An enquiry into inspiration
As we sit in this current deepest uncertainty of our time, we have a choice to pretend it is not happening, to get frustrated and attack the source, to hide underneath a cover of substances. Or we could accept what we do not know and begin to think of what we do know. We could cast our minds into the future in preparation, to feel some control of whatever future emerges from this.
There is ample evidence that those with a positive outlook about the future and who, during a crisis, feel they have unfinished business, tend to fare better. A focus on a positive future can be an inspiration for individuals to look up from within the hardships and uncertainties of the present in order to envision.
My aim in the words below is to enquire into inspiration and hopefully spark a desire in the reader, to seek inspiration, not sink beneath the weight of uncertainty. Yes, I propose that inspiration can be a choice because you are human.
What is inspiration?
Have you ever inspired, or been inspired by, anyone or anything? The Webster dictionary says that inspiration is a force of influence that gives an idea; gives a reason, energises; makes one want to act; suggests opinions. What do you think of this description: an action or power of moving the intellect and/or emotions thereby arousing the mind?
Some say the source of inspiration is divine, being directly transmitted to the mind, through a person, thing or event without any involvement on our part. A gift. But, hang on, where does choice come into it then? Could one be inspired and choose to ignore the inspiration? Others hold that inspiration is all down to us humans, the people, events and things around us.
A helpful distinction can be made between 'broader inspiration' and 'targeted inspiration':
“I feel inspired” refers to a broadly outwardly directed feeling of ignition, a state of ‘being’, where the individual then chooses the direction of thought and action.
As the label says, targeted inspiration is narrowly focused as in, “I am inspired to” and is linked to specific words and actions. Let us explore targeted inspiration further, shall we?
I draw on a conversation I had to demonstrate it nicely: “What’s stopping you from aiming for a 1st class degree?”. A ‘flat’ voice replies, “I can’t be bothered”, “I’ve lost my motivation”. “OK, let’s see. What else do you still have to do in life, that you haven’t yet done?”. There followed an influx of energy, evident in voice and eyes. The spark I witnessed grew into an achieving flame. This illustrates the blurred edges between targeted inspiration and motivation.
To be inspired by someone, you would have to trust them, bestowing a responsibility. I trusted Brian, my teacher, with such responsibility 20 years ago when on a training trip to Scotland, his kindness inspired me to invest in junior students ever since. With a different style 13 years ago, Pamela my first coaching trainer’s calm, empathetic, attentive and objective presence, inspired confidence in me and I still sometimes visualise her to evoke a way of being with my clients.
Think on these preparatory steps to seeking inspiration:
- Know yourself, your desires, successes, strengths, failures, weaknesses,
- Be open to receive.
- Expect the best of yourself and others – for many, this requires considerable effort.
- Get into an active mindset by wanting it and preparing yourself with exploring some options even if not feeling it.
- Accept the challenge to step up.
- Carefully choose the people who surround you to be people that will keep the flame of your inspiration burning.
How to inspire others
Let us consider the flip side of the one who inspires. If in the business setting, you wish to inspire people, first know yourself and the kind of leader you are – character, style, and communication. Consider this classification of leadership character by Joseph Folman and Jack Zengar (Unlocking The Secrets Of Inspiring Leadership).
- Visionary – sees a clear picture of the situation or idea.
- Enhancing – prioritises positive individual and team relationships.
- Driver – focuses pursuit to complete tasks/projects.
- Principled – prioritises doing the right thing the right way.
- Enthusiast – driven by passion and energy.
- Expert – relies on technical expertise.
Clearly, as humans, we are never a classification but have preferences or persistent tendencies which often mix and match, much like a supermarket offer. Which one of these is your preferred way of leading yourself and others. Therein could lie your way of inspiring others (and being inspired).
Coming from research and personal experience, here are my headline thoughts if you want to inspire others:
- Ensure you have a positive outlook on life most of the time, becoming aware when a negative outlook is taking residence and changing your thinking to change your outlook
- Be at peace with yourself
- Become committed to something larger than your immediate world and well-being
- Live your words, remembering that our actions speak louder than words
If you set out to speak to inspire, here are a few key steps.
- Be good at something – very good. You are more likely to get this good at an area of your natural strength.
- It is you, not your words that count the most, so know yourself.
- Tell stories, especially of times when you’ve been inspired by others. Your openness and vulnerability would become an example for others. We are inspired when we are open to it or have been forced to pay attention.
- Be true to yourself, even in how you share someone else’s story, being open and real. Why? You are enough.
- Imagine yourself in the other people’s shoes as you prepare to speak and to listen.
- You have a better chance if you remind yourself that it is not about you but about your audience, so expect the best for and from them.
- Retain perspective, to see your words and your audience in context.
As you may have realised by now, there is no requirement to be perfect in order to inspire others. Instead, let people be inspired by how you accept and handle your imperfections so you can move beyond them.
Most people are imperfect, at different stages of their own development, you know. It is about others getting something from you. Some will and some will not. Be OK with that and you free yourself to be authentic as you make yourself available.
“As we let our own light shine we unconsciously give permission to other people to do the same” - Marianne Williamson
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