Where Does Inspiration Really Come From?

What Is Inspiration?


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From time to time, you may have been inspired—but have you ever thought about what inspiration is, and the effect it has on you? The term is frequently linked with creativity; for instance, one might "wait for inspiration" before starting a creative project. But until recently, there has been very little research into different aspects of inspiration.

A Scientific Definition

Psychologists Thrash and Elliot have studied the subject of inspiration in depth, and discovered that it can be both powerful and motivational. They've even created an Inspiration Scale to measure it. Thrash and Elliot describe inspiration as being constructed of three main qualities: evocation, transcendence, and approach motivation. What does that really mean?


Inspiration occurs spontaneously, without intention. So it's likely to feel like something that happens to you, rather than something that you choose or plan to experience.


Transcendence is the experience of something that is beyond usual, everyday occurrences. When inspired, you may feel in awe and connected to a powerful source of energy. You may have a sense of certainty and clarity about things, and suddenly become aware of new possibilities.

Approach Motivation

Inspiration is likely to cause you to take some purposeful action and motivate you to create or do something new. It can open you up to the possibility of achieving something you had previously thought of as unlikely or impossible, and transform your perception of your own capabilities.

The Benefits of Inspiration

There is evidence to show that, in addition to helping us achieve new goals, inspiration is also good for our general well-being. It can increase feelings of gratitude and appreciation, lift our mood, and provide us with a heightened sense of purpose.

The Impossible Can Seem Possible

Being inspired can help us extend our self-limitations and provide us with a new reference point of what is possible. For instance, Roger Bannister was the first man to run a mile in under four minutes; he achieved this at a time when it was generally accepted that the human body was incapable of such a feat. He not only inspired other athletes to raise their expectations, but helped people in general realize how our beliefs can hold us back or spur us on to success.

Learn from Role Models

Whatever goal you have—whether it’s to be an accomplished musician, artist, business executive, motivational speaker, athlete, or parent—you'll most likely come across people who appear to do this to a standard that you feel you have little hope of achieving. These people often exemplify those who have reached (or are close to reaching) their potential, usually after a period of intense determination and hard work. But rather than feel discouraged or envious of their achievement, you can choose to consider them as your role models. Sure, you may never be invited to speak at a TED Talk or win a Nobel Prize, but you may be able to learn from their experience and advice, and discover ways to advance to a level beyond your current capability.

Be a Role Models for Others

In childhood, we learn how to replicate the behaviors of those in authority and in our peer group. Children are more likely to exhibit the behaviors of the things we do rather than the things we say they should do. We can actively choose to be a role model for others, but whether we realize it or not, at any time, our behavior and actions may influence others. No matter if we're acting as a customer, passenger, driver, neighbor, celebrity, family member, or employee, we may be sending a powerful message to others. Whether this becomes a positive influence or not depends upon your conduct at the time, not the values you say you have!

A Role Model During Challenging Times

Providing inspiration isn’t always connected with achieving excellence, either. The way you deal with problems and concerns can also act as a positive example for others to follow. If you respond and act in a constructive way, others may implicitly learn how to develop such skills as resilience, hope, optimism, and a growth mindset. Motivation researcher Carol Dweck has found that people with a growth mindset believe they can learn, develop skills, and solve problems through application, dedication, and hard work—while those with a fixed mindset believe their capacity to learn is predetermined and limited.

How to Find Inspiration

Although inspiration is something that occurs spontaneously and therefore cannot be planned, there are ways to make inspiration more likely to occur. For instance, perhaps you've always wanted to write a book, arrange to go to a writers' workshop, attend a reading by a favorite author, or read an autobiography of a prolific writer. Whatever your ambition, try to place yourself in an environment with people who inspire you to learn.

Reinspire Yourself

Sometimes it helps to remember the reason why we are doing things to feel reinspired. Thinking of the "bigger picture" can help us find a sense of meaning and purpose in tasks that may feel joyless at the time—for example, reminding ourselves that we are doing things to support our family, invest in our education, help an organization, or improve our neighborhood.

The best part of inspiration is that it has the power to transform your life in an instant. It can move you away from the ordinary and toward the extraordinary, exciting world of possibility.

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