Motivation vs Inspiration

Author: Scott Timmins


Every day I face a barrage of motivational quotes posted on Facebook, LinkedIn and twitter by friends and family. Comments like:

  • Stop Wishing and Start doing
  • Mistakes are proof that you are trying
  • Never Give Up

Actually I think it would be hard to find someone who hasn’t been told that in order to succeed you need to find you inner motivation.

In fact, motivational books, video, seminars and conferences have been flooding the world for decades. For those who haven’t experienced this to date, just enter the term ‘motivation’ into your search engine and be prepared to be inundated by services, books, dvd’s, podcasts and a plethora of other resources designed to help you find your inner motivation.

But what if we are wrong and motivation is not the answer we are constantly searching for? 

Recently I stumbled across some reading which included links to Dr Lance Secretan (former CEO of a Fortune 100 and award-winning columnist).  Dr Secretan delves into the premise that motivation is intrinsically fear based (external) whilst inspiration comes from the soul (internal).

Could this be true?

If we look a little at motivation as a psychological construct, it is commonly argued that there are a variety of different motivational theories. Three commonly used models include:

  • Drive Theory – People have basic biological drivers that motivate our behaviour like eating, drinking, and sleeping.
  • Instinct Theory – People are motivated by instincts that are innate biological tendencies for survival. (Freud)
  • Humanistic Theory – People have strong cognitive reasons to perform various activities. (Maslow)

So what is this telling you?

People are either motivated towards a reward or away from a threat. What the neuroscience show us is that we are more motivated to avoid a threat that the other. In fact, every time we avoid a threat, the neurotransmitter dopamine is released. Dopamine enables us not only to see rewards, but to take action to move toward them. Let me give you an example.

Little Johnny is just about to start school for the very first time. He is excited as he enters his classroom for the very first time. The teacher sits them all down and proceeds to tell them what might happen if they don’t follow the rules.

Now take a moment to think about where else might this style of motivation technique be occurring? In your family? At work?

So do we need this type of motivation?

Of course we do. Motivation is great and can and will be useful for you throughout your life. But what if there was something more powerful that could help you lose weight, write that book you always wanted to write or develop your team so that they are not just meeting KPI’s, but they are setting higher standards than you could have ever set yourself.

The word “inspiration” comes from the Latin word “inspirare” which means “inspirit” or “divine guidance”. In essence it is a feeling within that drives you forward. If you have ever seen Nick Vujicic talk about his life without limbs or seen Malala Yousafzaim talk about the rights of young girls to be educated, then you can see what inspiration can achieve.

We have all had moments of inspiration in our lives. When you see an amazing piece of art, film or play that stimulates you to move another step towards your goal. It is that special time when are consumed by one thing and one thing only. Everything else if drowned out. You are in the “FLOW”.

Dr Martin Seligman, author of the bestselling book “Flourish”, explains that FLOW is a semi-conscience state of total immersion and attention. For example; have you ever started reading a book and realised its 2 am? Have you ever been working on something you are passionate about and before too long the cleaner is asking you to leave? It’s in these brief moments that you are truly inspired.

inspirationSo how do we change our thinking to embrace inspiration more? Even Stephen Covey argues that

“the crucial challenge for individuals and organisations in moving from effectiveness to greatness is to discover one’s own voice and to inspire others to find theirs” (The 8th Habit, Covey 2004).

I have come up an overview of how you can find and enhance your inspiration:

Find your Passion – From the time we are born, society has tried to instil on us a need to develop a career that will support you throughout your life, not necessarily one that is your passion. However, Sir Ken Robinson believes this approach is killing creativity and in turn our passion.  Not everyone is lucky enough to have the job of their dreams. However, don’t let this imped you. Find a way to use your passion. If you love cooking, take a cooking course. I you are into music go to a concert. In your limited discretion find a way to incorporate your passion into life in one form or another.

shutterstock_101783017 earth puzzleLearn about yourself – Our inspiration comes from within. It’s evoked rather than initiated directly. When you take the time to discover who you really are, not the façade you put on each day, you will be able to see those dreams you once had. You know when you were young and had no grown up responsibilities! One of the best ways to do this is to gain knowledge about your core values, beliefs and personality (See MBTI or HBDI). Learning about ‘you’ will help you discover your passion and intrinsic drivers.

shutterstock_111727298 leadershipOwn it – Become the master of your own domain. Positive psychology leverages off the belief that by focussing on the things that are goo and you do well then you are more likely to feel happier and see all that is good. In fact Dan Pink, motivational expert, argues that one of the keys to motivation is to develop mastery. Own your abilities and take steps to becoming a master. It might be crocheting, gardening or playing the banjo. It doesn’t matter what it is. Become a master at something today.

Running GroupWalk daily– I know you have all heard it before but the science is clear. Walking helps with the development and release of the brains happy chemicals which are essential for inspiration. Walking allows your working memory the space it needs to clear out that noise. It allows you time to just be in the moment. A clear mind opens up possibilities. Start off by walking to the end of your street, then round the block. If your area is not great go to the beach, bush or park and just let yourself take in the environment. Step by step you will feel more inspired.

Inspiration doesn’t need to be world changing. Inspiration can be as simple as creating a Christmas card that comes from the heart. It doesn’t matter as long as you have it. Stop what you are doing today and spend 15 minutes looking for your inspiration.

I promise you that it isn’t far away. Just let it FLOW.

Want to learn more? Contact Scott today!


  1. Courtney on December 11, 2015 at 9:44 am

    Hi Scott,

    I really enjoyed your article!! I find that in no matter what area i.e. personally/professionally/physically or spiritually; my motivation is driven by results and small achievable goal targets, which I then increase each time I reach it. My inspiration is definitely driven from passion; when I am passionate about something I think about it constantly. We all have off days and when I have one of those although I lack motivation, my passion and interests do not change.

    I re-set and decrease my target to a smaller goal that is easily achieved when I have doubts, fears or no strength, once accomplishing this goal I then increase it. Motivation kicks in and I am good to go again.

    I like how you differentiated between the two, but showcase how they can feed off each other also. I feel that I need to use both to have balance and achieve my set targets.

  2. Dave on December 10, 2015 at 11:49 am

    Interesting article Scott, but I must disagree with some of your comments.
    I think it generalises too much – everybody is different.

    Because Inspiration comes from within, I find that I sometimes do not have the internal strength to utilise it even when I set high goals for myself.
    I have been going to the gym for over 10 years but did not get any real benefit until I started going to group classes with a good instructor that really pushed and motivated us to our limits. I could not have done that by myself no matter how much inspiration I had.

    The paragraph ‘Find your passion’ is also around the wrong way. If we go to a concert (because we like music) or a cooking class (because we like cooking) then we must have already have found our passion.
    We should go to a concert to find passion in music, or go to cooking class to find passion in preparing food. Similarly we should find passion in whatever work we do.