Updated: Jan 8, 2019
Understanding the distinction could change your perspective on fitness—and life—entirely.
In the fitness industry, we often hear the terms “motivation” and “inspiration.” There are thousands of instagram accounts dedicated to fitness motivation and workout inspiration, and terms like “fitspo” have become staples in our vernacular. We’re all trying in some way or another to find a reason to get to the gym, that discipline to make it happen even when we don’t want to. So we turn to motivation and inspiration to get our asses into gear. But motivation and inspiration are two completely different things, though we’ve come to use them interchangeably. Understanding the distinction could change your perspective on fitness—and life—entirely.
Let’s start with motivation. Most of the time, when we motivate, we are reaching into some depth of our desires via an external push. We feed ourselves images of people we aspire to be like. We plug in our headphones and pump our power anthem into our brains. We get hyped up to do something when we aren’t acutely tapped into the big picture of our actions. This doesn’t mean that we don’t care about the thing we are about to do, just that maybe in the moment, the desire to DO the action that gets us to the result is weak.
Inspiration, on the other hand, is a much deeper power. Inspiration is better described as the spirit of the moment. Have you ever had an eye-opening moment where you felt your life truly had a purpose, which was clear and definite? Try to recall a moment you discovered the ONE THING you were put on this earth for. Recall how it felt deciding to barrel toward this idea at any cost, because you just KNEW this was the ONE thing you wanted to do RIGHT NOW. If you’ve ever stayed up all night, letting hours fly by in what seemed like minutes, working on a project that you just couldn’t pull yourself away from, THAT is inspiration. When your mission is inspired, you are desperately compelled to the actions it requires, and it feels completely natural and intuitive. There is no forcing yourself to act, because the fulfillment of this mission is the ultimate push to keep going. Inspiration is obsessive.
Now, to be clear, I’m not saying motivation isn’t important. In fact, it’s crucial to getting past the lulls that all high performing people experience here and there. We all have long term goals that are important to us, but which become hard to visualize at times. That is why it’s important to draw from external motivations regularly. In fact, I wake up early every morning and do a motivation meditation to remember why my actions today are important. This doesn’t mean I’ve lost my inspiration though, or have forgotten the reason I’m doing what I’m doing. Even though I have found the one thing in life I’m passionate about and that is my inspired contribution to the world, I have days where I feel “meh” and need a little boost. Even when I feel great, I tap into motivational imagery and speech to make sure that I’m giving the day 110%. If the majority of your days feel effortless, and motivation is just a little boost, you’re probably doing just fine.
What if your mission just isn’t inspired anymore? If you find that every day, or every workout, requires a massive amount of motivational pumping up just to get started, or even worse, you are relying solely on discipline (This is when you neither want to do nor care about the actions OR the goal, but you just push through it because you have to), then maybe you need to re-evaluate your mission. To help you become inspired again, answer this simple question:
What is the ONE thing I would do with my life if I could do anything I wanted, no holds barred?
Sit down and think about it for awhile if you need to. Chances are, you know what this thing is, but you are afraid to say it out loud because of the barriers your practical life places on your freedom. Don’t be afraid if your one thing heavily conflicts with your current job, family life, income, etc. Maybe it even seems impossible. Don’t worry about it. Just say it out loud and let it for once and for all be allowed to creep into your mindset. Begin to visualize what your life would look like if you could do this one thing? When you begin to see it as a reality, you will inevitably obsess about it and start looking for a way to make it work. And you should.
When you’re inspired, it feels like all your actions are natural. Work is effortless. The universe seems to provide you with what you need. You feel like you are on the right path. Serendipity becomes a huge force in your life. The world is suddenly full of magic. You feel magnetic, and that you have an enormous power to influence people. You never tire of working on your one thing. You are obsessed.
I recommend having some kind of mid-life crisis several times in your life. If you’ve never quit your job to pursue a crazy fanatical passion that you had, maybe it’s time to do that. If you’ve never just up and left everything you know to travel, if you’ve lived in the same town you grew up in, if you’re still working at the job you got right out of college even though you hate it, if you’re doing the “right” (safe) thing in life, maybe it’s time for you to get crazy. When you find yourself trudging through the daily, it’s time to re-evaluate. Life SHOULD be about constant re-evaluation. It should be about always looking for and going after those crazy long-shot passionate dreams you have. You only become inspired when you get crazy. And you only succeed in life when you’re inspired.
So, what is the one thing you REALLY want in life? What sets your soul on fire? Grab it and start obsessing.