The Truth About Motivation

Little Superhero
I think that I know why he’s not jumping.

“Hey Shola, how do you stay so motivated to make the world a more positive place?”

I get that question a lot for some reason.

Motivation is such an elusive thing for many people. Some people can find the motivation to create a million dollar business from scratch, to lose 200 lbs, or to become a Ph.D before they turn 30. Other people can’t find the motivation to shower on a daily basis or get out of bed in the morning.

Weird, right?

Speaking of “weird,” here’s my answer to the question at the beginning of this blog post:

I’m really not motivated to make the world a more positive place.

Wait…what did he just say?

It looks like I have some explaining to do.

The Problem With Motivation

First of all, in case anyone was briefly concerned–my heart is into The Positivity Solution more than ever. I’m not going anywhere and I’ll keep bringing my passion and positivity to you for as long as you’ll have me. That’s not what this is about.

My issue is with the word “motivation.”

Don’t get me wrong, motivation isn’t a bad thing–I’ve actually been told that I’ve written some extremely motivational blog posts before (like this one, for instance.)

With that said, motivation does have its shortcomings–three of them, in fact.

1) Motivation is external.

Unfortunately, motivation relies on something/someone outside of ourselves to keep us going.

For example:

  • If you’re about to be evicted from your apartment unless you come up with $500 in the next two weeks, that should serve as some pretty intense motivation to get your hands on some cash, quickly.
  • If someone just told you that you are too stupid, too lazy, and too untalented to open up your own art studio, you might use that information as your motivation to work day and night to prove that person wrong.
  • If I put a gun to your head and said, “look, you need to leave a thoughtful comment at the end of this blog post, or I’m going to blow your head off,” (side note: I don’t need to do that, do I?) I’m assuming that you’d be motivated to stop reading at this point and start typing something brilliant in the comment section.

That’s what motivation is all about: something or someone is figuratively pushing you to take action–whether you want to take action or not.

You could argue that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and in most cases you’d be right. The problem is that you need something outside of yourself to get you to take action, and once you lose that thing, then you’ve lost your motivation too.

When the rent is paid, the naysayer has been proved wrong, and I stop threatening your life, what’s the motivation to get your finances in order, to work hard to build your art studio, or to leave a comment?

As bad as that is, here is where motivation takes a serious turn for the worse.

2) Motivation is usually ego-based.

Believe me, there’s nothing wrong with doing big things while we’re alive on this earth. The problem comes in when the motivation to do those big things are for reasons that won’t fulfill you.

For example:

  • Being motivated to write a book/star in a TV show/be a platinum recording artist just so millions of people will be frantically screaming your name.
  • Being motivated to buy a new Mercedes so that the single ladies in your neighborhood will be impressed with your new car.
  • Spending 18 hours a day making sales calls, so that you’ll finally win that elusive “Salesperson of the Year” award.
  • Being motivated to lose weight so that your ex-husband will find you more attractive.

Unfortunately, if you choose to let your ego be the sole source of your motivation, you’re in for disappointment.

Chances are that you’ll still be searching for fulfillment and happiness once you finally star in your TV show, buy the Mercedes, become Salesperson of the Year, and lose 70 lbs, because your ego is pushing you to do it for the wrong reasons.

And that leads us to the final, and most important point.

3) Motivation is temporary.

It is impossible to stay consistently motivated. I don’t care who the person is or what their goal is, their motivation will fade eventually.

That’s why you’ll see people who are literally motivation junkies, and will do anything to keep their motivation up.

Once they are low on motivation, they desperately search for the next book/blog, the next seminar, the next motivational Facebook page/Twitter feed, or the next guru who will motivate them to live their best lives.

And it works…temporarily.

But just like any addict, once the “motivation high” wears off, they’re compelled to search desperately for their next fix. And once they get high again, they’re fine for a while, until the high wears off, and they have to search for another fix.

On and on it goes. I’m speaking from experience on this one, because I used to be stuck in that cycle.

Thankfully, there is a better way.

Inspiration vs. Motivation

A lot of people use the words “inspiration” and “motivation” interchangeably.

I used to be one of those people, but I’ve stopped because the words are so dramatically different. Motivation pushes you toward your goals, while inspiration pulls you toward them.

This quote from my favorite author, explains it best:

If motivation is when you get hold of an idea and carry it through to its conclusion, inspiration is the reverse. An idea gets hold of you and carries you where you are intended to go.” -Wayne Dyer

Unlike motivation, inspiration comes from within.

If you’ve ever been inspired (and I know that you have), it’s an incredible feeling. Instead of forcing yourself to take action to reach a goal (motivation), you are actually being moved forward by the vision that you’re creating. 

Here are some examples of what I mean:

  • If you’re a parent, do you remember what it was like caring for your newborn baby? You were sleep-deprived, on-edge, and completely off your game–but somehow you were able to dip into an unknown source of energy to successfully care for your baby.
  • If you’re doing soul-nourishing work that you absolutely love, you could happily string together multiple all-nighters working on your craft in a heartbeat.
  • If you believe in a message or an idea so deeply that you can’t stop thinking about how to share it with the world.

That is what inspiration is all about.

So, How Do I Get Inspired?

So, here’s the million dollar question:

How can I live an inspired life?

I really wish that I could answer that, but I can’t.

Inspiration is an intensely personal thing, and I can’t answer that question for you any more than you could answer that question for me.

The good news is that since inspiration comes from within, you already have all of the answers waiting inside of you. It’s just about asking the right questions.

What brings you joy?

What makes you feel fully alive?

What is that quiet voice inside of you constantly nudging you to do?

Answering those three questions will definitely get you closer. It worked for me.

Speaking of questions, remember the question at the beginning of this post? The answer is that I’m not motivated to make the world a more positive place, I’m inspired to do it. It took a lot of thought and introspection to figure out what truly inspires me, but now that I’ve found it, I couldn’t be happier.

In my opinion, there’s only one way to be inspirational, and anyone can do it:

Shine as brightly as possible in hopes of encouraging others to find the light within them, so that they can do the same. 

This post isn’t about trashing motivation. We can all agree that being motivated to improve our lives is a hell of a lot better than being unmotivated–and truthfully, I hope that many of you find these blog posts motivational.

What I am saying is that there’s another level that’s past motivation, if we can find it.

And if you’re looking for it here, you’ll probably be looking for a while.

There’s only one place that’s worth searching for your inspiration, and I hope that this blog post motivated you (see what I did there?) to look within to find it. 

And finally, what about the kid in the picture above?

I can tell you that there’s no amount of motivation or pushing that’s going to get him to jump.

But once he feels that pull of inspiration, he’s officially one big step closer to taking flight in his life.

Are you ready to do the same?

Your Turn

Have you ever experienced what it’s like to be truly inspired? What do you do to live an inspired life? Has motivation worked well for you in the past? Jump into the comments below and make your voice heard!

16 thoughts on “The Truth About Motivation”

  1. I’ve used many things as motivation. Relationships, pain, criticism and of course on a day where I’m curious about my next move, your blog speaks to me.

    I’ve noticed the feeling of inspiration to be intense and long lasting, I’m inspired by the intellect this blog shares, so thanks.

    • You are so right, Sid–the feeling of true inspiration is intense and very long lasting. Thanks so much for the kind words, and I hope that this blog post encouraged you to continue to find your inspiration!

    • Thank you for sharing that, Sid. Your words made me realize how often I’ve been motivated to do things to avoid pain or because someone told me I had to do something I knew was wrong for me and my response was basically “Oh yeah? Watch me.” What I mean is, I wasn’t inspired to embrace what was right for me, I was only motivated to push away what wasn’t. It’s been exhausting. Thanks for helping me to get some clarity.

  2. Life really began for the moment I stopped acting on motivation. I spent decades with my actions being fed by my motivations. I was a very successful and unhappy person. Motivation was creating a great deal of stress and led me to start making bad decisions. I lost everything including my motivation.

    I spent years looking for it, but nothing was catching fire.

    Then one day, a friend said something to me that inspired me to do something I had never done before. I say “inspired me” because there was no motivation for me to like the idea. It wasn’t going to make me money, it wasn’t going to make me popular. It was going to put me in more debt for sure. But I knew it would change me and I knew I needed changing.

    So, two years later, I’m on pure inspiration, now. I definitely listen to those voices in my head. I’m freelancing at the moment, and I’ve never enjoyed my life more than I am right now. I spend untold hours building, learning, playing, doing what I really want to do.

    Every once in a while the worry that comes from external motivation creeps in and I find myself moving from my path – unavoidable. But then those little voices start getting louder and louder, I do a little self-correction and I’m back in my bliss.

    Inspiration does not speak on the same level as motivation. It requires a leap of logic. There’s that moment when your brain makes that connection between two seemingly unrelated ideas – you put two and two together – and your heart starts racing at the possibilities and you feel like you’re going to explode if you just don’t DO IT.

    And I feel like that every day. Now, that’s living.

    • *Standing Ovation* Now, THAT’s what I’m talking about, Charlie! Your comment spoke to me on so many levels and I could personally relate to every word of it. You hit it straight on–inspiration does not speak on the same level as motivation, and it never will. Inspiration calls out to your soul, and you said it best when you said that you feel like you’re going to explode if you don’t do it. You captured the essence of inspiration flawlessly, my man–thanks for the epic comment!

  3. Shola, I agree 100%!

    External motivation only takes someone so far, and tends to wear off.

    It takes something interal, like inspiration or a burning passion, to keep me going for the long haul. And honestly, if I don’t have it, I really just don’t care.

    I’ve never been one to “keep up with the Joneses” or even bow to peer pressure. Those things are not important to me, so they just don’t motivate me.

    Have a great week, Shola!

    • Kathy, I used to chase external motivation on a daily basis and it was exhausting. Since it wore off so quickly, I honestly felt like an addict in search of my next fix. You’re a wise woman, and I’m slightly embarrassed to admit how long it took me to get over the push of peer pressure. Thankfully, those days are now long gone! Thanks as always for your comment, my friend!

  4. Very thoughtful post Shola…I never really thought much about the difference between inspiration and motivation. You’re spot on though…it makes total sense! I’m going to spend some time this week thinking about what inspires me…Maybe if I approach things from the perspective of inspiration rather than motivation I’ll make greater strides toward my goals. 🙂 Have a great week Shola!

    • Thanks Spring! Believe it or not, I never deeply thought of the difference between motivation and inspiration until recently, and after thinking about it for a while, I thought: Hey, I should a write a blog post about this! Yes, it is so worth it to take the time to sit and think about what inspires you. It’s like Charlie said in his comment above, it’s the one thing that makes you feel like “you’ll explode if you just don’t do it.” I honestly believe that everyone has that one thing, and if a former lazy, direction-less, reformed chronic complainer like me can find it, then anyone can ;). The coolest thing about inspiration is that the “one thing” is already inside us and waiting for us to look for it. Stay inspired Spring, and enjoy your week!

  5. Great post, Shola! I don’t think I’ve ever considered that those two words mean entirely different things. But you’re absolutely right — motivation is doing something whether you want to or not; inspiration is doing it because it makes you feel happy and energized. Since I’m in the process of finding a new direction for work (I hope, anyway), I’m going to start paying a lot more attention to what things I do out of inspiration and what I do out of motivation and see what kind of data I can find that way. Thanks!

    • You’re so welcome, Maria! I’ve used those two words interchangeably forever and it’s only been recently that I’ve started to make the distinction between the two. I know that it’s not easy to find jobs that are inspiring, but in my opinion, it is one of the most important life goals to pursue. Keep searching for that inspiration Maria, and trust me, you will find it!

  6. Hi Shola, this post hits home with me, for sure. For a long time, I did think “motiviation” was a good thing. I was “motivated” to work hard and accumulate the trappings of success, mainly because I felt I needed to be validated and approved of. Thankfully, I am over that. Along the way, I let it all go, as I was getting further and further away from any joy or satisfaction. I found if I just followed my gut, I was called to different types of work and community service, and to focus my greatest efforts in helping my husband run his businesses (I surprised both of us by being pretty good at that). The word you used today, “inspiration”, is to me another way of saying I’ve been “called”. I’m a happy person now, who feels she does have a purpose in life. Thank you for talking about this today, it is an important distinction.

  7. I greatly appreciate this week’s message. I’ve been struggling with motivation triggered by outside sources since childhood. (Angry, dominating father at it’s core.) I’m especially appreciative of the distinction between inspiration and motivation. I’ll be contemplating the implications for some time.

  8. Wow, Shola! I was looking through my email and realized I missed reading this entry when it came to my inbox. I have been using ‘motivation’ to keep on with my healthy lifestyle and weight loss, with a way to ‘prove’ to those around me I can do it. Yes, I have succeeded, but finding myself not as supercharged as I was; however, using my inner voice to keep me going with this, so I do not fail. I like this.. inspiring myself to keep going, not being motivated by those around me. Main reason I put up that affirmation I shared before.. to keep me ‘inspired’! (Life becomes fun when we realize we have nothing to prove to anyone but our self). I am glad I have that to look at daily, to keep the inspiration. Never looked at the difference between these two words and what it really means! Thanks again!


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Hi! I am Shola

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Over a decade ago, I was drowning in the despondency of yet another workday. My success as the top regional performer had been numbed by a culture of incessant workplace bullying. And, I’d recently made the situation worse by filing a formal complaint. In short, I was collateral damage in a company without the process or intention to address my experience.

Exhausted from the drama, with an unrecognizable version of myself at the wheel, I intentionally swerved off the interstate in an attempt to take my own life. But in that half-second, my reflexes responded, and I yanked the wheel away from disaster. As I clipped the guardrail on I 405, something changed...

I uncovered a power within myself

...a burning desire to reverse a trend that happens daily to sixty-five million people in this country alone. This catalyst has since become Go Together™ Movement - a transformational roadmap of mindset, behaviors, and tools that transform workplace cultures and drive results.

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