Motivation vs. Inspiration

“The key thing to remember is not that we need to be fast but that we are running a race that has no finish line. So the fuel that drives us needs to be made of something substantial — something for the heart that the head can also follow.” 

~ Vincent Kralyevich, American film producer, director, author, art director and composer

Have you ever had an idea that made the hair on your arms stand up?  Maybe it’s a dream that beckons to you – one that holds promise for your future and that of others as well.  When you think of the possibilities, you may find yourself feeling light, energized, and connected to something greater than yourself.

This is what inspiration feel like. It is buoyant and powerful.  Simple, yet strong.   And it is contagious.  Inspired action tends to touch others in a way that activates something inside of them as well .  It connects them not only to you, but also to themselves.  I like to think of inspiration as a pull – like a magnet that draws us toward something and gives us the power to bridge the gap – even if we aren’t sure exactly how to do it.  Inspiration is something we receive and it comes to us when we are receptive to it.   It requires trust, faith and patience.

What gets in the way of inspiration is our doubts, fears and faulty assumptions about what we can or cannot do, or what is even possible.  These doubts are like layers of stuff that dilute the magnetic force of inspiration.  Inspiration still beckons to us, but something stands in our way.  This is where motivation comes in.  It is something we summon up inside ourselves to get us to overcome the obstacles that are in front of us.  And as leaders (regardless of your vocation, title or role), it is something we often try to summon up in others to get them to do the same.

Motivation often takes the form of the carrot or the stick.  What gets us off the dime when we are balled up in our own fear is the willingness – and the will – to take action in spite of it – because of what we have to gain when we do – or what we have to lose if we do not.  Where inspiration is the pull, motivation is the push.   The word motive is derived from motivation.  Our motives can be in service to a higher good, or they can be in service to ourselves alone.

When motivation is aligned with inspiration, miracles can happen.  But when it is not, we will find ourselves feeling out of sync.  Inspiration (a higher calling) without motivation (the will to act on it) leaves us feeling stagnant, stuck, and/or unfulfilled.   When we refuse to answer our calls to greatness and play small instead, it is often because we have let our fear and doubt get the better of us.   Though we may be very busy, we will likely feel as though we are not accomplishing anything of great significance.  Motivation serves us best when it works through obstacles in our own thinking that get in the way of acting on our inspiration.

Motivation without inspiration feels a lot like driving a car without power steering or trying to run through mud.  It requires a lot of effort and strength and leaves us feeling exhausted.  When motivation serves a higher purpose (that provided by inspiration), the load is lightened and the way becomes clear.  But when the object of our desire is one that derives solely from our ego’s need for things like power, prestige, control, approval, or wealth, the push of motivation is not aligned with the pull of inspiration and we stray off course.  That’s when things get difficult – we may feel as though we are exerting a lot of effort but not really getting anywhere.

Sometimes our motivation and inspiration begin in alignment and then gradually become disconnected.  We start out feeling in sync, making great progress and experiencing a state of flow, and then we hit a bump in the road.  The bump may be a fear or some other kind of assumption that we need to examine and disempower before we can move on.  Or, it may be that we simply need to wait awhile.

Inspiration comes from a higher source – one that sees a bigger picture than we do.  Sometimes there will be delays that we do not understand.  Our egos can become impatient and steal the show – trying to push through these barriers with sheer force and exhausting us and everyone around us in the process.  And once our egos are in charge, things have a way of deteriorating.  Our motivation (or motive) mutates from being in service to a greater good to being in service to ourselves – or some ego need.

It can be tough to discern what kind of action (or inaction) is required when we encounter an impasse.   But if we get quiet, we can tap our source of inner wisdom to find the answers we need.   When we purify our motives (motivation) so that they are in service to a higher calling (inspiration) we get back on the path that leads to greatest fulfillment for ourselves and everyone around us.  And using motivation to remove the blocks that stand in our way will ensure that we actually make progress on that path and bring our greatness into the world in a way that inspires others to do the same.

My new book, The Pinocchio Principle: Becoming the Leader You Were Born to Be is about getting back to the basics of who you really are, what you are here to accomplish, and how you can unearth your greatness in a way that inspires others to do the same.  It will be released on 1/11/11.      I will also be working with a small group of eight people to lead them through this process (based on the book) as well.  A few spots still remain.  We’ll meet at my office in Phoenix every other Thursday from 11:30am to 1:00pm from 1/13/11 through 6/16/11.  For more information, go to  Contact me at if you are interested in participating.  The cost is $900 ($75 a session) and payment plans are available.

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