‘Motivation’ and ‘inspiration’ are two words that are bandied about quite a bit these days, especially in the self-help and business arenas. Many people treat these words as though they are synonyms – in fact, at least one online dictionary does – but in truth, there are subtle, but important, differences.
According to dictionary.com ‘motive’ means “something that causes a person to act in a certain way, do a certain thing, etc.; incentive.” An incentive would be an external stimulus: hope for a raise or a good performance report, impressing someone, or getting a date. We are motivated to keep our house clean, for example (what would the neighbors think if you didn’t?), to excel in our studies or at our job, or to pay our bills on time.
Inspiration is something that happens internally, and often suddenly. Dictionary.com defines ‘inspiration’ as “an inspiring or animating action or influence: I cannot write poetry without inspiration.” Although the object that inspires you may be external (a sunset, a broken heart, or an elusive Muse), the actual moment of inspiration touches something deep inside of us, urging us to create something new.
A student could be motivated to write a poem, if she was worried about her grade. But not being inspired, she’d have nothing to write about. Similarly, an advertising executive may be motivated by the promise of a big bonus to try to create an impressive ad campaign; without inspiration, however, it’s unlikely that she will do her best work.
Motivation depends on us placing a high value on whatever carrot is being dangled in front of us. If we aren’t interested in a good job review and the accompanying raise, for example, we may not be motivated to do our best work.
Motivating someone can be as easy as figuring out what they want and offering it to them as an incentive. If you get this big project completed ahead of time, there will be a few extra vacation days coming to you, promises your boss. Providing motivation for ourselves is similar. Maybe you’d like to clean out the entry way closet, but you just can’t seem to get around to it. Promise yourself a movie (or a massage, depending on how big a job it is!) when you finish.
Inspiration is, in my experience, more difficult to provide, either for someone else or for ourselves. It seems to depend on the planets all being in a specific alignment, a fleeting emotional state, or something else I can’t quite put my finger on. We all know when we’re inspired and when we’re not.
It’s easy to wait until we are inspired before we take creative action. I know several people who insist, as the dictionary definition implies, that creative work simply can’t be done without proper inspiration. And, unfortunately, that inspiration never seems to come often enough.
As both an artist and a writer, I can appreciate that sentiment. In fact, I’ve fallen victim to it myself. Convinced that I could only create mixed-media art or stirring prose when I was moved to, I created some great pieces – but not enough of them.
Hearing about professional – successful – writers who wrote every day, I decided to carve both writing and art time out of my day. I committed to myself that I would create every day. I was motivated by the promise of more completed work.
Over the course of the several weeks I did this, I discovered an interesting thing. By sitting down at my art table or at my writing desk every day and doing the work, I seemed to be inspired more often. When I was actually engaged in my art – whether it was mixed-media or writing – on a regular basis, I was inspired on a more regular basis. It seems inspiration likes consistency.
Although I no longer do mixed-media art on a regular basis, I do continue to write. Some days it goes better than others, but one thing I’ve learned: Inspiration doesn’t seem to strike as often, if I’m not writing on a regular schedule.
My Muse likes knowing where to find me!