Inspiration vs. Motivation

Inspiration vs. Motivation

It may seem like a subtle distinction, but the worlds of motivation and inspiration are millions of miles apart.

A lot of people use the words “motivated” and “inspired” interchangeably. But I’ve found something different to be the case.

When I try to motivate myself, nine times out of ten I’m pushing myself to do something I don’t really care about.

Motivation is about psyching yourself up. Chest-pounding. Fire-walking. Heavy-metal riffs. You get the point.

Inspiration comes from a completely different place. The word inspiration means to be in spirit. When you’re tuned into your spirit, you are naturally drawn to do whatever feels best. You may do things that aren’t outwardly productive. Or you may write a book in 30 days. Either way, it’s all good because fulfillment is the end result.

Motivation, on the other hand, usually has a lot to do with fake growth. You think you should be doing something (without thinking about why) and it often leads in the direction of something that doesn’t really matter. It’s what you’re “supposed” to be doing. It’s just a good idea, not a passionate, burning desire that emanates from the core of your being.

So, motivation is about things that you think you should do or that you’re supposed to do. Inspiration is about being called to act because you’re in direct alignment with the magnetic, luminous marrow of potential that is you.

When you’re inspired you know because…

  • Life feels effortless.
  • You have to hold yourself back from starting right now.
  • Your passion burns steady, it doesn’t flatline.
  • It occupies magnitudes of mental space, there’s no vacancy.
  • You feel called to do this; the feeling comes from your core.
  • You feel it in your bones.

How we define inspiration and motivation

I asked a few people on Twitter what their thoughts were, and here were some of my favorite responses:

“Motivation is required when you’re not aligned with your highest values.” — Tony

“Motivation is not always positive.” —Haidn Foster

“Motivation is external, inspiration is internal” —Simon Lawry

“Motivation is inner drive to fulfill goal. Inspiration is having a glimpse of who you really are.” — Bambooforest

“Motivation is the push. Inspiration is the pull.” (I love this response!) —Natalie DeBruin

It’s interesting to me how everyone sees inspiration and motivation differently. But how do we actually stay inspired?

Continual inspiration is about continual realignment

You might be thinking… “How do I get inspired?” Well, you can’t. Inspiration isn’t something you get, it comes from within, it comes from your core.

So being inspired isn’t about doing something external to bring something in. That’s motivation, remember?

Being inspired is about a constant process of realignment. Whenever you’re feeling like you have to push, it’s time to realign. Whenever you’re feeling like you’re not enjoying life, it’s time to realign. Whenever you feel like you’re trying to fulfill a quota or expectation, it’s time to realign.

Realignment isn’t anything complicated. It’s very simple, actually. All it involves is drawing inward and exploring what you really want. Your home cosmography, as Thoreau put it.

So, what do you really want? Not what should you want, not what you think might be a good idea for you to want. What lights you up? Once you’ve got a grasp on that, stay with it for a little while. Bathe in it, savor it. Taste it on your tongue. Feel it tingling down your spine.

It feels good, doesn’t it?

If it doesn’t feel good, you’re still not there. Keep going.

Once you’ve come to that state of anticipation, you’re inspired. You’re In Spirit. And you’d rather have that than trying to motivate yourself, right?

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96 Comments on "Inspiration vs. Motivation"

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Theron Stone
Guest

This is an interesting perspective, for sure, but I think you might be trying too hard to turn inspiration and motivation into good vs. bad. Referring back to my Twitter comment – @thernstne …inspiration comes from relaxation, motivation comes from tension – I’ll add that there is value in, and a time for, both; the key is learning how to dance between them, and knowing when to let each take the lead.

Thanks for the thought provoking post…looking forward to more ;)

Cedric
Admin

I don’t particularly see motivation as something that’s negative, I do think that it can have it’s place. Not everything you’re going to be inspired to do… paying your taxes for instance. But for me personally I know when I’m trying to motivate myself, I’ve usually gotten off track a bit.

Theron Stone
Guest

Ahhhhh…there it is. While you see motivation as something that requires trying, I see it as something that occurs, like inspiration. The difference being the energy that surrounds one or the other.

“A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What one can be, one must be.” – Abraham Maslow

In that quote, the “what one can be” is inspiration, and the “one must be” is motivation. Inspiration = expansion, motivation = contraction; gathering/applying; gazing/focusing; potential/probability.

Great stuff Jonathan.

Pawan
Guest
Hi Theron, I couldn’t agree with you more. In my own life I have seen major improvements in last few years by motivating me to do what is beneficial and avoiding what feels good in the moment but is harmful in the long term. I have managed to end the vicious thought cycles of victim->punisher->judge that is the cause of all emotional suffering and replaced them with empowering thoughts where I am responsible for my present and future. Having said that, I think motivation works with the logical side of the brain and can only take us so far. Once… Read more »
Brett
Guest

Kick ass post, Jonathan.

I can usually tell whether I’m doing something I truly like to do based on my emotional state. If it fluctuates, then I know that I’m not doing something I truly want to do, and vice-versa.

At the same time, though, there are some things in life, no matter how radical we get, that need to get done. That’s where motivation comes in.

Cedric
Admin

I agree Brett. And that’s when you just have to do what’s needed.

Mark Moran
Guest

Great post Jonathan – I think you really nailed the difference between motivation and inspiration.
Definitely not good vs. bad for me – just different…

Tom Sörhannus
Guest

Thank you for making clear the difference between motiavation and inspiration Jonathan. It´s true we sometimes get these mixed up. At least I do. Thinking about inspiration as being in spirit is a good point to start from. Maybe you can also think of it as motivation coming from the mind and inspiration from the heart.

David Timur
Guest

Awesome post. Thank you.

Annie Stith
Guest
Hey, Jonathan! In the spirit of being unique… ;-) I have Fibromyalgia (FM), and one of the most bothersome symptoms for me is a very heavy fatigue that causes me to have little or no energy. Another less-known symptom is referred to as “Fibro-fog,” wherein it’s difficult to remember things despite their importance, or be able to follow a logical order. When it comes to my passion, then, there are days I really ought to set it aside, but at the time don’t always realize it. I mention this because I’ve heard some of the stories about all-nighters, or staying… Read more »
Alex Blackwell
Guest

Inspiration is the unexpected thought or idea; motivation is gathering the energy to pursue it.

Alex

Kent @ The Financial Philosopher
Guest

I haven’t commented in a while but your posts are a wonderful example of what you call “continual inspiration” in the form of “realignment.”

I like how you stress the importance of creating inspiration from within. Often, people look outside to be “inspired,” which is no different than eating a piece of chocolate cake: It is quickly consumed and is temporary, leaving the person deflated until the next inspiration comes along.

Inspiration as an internal and continual process of realignment is a much healthier perspective.

Thanks Jonathan…

Kent

Cedric
Admin

Dude, it’s great to see you here again Kent. You’re one of the longest time readers (and friends), it’s always great to see your comments. I always feel like you add to the discussion in a meaningful way.

Lach
Guest
“Motivation” is getting to be such a cliché. It’s the old-school style of personal development that’s based on massive effort and overcoming obstacles by brute force. A lot of people advocate this approach, but I think it’s foolhardy. Its popularity is based more on the social band wagon than on actual effectiveness. Sure, some people show good results by this method, but I suspect it’s because they also happen to be inspired and have massive momentum which fuels their motivation rather than vice versa. I used to subscribe to this mind-set too. But I found that motivation garnered through this… Read more »
Cedric
Admin

Yes. Power through! Give it all you got!

It just gets old after a while, you know?

I’d rather be efficient, intelligent and inspired than always trying to win by barreling through like a gorilla on steroids.

Deb Gentile
Guest

Over many years, I’ve had various pursuits–things I wanted to do. Over the years, I’ve realized the ones that are not accompanied by a certain passion eventually become passing fancies, while those that are fueled by passion & inspiration grow more satisfying. Thank you for a most excellent piece on this subject.

Thursday Bram
Guest
I’d certainly agree that it is better to be inspired than to have to psych yourself up to do something — but (and this is a big one for me), I’ve found over and over that I still need to motivate myself to handle parts of my business. I adore what I do, in general. But there are a lot of nuts and bolts that go into a business and some of them are less entertaining than others. I motivate myself to handle things like bookkeeping by thinking about the passion that I have for other parts of my business,… Read more »
Cedric
Admin

You’re absolutely right Thursday. Some things are just going to suck no matter what. As many of these things as possible I try to hand off to other people that enjoy them. :)

Christopher Foster
Guest

To be in spirit. In that subtle, invisible place of true inspiration that is in us all and that IS us. No more a whip cracking in our ears saying “I must do this, I must do that.” Effective action born in the moment of love and truth and not the harsh mandates of our own personal Chief Motivator. A fine message here Jonathan.

Sandi Amorim
Guest

Inspiration for me is also breathing life into something, or something breathing life into me. How I feel when I watch the ocean for awhile. It’s an external thing, but impacts me at an internal place, different from motivation. Do you know what I mean?

jakedahn
Guest

For me inspiration is an external force that causes motivation to be created.

Gabe
Guest
Awesome post. I just wanted to point out that the distinction you make has also been explored within the psychological literature, albeit with a somewhat different framework and terminology. What you’ve been calling “inspiration”, the psychologists would call a state in which you have a single motivation (or maybe multiple motivations with the same goal): everything is aligned, so moving towards the goal feels effortless. In contrast, the state you call “motivation”, they would refer to as a state in which you have two conflicting motivations (say, one about what you think you should do, and one about what you… Read more »
Amy Balog
Guest
Hi Jonathan I started just to think of the word “motivation” and here’s what came to mind… The general reaction you get when people mention, “motivational speaker” and then eyes roll. Come to think of it I hear Tony Robbins on fairly irritating informercial like commercials on XM radio now…hmmm. Motivation…the classic movie Office Space has so much fun with this with banners hanging on the walls… cliche statements. The 80 (& 90S)s sapped the use of word motivation and ruined the brand of that word…it was over exposed and attached to things that were entirely unmotivating to mass employee… Read more »
Travis Webster-Booth
Guest

Motivation=I don’t really care and Inspiration=fulfillment. I get it. I love it.

You have an uncanny knack for demystifying these things.

Marcus Sheridan, The Sales Lion
Guest
Heck of a post here Jonathan. When I think about motivation vs inspiration, to me it’s all about ‘feelings’. What I mean by that is when I’m inspired, I can feel something from within me, essentially burning to get out. Motivation is different, it’s getting something done even when there’s no inner yearning to make ‘it’ happen. Notwithstanding, motivation has a huge place in all our lives. I don’t feel inspired to get on my elliptical one hour each evening, but I do it because I know my body and mind will turn to mush if I don’t. Such is… Read more »
Pete Sisco
Guest

What resonates with me is the concept of realignment. Most people want a cookie cutter plan they can follow like a recipe. But the truth is more subtle and complex and it does require nearly constant refinements, adaptation and trial and err – or realignment. Bingo. Embrace change and realignment or fail.

Laura Lee Bloor
Guest
Hey Jonathan, I was interested in the webinar that’s today, but I can’t sit in on it since I’m at work. Will it be recorded and available later? As for the post, I don’t necessarily think, for me, that motivation means I’ve gotten off track. I still have to motivate myself to exercise on a regular basis, which I think is a good thing since I’m always happy I did after the fact. If I didn’t motivate myself to get off my butt and do it, I’d be just as happy sitting on the couch reading, writing, or watching TV.… Read more »
Ruben Berenguel
Guest
I think most times I’ve felt truly inspired have been moments of mathematics research. The feeling of being about to sleep, thinking for a moment on your problem and having a string of “aha!” moments, one after the other is incomparable, and the need to rush out and start writing theorems from dusk till dawn. Other moments have been related with ideas I’ve had to write to my blog, or programming projects I’ve wanted to carry out. But in most cases, maths. I guess it is my passion, although making a living from it is close to 0. Cheers, Ruben… Read more »
Alyx Falkner
Guest
Great thought provoking post, Johnathan. I can definitely agree with where you’re coming from. I’ve always had a tendency to follow more closely those things I’ve been inspired with and would have to keep myself going with those things that motivated me. To me inspiration is a feeling of what you’re suppose to be doing and who you really are. And motivation is usually tied in with some type of material or physical gain, I get motivated when I want to achieve something. Keeping myself motivated is hard at times because the things that motivate me is seen with the… Read more »
Rich Proctor
Guest

Excellent insight.

The difference between inspiration and motivation is something that I had not considered before. If I am honest I had always lumped the two together, but as I read through this article I could clearly see the truth that you laid out.

When I look at the demands of my life I can clearly see the difference between when I am having to motivate myself to follow through on a task versus when I am inspired to do the work. It’s a huge difference and I’m amazed I could not see it before.

Thanks for a great article.

Pavel Nosikov
Guest
Thank you for an inspiring entry, Jonathan. Nevertheless one important aspect has not been mentioned, neither in the entry nor in comments. It is fear. Your rule is brilliantly suitable for the situation when you enjoy THE PROCESS. But many times when you ask what you want, you understand that you want THE RESULT. And the process does not inspire you absolutely. You want peace all over the world but don’t know where to start. You want to have awesome relationships but have to do lots of preparations for them to occur. I hope you get the idea. Repetitive attempts… Read more »
Steven
Guest
Good distinction. I like to think of inspiration as a certain type of motivation – one that comes from within. The way you use motivation seems to refer to the external kind. “Motivation is external, inspiration is internal” —Simon Lawry Exactly my thoughts. Both are useful. Motivation can be good for mundane or tedious tasks. “Oh if I finish cleaning the house I can reward myself with some dessert.” That’s external motivation. Inspiration on the other hand is good for more creative and problem-solving tasks. If I want to create something meaningful or artistic I want to get inspired and… Read more »
arina nikitina
Guest
Hey Jonathan! Everything profound, personal, funny, serious and scientific has been mentioned here. Yes, I believe motivation and inspiration should both be seen positively, as two complimenting factors that pushes us to achieving what we want. But more importantly, both must first be deeply rooted on one’s core values to nothing contradicting happens along the pursuit. Motivation pushes most times, even if it’s not as pleasant as most people want them to be. Inspiration, on the other hand, are some kinda gentle, loving reminders that we should keep on going. That’s why they’re mostly pleasant. :) As much as I… Read more »
Ken
Guest

Great post! I think we all know there is a difference between motivation and inspiration. With that being said the difference is different to each individual. When I read this post it made me sit back and think what the difference between the two means to me as a person.

Usama
Guest

Very awe inspiring post and not at all motivating. Its splendid. Good work.
Thanks.

Rayme
Guest

Nicely put. I am constantly realigning.

beds
Guest

This is true. For the past couple of months, in my online business-I had to motivate myself to do something. I figured inspiration was a totally different thing. I changed my business, and Im more productive than ever, coincidence, I dont think so.

Peter G. James Sinclair
Guest

Hi Jonathan

Great article…..but at the end of the day – inspiration? motivation?

We need to dare ourselves to get the blood pumping and the action happening….

So here’s a dare to all of us…

‘I dare you to dare yourself to do something daring, be something daring, live something daring, try something daring. To dare to be different. To dare to be outrageous. To dare to fail. To dare to win. To dare to try. To dare to be a champion. To dare to inspire others. To dare to just simply have a go. To dare to go against the flow.’

I DARE YOU!

T in the IE
Guest

I dare say; I like your attitude; it has good energy!

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Inwardsun
Guest
Hi Jonathan, I found your post through Life’s Great Escape (http://www.lifesgreatescape.net/2010/12/31/a-new-year-a-new-me) and the title just stuck out because…I had posted the same one myself! :) In my case it was my coach that gave me his interpretation of the terms to me (in Swedish) and I couldn’t help but try to translate it and post it on my blog (http://inwardsun.wordpress.com/2010/04/12/motivation-vs-inspiration) “Motivation is when you GRASP an idea and decide to pursue it. Inspiration is when the idea GRASPS YOU and that, is what will guide you through” Does that resonate with the message in your post? I think so. I’ll… Read more »
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eatenpie
Guest

What if what you really want is illogical… I mean really physically impossible or imaginary?

eatenpie
Guest

What if what you really want is and end from a means that is not a product of inspiration, or if it is illogical, entirely physically impossible, or imaginary?

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[…] toilluminatingmind.net you know when you are inspired […]

Sheng
Guest
Hi Jonathan, I came across your article because a lot of stuff about inspiration defines it as motivation to achieving your work but it doesn’t feel right for me. But your article makes a lot of sense. I’m currently in a position where I’m torn between staying on a job that provides all my material needs and wants versus pursuing a passion that is too risky to take. I just realized I am the only one who can define my own happiness. I guess, the universe is helping me with my options by throwing me this wonderful post. Thank you,… Read more »
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Rodney
Guest
I’ve read that motivation is when you get an idea, formulate a plan and follow it through to where the plan takes you. Inspiration is when an idea gets you and takes you to where you were always meant to be in the first place. I agree that inspiration is being “in spirit.” In fact, I believe we have moved from the Information Age to the Age of the Spirit. The spirit we follow will help us sort through the millions of bits of information bombarding us daily and “inspire” us to take the right path. Good blog. Enjoyed reading… Read more »
Rodney
Guest
I’ve read that motivation is when you get an idea, formulate a plan and follow it through to where the plan takes you. Inspiration is when an idea gets you and takes you to where you were always meant to be in the first place. I agree that inspiration is being “in spirit.” In fact, I believe we have moved from the Information Age to the Age of the Spirit. The spirit we follow will help us sort through the millions of bits of information bombarding us daily and “inspire” us to take the right path. Good blog. Enjoyed reading… Read more »
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Shyra
Guest

Jonathan, that’s a very interesting thought you presented. We are always confused between being “motivated” and being “inspired”. However, for me a little bit of both is important. You have to be truly inspired to give your soul to achieve something, but at the same time you need the correct motivation that keeps you going when things are particularly not in your favor.

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[…] Inspiration vs. Motivation It may seem like a subtle distinction, but the worlds of motivation and inspiration are millions of miles apart. A lot of people use the words “motivated” and “inspired” interchangeably. But I’ve foun… […]

Chris
Guest

A good read.
I was looking up stuff on inspiration vs irritation that kick off the process of motivation into action.
To me inspiration and irritation are the positive and negative aspects, motivation is just a neutral process resultant of either.

What irks me personally is how very few things inspire me into motivation, and why more things rather irritate me into motivation…but sigh still a means to an end.

Gregg
Guest

Great idea for an article, well done, inspiration and motivation are similar in frequency, a lot like safe and secure, you can wipe yourself up into an inspired state, almost the same way to motivate yourself, but with music that makes you feel good, soothing yourself, moving from negative to positive thoughts. I find biking or snowboarding works for me, and just thinking about them can get me to a more inspired place.

Motivational Short Stories for Chiildren in Education
Guest

Wow, your post is inspiring me.

tyokara
Guest

Thanks a lot Jonathan, now I’ve know d difference. I love to be inspired. I can now recognise when I’m inspired nd wht motivates me

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