagement that allow people to develop this charisma and seeming effortlessness. Most musicians, for instance, spend thousands of hours developing their skills, and then make sure it looks as effortless as possible on stage. This illusion is something you’ve got to ignore when it comes to developing your own skills. Very few of us are just born with it. We have to work for it.

Self-Discipline is More Important

More important than almost any other factor when it comes to success. Doing what you know you need to do, when you need to do it. This is the tough thing that almost everyone struggles with. The best way to view self-discipline is as a potentially powerful muscle that can set you aside from the crowd. Some people are naturally stronger than others at this, but we can all develop real drive, grit and determination if we want to.

How do you develop this amazing skill then? Simple, you force yourself to do things, delay gratification and step away from hedonism a little. The simple act of forcing yourself to exercise, take a cold shower or do a little work makes it easier to do something else tough later that day, and you end up in a positive feedback loop, getting loads done. Delaying gratification is always great, as you’re now going to really savour that fun thing you’ve been putting off all day. Lastly, it’s also super useful to minimise things that we all do that are unhealthy and self-destructive. Things like drinking, endless social media, video games. Whatever your self-destructive behaviour, work on minimising it.

Lastly, it’s very important to remember to take breaks. We can’t all be superhuman, driven individuals all the time, we’d burn out in no time. It gets easier over time to be highly disciplined, but take it slow and give yourself breaks. It doesn’t help you to bully yourself every time you start running out of steam. Manage yourself like a workforce and learn to understand when you need tough love or a break.

Where Does Organisation Fit into This?

I also want to talk about the importance of organisation. Without organisation, the risk of feeling overwhelmed all the time gets more and more. It might feel like you’re working really hard all the time without rest or respite, but somehow you’re still not getting the vital things done. This is always going to wear you down and organisation is the solution. Once you know you’re getting the vital things done, you can relax and start to trust the process. Harness your own natural urge to get things done, without the feeling that you’re overwhelmed and drowning in endless new tasks.

Organisation combined with inspiration creates the kind of output that people dream of. These two are the dream team, the originality, creativity and high performance output of inspiration meets the self-discipline, control and logical approach of organisation. If you can master organisation, stay in control of your life and work, you will find it that much easier to do more, and really achieve the things you want to.

In the end, it’s all about doing these amazing things consistently. No one cares that you had one great day six months ago, but if you had consistent good days for six months with a handful of great days, your output is going to be unbelievable, and your development toward your goals will show that. This is why consistency is so important, and organisation, especially through routine, is vital to achieving that. Without organisation, you will burn yourself out working too hard, and you will end up having a couple great days before breaking down. Then you’ll need a couple days off before you’re operating at the same level again. This is the cycle of failing to manage yourself properly.