If You’re Relying on Inspiration, You’re Doing It Wrong
“A self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood.” -Tchaikovsky
Here’s how I used to think inspiration works:
Inspiration > Motivation > Action
So, I would wait to get inspired.
Maybe I would watch Gladiator again, or I would see some before/after pictures on that home-workout fitness Instagram page I follow.
This surge of inspiration would create enormous motivation and drive for me to write and do work.
So, I would grit my teeth in a surge of inspiration and publish an article every day for like, eight days straight.
But then I’d lose motivation and publish nothing for four months.
After a while, I might watch Gladiator again. Get inspired. Get back on the horse. Experience an intense surge of writing energy and publish another month’s worth of articles by next Wednesday.
…You can probably guess what would happen next.
Again — I would get discouraged from lack of attention to my work. Lose motivation. Then I’d quit again.
Because here’s the truth:
Inspiration doesn’t work.
Not in the long term, anyway.
Let me explain.
The following is how most people approach completing goals: They wait for inspiration, then they act — they go to the gym, clean the entire house to surprise their partner when they get home, they start writing chapter one of their novel.
And yet, despite these surges of inspiration that happen every day…
Gyms are rarely frequented.
Houses remain cluttered messes.
That book is still a (mostly) empty Word document on the computer.
That’s because this strategy doesn’t work. Most people don’t stay inspired for long, and since their action relies on inspiration, action doesn’t get done.
Right Action Precedes Right Thinking
It took me years of failure and getting crapped on by other, bigger writers to realize how it really works.
Action > Inspiration > Motivation
Action comes first, not last.
When you’re lazy, uninspired, or stuck in a rut, I have just one directive for you:
Get off your butt and do something.
Action comes first.
Action creates inspiration. Action creates luck, creativity, and motivation.
If you have writers block, then write. If you feel like you don’t know what to paint, then paint.
If you don’t “feel” like loving your partner, then go do the dishes for them and clean the bathroom.
Don’t wait until you “feel inspired.”
“There is a popular notion that artists work from inspiration, that there is some strike or bolt of bubbling up of creative mojo from who know where…but I hope [my work] makes clear that waiting for inspiration to strike is a terrible, terrible plan.
The single best piece of advice I can offer to anyone trying to do creative work is to ignore inspiration.”
Action Creates Motivation
Although motivation can be a result of inspiration, action itself causes inspiration too.
It’s simply a matter of “mastering your disinclination,” to quote prolific Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
Tchaikovsky wrote an oft-cited letter to a friend about his work ethic and overcoming a “lack of inspiration” while he created some of the most famous classical music of all time.
Below is an excerpt:
“There is no doubt that even the greatest musical geniuses have sometimes worked without inspiration…We must always work, and a self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood.
…A few days ago I told you I was working every day without any real inspiration. Had I given way to my disinclination, undoubtedly I should have drifted into a long period of idleness. But my patience and faith did not fail me, and to-day I felt that inexplicable glow of inspiration of which I told you; thanks to which I know beforehand that whatever I write to-day will have power to make an impression, and to touch the hearts of those who hear it.
I have learnt to master myself, and I am glad I have not followed in the steps of some of my Russian colleagues, who have no self-confidence and are so impatient that at the least difficulty they are ready to throw up the sponge.
This is why, in spite of great gifts, they accomplish so little, and that in an amateur way.”
Here’s the point: Talent that relies entirely on “inspiration” will never achieve greatness.
The most an inspiration-alone strategy can produce is sporadic spurts of decent work.
Relying on inspiration is unsustainable, immature, and limiting.
Yet, this is the framework for how most people live their lives.
You Are Defined By What You’re Willing to Struggle For
“What you are defined by is what you’re willing to struggle for.” -Mark Manson
What are you willing to struggle through and see to the end?
Sure — the individual that relies entirely on bursts of inspiration might occasionally make something decent.
But if in-between these spurts, they lament over their lack of “muse” and cease to do any action until inspiration strikes again…
They won’t ever be successful.
Inspiration without action doesn’t work.
In the words of famous singer/songwriter Jack White:
“Not every day you’re gonna wake up and the clouds are gonna part and rays from heaven are gonna come down and you’re gonna write a song from it. Sometimes, you just get in there and just force yourself to work.”
If you rely solely on inspiration to do the hard work — to create, to love, to heal, to conquer — you’ll never achieve true success.
That’s because inspiration is an unpredictable, finite, sporadic fountain that often runs dry. It’s not a reliable source to fuel your journey through the inevitable failures on the road to success.
Pain is constant; struggle is guaranteed. So must your fuel be.
Action creates motivation.
Action > inspiration > motivation.
The Rule For Constant Action
“The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.” -C.S. Lewis
Acting “as if” becomes acting “as is.”
Very often the only way to obtain a new quality or trait is to start behaving as if you already have it.
The rule for action is simple: just do the work. It doesn’t matter how you feel at the time — just do it.
This is true for every area in which you wish to see success: your health/body, relationships, career, projects, finances, behaviors, etc.
Don’t wait until you “feel” like a good husband. Just start being one.
Don’t wait until you “feel” like a smart money spender. Just start being smarter with your money.
Don’t wait until you “feel” like going to the gym. Just go a few times, no matter how you feel.
You’ll build momentum. Eventually, you will feel inspired.
But it won’t even matter by then — you’ll already be in the midst of action and fresh motivation.
Act “as if” you already are what you want to be.
Winners become winners by acting like it.
Inspiration doesn’t matter — action does. Right action. Action that ignores the enormous, swelling fog of laziness and self-doubt.
To be sure, this initial action might not produce the results you want. But that’s not the point.
You want momentum. You create your own inspiration and motivation by acting regardless of how you “feel.”
“Action is not just the effect of motivation; it is also the cause of it.” -Mark Manson
Action is the beginning and end of the cycles that elevate you to greatness and true success.
Inspiration is fleeting and unreliable; you can go months without it (as many masters experience). To rely on it is not a winning strategy.
Instead of waiting to “feel” like you’re ready, act before you’re ready.
Ignore inspiration — if it’s there, great. Use it. If it’s not, act anyway. This is how you create sustainable motivation in the first place.
Most of the world waits for motivation to strike. They watch viral videos of people doing incredible things, or sink so low they become disgusted with their behavior and change out of revulsion.
This works for some people, sometimes. Maybe you’ve experienced that yourself.
But the right equation is:
Action > Inspiration > Motivation
You are in charge of your life — your actions, behaviors, and choices. You can act despite not feeling inspired.
It doesn’t matter how you feel. Act anyway. Act “as if.”
It will become acting “as is.”
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