What is Inspiration? Can it Be Cultivated?

“Inspiration propels a person from apathy to possibility and transforms the way we perceive our own capabilities” — Scott Barry Kaufman

Audrey Dixon
Jul 8, 2020 · 6 min read
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Photo by bantersnaps on Unsplash

Simply inspiring.

And it started my wondering about inspiration in general. It’s a word I use often.

Am I using inspiration correctly?

The ideas inspired me to think about what I could do to lift the depressed state of my business. My vision of winemaking as an enterprise is inspiring, and how we strive to produce the best we can is an inspiring goal. Is my understanding correct?

When we taste, we examine the color, the legs or tears, before we inhale. We savor the aroma with a series of quick short sniffs and let the information filter through to our brain. Most people think a big inhale will tell you more about the wine in your glass, but it isn’t correct.

Inhaling reminded me of inspiring, or the opposing action of expiring. Are these words linked? I wondered if the act of breathing in, has a connection to my sense of inspiration.

Time is something I have.

I went looking for more inspiration and went further and further into the complexities of a psychological sense of creativity, motivation, being inspired, and would you believe, understanding how a scale of measurement can reveal our frequency of when inspiration hits us.

As I initially imagined, the words have an interconnectedness, and my exploration confirmed this. I believe the link is in the prefix (yes, pun intended). No doubt there will be word experts who understand this deeper meaning and historical significance, better than I do.

Is our breath inspirational?

This is what I unearthed.

When we breathe in, we are inspiring air internally, or inhaling. The figurative meaning is,

…a breathing in or infusion of some idea, purpose, in to the mind: the suggestion, awakening or creation of some feeling or impulse, especially of an exalted kind — Oxford English Dictionary.

I appreciate how this definition gives a divine or mythical influence on the word, an inspiring notion to further investigate the perceived, subjective, and intrinsic value of the attribute.

I learned inspiration is derived from the Greek language for ‘God-breathed’ or ‘divinely breathed into’ making this influence correct.

Inspiration is often confused with ‘motivation’ and ‘creativity.’ Motivation, however, aims at external reward, while inspiration comes from within and is very much its own reward (meaning it’s intrinsic) as,

Although inspiration is associated with creative insight, creativity also involves the realization of that insight — which requires opportunity, means, and above all effort — Neel Burton, “Hide and Seek.”

What is the key to understanding inspiration?

Relating to the spirit of the definition, psychologists and researchers, Todd M. Thrash and Andrew J. Elliot, developed a scale for measuring the frequency of inspiration, and offer three related qualities, as the key to inspiration.

They believe inspiration is:

  • evoked spontaneously and without intention
  • transcendent in clarity, vividness, awareness, or a grand vision
  • transmitted or actualized as a new idea, new possibilities, or a vision involving approach motivation.

The researchers also noted inspired people share certain characteristics, principally being more open to new experiences and more absorbed in their tasks. I believe we can all relate to the images, characteristics, passion and understand the influence of world renown inspirational people.

This “openness” often preceded the inspiration they experienced on the road they travelled. The researchers also found inspired people are not as we may think, more conscientious, supporting the view of inspiration as “something that happens to you and is not willed.”

‘Openness to Experience’ is one of the Big 5 personality traits I wrote about here, and includes aspects such as intellectual curiosity and creative imagination.

What can we gain by Openness to Experience?

If we:

  • strive to be more open, we’ll be more likely to seek out a variety of experiences and be comfortable with the unfamiliar
  • pay close attention to our inner feelings, we’ll be more open to novelty
  • show elevated levels of curiosity, we’ll enjoy being surprised
  • have an increased hunger for knowledge and learning we’ll broaden our experience
  • are divergent and abstract thinkers, we’ll have a higher percentile in this trait to explore multiple novel solutions to a difficult problem
  • have higher measures of well-being, including overall happiness, we’ll have a correlation with openness
  • exhibit an openness, we’ll experience more positive and loving relationships with people in our lives
  • are less competitive, we’ll have a stronger drive to master our work, which interestingly according to the researchers, comes before inspiration. This suggests they found inspiration is not passive but favors the prepared mind.

This final point makes sense if you think of competition as a non-transcendent desire to outperform your competitors. We become more intrinsically motivated and less extrinsically motivated, impacting favorably on work performance.

What does inspiration facilitate?

  • setting your inspired goals
  • increasing progress towards those goals you set
  • understanding the progress of goal-setting is predicting future goal inspiration — by creating a positive cycle of more significant goals, as inspiration results in higher goal pursuits for you
  • increasing the concept of your purpose in life
  • increasing the gratitude, you give and receive
  • improving the interaction between your current knowledge and the information you receive from the world.

Of course, by this time in my wondering and investigative researching, I asked if I could make inspiration happen? How do I experience it? Because I’m aware of my misunderstanding of what inspiration meant to me in my past. I confused it with creativity and motivation.

How do I make inspiration happen?

While inspiration is not the same as effort, the effort is an essential condition for inspiration, preparing the mind for an inspirational experience.

Openness to Experience and positive affect are also important, as having an open mind and approach-oriented attitude will make it more likely that you will be aware of the inspiration once it arrives.

Small accomplishments are also important, as they can boost inspiration, setting off a productive and creative cycle — Scott Barry Kaufman, The Psychology Podcast.

Inspiration is not beyond our control. Although I’ve alluded to the purely mythical and divine, there are actions you can take, and traits you can acquire to increase the circumstances of inspiration happening for you.

The traits of Openness to Experience and extraversion, link with each other and to the trait inspiration. Research has shown further linkages with dopamine, and its activating effects on behavior and cognition. Kaufman notes inspiration is related to important psychological resources, “including self-efficacy, self-esteem and optimism.”

Psychologist and author Neel Burton says there are simple strategies we can adopt to encourage inspiration, summarized as follows:

  1. Wake when your body wakes you.

2. Complete your dreams. REM sleep is richest before your natural awakening.

3. Cut distractions, especially the tedious ones.

4. Don’t rush or force what you must do.

5. Be curious and open to the random association of ideas and thoughts.

6. Interact with inspired and inspiring people.

7. Break your routine.

8. Be present.

Inspiration matters.

Inspiration allows us to transcend our ordinary experiences and limitations and is a formidable driver of the attainment of our goals, productivity, creativity, and well-being.

Inspiration transforms us from experiencing a culture of apathy to experiencing a new world full of possibilities.

Inspiration will be the basis for an inspiring expansion in my business.

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Audrey Dixon

Written by

I write about whatever matters to me and what may matter to you in Change Your Mind Change Your Life, B.O.S.S., Words in Motion, ILLUMINATION

Change Your Mind Change Your Life

Read short and uplifting articles here to help you shift your thought, so you can see real change in your life and health.

Audrey Dixon

Written by

I write about whatever matters to me and what may matter to you in Change Your Mind Change Your Life, B.O.S.S., Words in Motion, ILLUMINATION

Change Your Mind Change Your Life

Read short and uplifting articles here to help you shift your thought, so you can see real change in your life and health.

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