What exactly is inspiration?

Suvathi Thiagarajan
4 min readNov 10, 2018


Many people give a variety of definitions to the word ‘Inspiration’. It’s because of their own experience with inspiration. Some call Inspiration as a spiritual, secular, amorphous or countercultural phenomenon. Despite all the distinctions, everybody agrees with a common meaning of Inspiration. Yes, I even do. The basic definition is either ‘breathe (or inhale)’ or ‘an intention to do something creative’. I don’t think there’s much difference between these descriptions. They are relevant if we try to understand this — if you have an urge to do something creative then automatically that’s what you inhale until you attain it.

Inspiration does not happen to autonomous individuals, rather it passes as a contagion. The most important thing about Inspiration is that it’s not about self-interest. It is beyond money, status, and grades. It helps us to transcend our normal experience and thinking. It transforms the way we perceive our own capability. The inspired person is driven intrinsically by the work itself. The concept of Inspiration should be overlooked in a culture obsessed with enormous talent and ability. A recent research shows, Inspiration can be activated, captured and manipulated since it determines the outcome of our life.

The Three qualities of Inspiration

Surprisingly, few genii have framed the qualities of Inspiration for us, to understand the concept better. The road map is here — evocation, transcendence and approach motivation. Inspiration is evoked spontaneously without intention. As a result, Inspiration transcends our animalistic, self-serving behavior. Such transcendence often involves a moment of clarity and awareness of new possibility. As Thrash and Elliot note, “The heights of human motivation spring from the beauty and goodness that precede us and awaken us to better possibilities”. Finally, Inspiration involves approach motivation in which an individual strives to express, transmit or actualize a new idea or vision.

“All you need is the plan, the road map, and the courage to press on to your destination.” — Earl Nightingale

Inspired people share certain characteristics. Inspired people are more intrinsically motivated compared to extrinsic motivation. Inspired people reported more levels of spirituality and meaning, and lower levels of volitional control, controllability, and self-responsibility for their inspirations. For example, Inspired writers are more efficient and productive, and spend less time pausing and more time writing. The link between inspiration and creativity is consistent because creativity involves looking for possibilities beyond the existing constraints.

“If you look closely, you’ll notice the energy of inspiration is all around. From the rising sun to a placid lake on a warm summer night; from our favorite books to our own reflections, the places and things from which we can draw inspiration are infinite. And the best part is that every day is a chance to capture this energy — to seek out all of life’s possibilities.”

Inspiration paves way for innovations. Inspired persons view themselves as more creative and report an actual increase in self-ratings of creativity over time. Patent-holding inventors report being inspired frequently than non-patent holders. The higher they get inspired, the higher the number of patents held.

Inspiration and goal progress are reciprocals. In a recent study conducted by Marina Milyavskaya and her colleagues, college students were asked to set three goals which they intend to attain throughout the semester. They then reported on their progress three times a month. It was found that the students who gained higher in the Inspiration scale showed more progress as a result of setting more inspired goals. People who get generally inspired in the daily lives seem to set more inspired goals. As the researchers note, “this suggests that goal progress and goal inspiration build on each other to form a cycle of greater goal inspiration and greater goal pursuit.”

“If you always put limit on everything you do, physical or anything else. It will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.”-Bruce Lee

The writer Elizabeth Gilbert rightly expresses this concern in her inspiring TED talk. She says “One should not pressure oneself to become inspired. Inspiration is not willed — It happens.”

Difference between Inspiration and Motivation

Motivation is external. Inspiration is what drives you from within, so that it long lasts. Motivation centers on how, while inspiration is around why or who makes you linked to achieving your goals.

Well, the moments of inspiration feel transcendent, uncontrollable and irresistible. When one is inspired, their senses are amplified, there may be goose bumps on their spines. Inspiration is more active than mere appreciation. Inspiration brings a thrilling feeling of elevation, burst of energy and an awareness of enlarged possibilities.

Inspiration, at last, makes you realize that “you are capable of more than you thought.”

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