Inspiration is... not motivation

Two decades ago, I would have been hard-pressed to define inspiration, let alone have the embodied experience of it in my work. It is a concept that is difficult to express fully using words as it is more so a felt experience than an intellectual one. Through teaching the subject of inspired work, I have continued to study inspiration to further integrate it into my own being and to better understand its relationship with our work. (Also, it just feels good to be inspired.)

Because I am so attuned to the use of the word “inspiration”, I notice how often it is used interchangeably with “motivation”. I used to question if they were the same. Now I like to pose a similar question to others. To explore the concept of inspiration, I invite the participants of the Vision Program to compare and contrast it with motivation. After years of this research, it has come to light that not only are they not the same, they are near opposites save for one characteristic – they both generate an impulse to act. However, even the experience of the action is dissimilar:

Motivation is forced action in reaction to fear.

Inspiration is easeful action in response to love.

If it were a choice, which would you choose? Let’s further explore the two.



If we look at the root word “motive”, a dictionary provides the definition “a need or desire that causes a person to act”. What the dictionary doesn’t state explicitly is that this “need or desire” is generated by a factor external to the person. A motive is an externalized incentive that provides a reason to act. An example might be the desire to reach a sales target, or to win a gold medal. While both of these might seem like worthwhile pursuits, what we want to discern is what are the thoughts and beliefs driving our actions and how they are affecting our experience of life.

Motivation is goal-oriented
A motivating factor becomes a goal when we believe there to be something gained by achieving the outcome. In the example of the sales target, the reward could potentially be a promotion or a raise. In the example of the gold medal, the reward could be recognition or potential endorsements. In each case, the goal is perceived as the object of fulfillment. The desire to reach the goal drives our actions, and we do not experience satisfaction until the goal is achieved.

Motivation is based in lack
It’s not the motive itself that is rooted in lack, but our reason for wanting to “get it”. If we are seeking the reward – be it the title, the money, or the accolades – to compensate for a perception of inadequacy within ourselves, then we are operating from a state of lack. We will be driven to outperform others and do whatever it takes to “win”. If we don’t reach our goal, our self-esteem is further diminished.

Motivation is a reaction to fear
Again, it's not the motive itself that generates fear. It’s the anticipation of negative consequences should we not achieve our desired outcome. We threaten ourselves with grim scenarios should we “fail”. Without the money, we might lose our home. Without the acclaim, we might end up alone. The more despairing a picture we paint, the more motivated we feel to act.

Motivation is mind-based
Our mind serves an essential role in our lives. It helps us make sense of the world and orient ourselves within that world. Its job is also to keep us alive so staying “safe” is what drives the mind’s decisions. Because of fear of the unknown, the mind often directs us to make choices that, in our hearts, we don’t truly want to make. To overcome the resistance of not wanting to do something, we coerce ourselves into action with some motivating story, usually based in fear, such as mentioned above.

Motivation provides short-term energy
If our actions are not aligned with our true desires, such as we are doing something for the sake of others, like getting the sales to appease our spouse or winning the medal to honour our coach, then we disconnect from our source of energy. We procrastinate or become lethargic. To overcome this inertia, we tend to use motivating factors to access short bursts of energy to propel ourselves into action.

Motivation is forced
If we feel into our bodies when we are motivated, there is a strain of tension. There is an urgency to press forward accompanied with a strong sense of being pushed from behind. There is also a bodily experience of constriction, especially in the chest or throat area. At its extreme, it can feel as though we can’t breathe. The overall experience is unpleasant so we tend to muscle our way to completion to resolve the discomfort.

So the question becomes why are we motivating ourselves to do things we don’t actually want to do? What if instead we asked what needs to happen so that we are inspired to act?



If we revisit our friend, the dictionary, it says that the root word “inspire” means to be “influenced by the divine” and “to infuse with life”. When we are inspired, desire does not come from an external reward, instead it is a life-force energy that arises within us and is expressed through our being. When inspired, we have an irresistible impulse to act.

Inspiration is process-oriented
As an athlete, we may still want to win a gold medal, but what fuels our action is different. We are inspired by the vigor of training and the thrill of competition, which are expressions of our aliveness within. We enjoy experiencing our body at its capacity and exploring our human potential beyond perceived limits. We have a desire to win, not because we are defined by winning, but because winning is part of playing the game. In this state, we enjoy the entire process from start to finish.

Inspiration is based in wholeness
When we know our inherent worthiness, we live with a sense of wholeness within ourselves. Our actions are being taken from choice, not out of necessity. Because we are already complete, we do not seek our sense of self from our work. We are free to joyously create and serve.

Inspiration is a response to love
When we are in love with ourselves, all of our actions are derived from that state. For example, as a sales person, we choose to represent products or services we believe in, we enjoy connecting with other people and understanding their needs, and we act in integrity with our offerings. We are not attached to the “sale”. If it’s not for them, we still love them. Plus, there are plenty more people to love who may genuinely benefit from what we offer. The more we love, the more we are inspired to work.

Inspiration is soul-guided
The path of inspiration does not make sense to the mind. It is not always rational or logical. It is usually unknown and therefore deemed “risky” by the mind, but we feel the correctness of it in our body and in our being. We trust in the divine unfolding. We don’t always know where we are being led, yet we feel compelled to go.

Inspiration provides sustainable energy
There is a life-force that wants to create and express through our human form. It comes to us in the manner of ideas and potentials to realize. Our work is to stay open and receptive to allow that energy to flow through us so that way we may bring those ideas into reality with our action. So long as we feel inspired, we sustain the desire to act.

Inspiration is easeful
If we feel into our bodies when inspired, there is a lightness, a buoyancy to our being. We feel uplifted and carried. Within, we experience a sense of ease and effortlessness as though we are riding on a river of inspiration. We are open and expansive. The overall experience is so delicious, we never want it to end.

Having said all that, let’s recap the differences and similarity between inspiration and motivation.


The ways they are different

In the text above, I have already described the various ways motivation and inspiration are different. Here they are summarized:

Externally driven Internally sourced
Goal-oriented Process-oriented
Satisfaction dependent on an outcome Enjoyment of the journey
Reaction to fear Response to love
Something to achieve Something to experience
Mind-based Soul-guided
Based in lack Based in wholeness
Short spurts of energy Sustainable energy
Constrictive Expansive
Sense of force Sense of ease


In their similarity, they are still different

As mentioned at the top of this post, in my study to date, I have found only one resemblance between motivation and inspiration: they both incite action. However, even in this similarity, they are different. When we are motivated, we think we have to do something in order to achieve an outcome. When we are inspired, we want to do something and it naturally results in an outcome. Whether it’s through motivation or inspiration, all action leads to an outcome. They can even result in the same outcome.

As an illustrative example, let’s say your house is a mess and your mother calls to say she is coming to visit. Based on a previous experience of her finding fault with your housekeeping skills, you are motivated to clean your house. In your mind, you want to escape her criticism. You know her judgment will put you in a foul mood, so you decide you’d better clean to avoid these unpleasantries. But, if your mother weren’t coming, would you still clean your house? This is the downside of using motivation to drive our actions – when the motivating factor disappears, so does the action.

Alternatively, when we feel inspired, we act in a way that expresses our true desires. In the case of our home, we want our home to reflect the good feeling we have for ourselves. We look forward to hosting others to share the loving feeling. With your mother coming, you want to enjoy your time with her without the distraction of dust bunnies. And whether or not she’s coming to visit would be irrelevant. You would still clean your house – for you.

In both scenarios, the result is a clean house, but the experience of arriving at the outcome was completely different. Depending on whether we choose action through motivation or inspiration will influence the experience we have of life.

I’m not trying to convince you to agree with the above interpretations of motivation and inspiration. What I am wanting to convey is that we have a choice as to how we show up in our lives: we can live from a state of fear, lack, and force or love, trust, and ease.

We have the choice to live from a state of fear, lack, and force or love, trust, and ease.

The same holds true for our work. We could motivate ourselves to create our work or we could be inspired to create our work. In the end, we might even end up producing the same work, but the choice we get to make is if the journey will be one of struggle or one of joy.


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