Inspiration or Motivation: Which Comes First?

Inspiration or Motivation: Which Works Best?
Image by Avi Chomotovski 

Narrated by Marie T. Russell

Video version

I saw a video about a high school student named Jed who was failing his classes and getting into trouble. His parents, teachers, and counselors tried hard to motivate him to stay in school and succeed, but their efforts were to no avail. Nothing they did could get Jed out of his rut.

Then Jed discovered a bird sanctuary that rehabilitated injured hawks and birds of prey and released them back into the wild. Something about this work stirred Jed, and he began to visit the sanctuary every day after school. Before long he became a volunteer and he learned a great deal about the winged creatures.

The final scene of the video showed Jed giving a lecture at the sanctuary, skillfully explaining the behavior of these birds and the methods the sanctuary used to rehabilitate them. As the camera panned the audience, it was composed of several classes from the school at which Jed had been having such a hard time succeeding. The students in the audience were enthralled with Jed’s presentation ― he had become a local expert in the field, and he was shining.

Dr. Wayne Dyer noted,

 “Motivation is when you take hold of an idea.
Inspiration is when an idea takes hold of you.” 

You have had the experience of someone trying to get you to do something you would rather not do, or you trying to get someone to do something they do not want to do. This is no fun for anyone, and usually does not work. You have also had the experience of finding something that is so stimulating that you plunge into it enthusiastically. You enjoy the experience immensely and get positive results. The first scenario is an attempt at motivation. The second scenario is the surge of inspiration and its natural effects.

Inspiration: From the Inside Out

I would not waste time trying to motivate someone (or yourself) to do something that he or she does not want to do. Instead, I would find out what moved that person from inside out, and assist them to bring forth their joys and talents. People who are enthusiastic about a goal find ways to achieve it and they do not need to be goaded or manipulated. People not enthusiastic about a goal will not go there no matter what tricks you try to play to get them to do it.

I have a friend who is diagnosed as developmentally delayed. Zack is physically 21 years old, but he has the mentality of about a 10-year-old. He reads poorly, has not done well in school, and has limited motor skills.

When Jack developed a crush on celebrity Hillary Duff, he found his way to Hillary’s website and learned how to navigate it. When I visited Zack he was zooming around the site like a pro, subscribing to the mailing list, sending his idol emails, and ordering products. His apparent delay took a backseat to joy, and he was rocking!

You Learn What You Want to Learn

The Sudbury model of schooling allows children to learn what they want to learn when they want to learn it. Students show up at school each day and generate their curriculum by choice. If a student wants to learn to play the saxophone, the school will bring in a saxophone teacher, and the student can play saxophone all day if he likes. If a child wishes to sit in a tree for hours a day, that is his curriculum. If a student asks to read at the age of five, a teacher will teach him reading. If the desire to read comes forth at age eight, that is when the training is given.

While you might expect students to need more structure than this, the Sudbury graduates have an extraordinary success rate:  98% of them get into the college of their choice. When learning proceeds from the inside out, it is sure to happen. When it is pounded from the outside in, it generally goes nowhere.

Can Motivation Be Taught?

In business, it is far easier to teach skills to a motivated employee than to teach motivation to a skilled employee. Someone may know what to do, but if they do not want to do it, their skill is useless. Someone who wants to do something will find a way to do it.  Inspiration is the source of all great achievement.

Of course there are times when you must do something you would rather not do. The key here is to remind yourself (or the other person) why the task needs to be done, and to recognize the reward for doing it. You can motivate with a carrot or punish with a stick. The carrot usually works better.

Follow Your Bliss

Joseph Campbell advised us all to “follow your bliss.”  This is absolutely practical advice. Someone once asked me, “If everyone just followed their bliss, what kind of world would this be?”  I answered, “A very blissful world.”

Some people fear that if everyone followed their bliss the world would be a sludge of bliss-ninnies lying on the beach all day. Not so. Bliss guides people to engage in exciting projects according to their unique inclination. Bliss moves people to erect great architecture, invent alternative energy automobiles, and be stellar parents.

You may not find waitressing blissful, but there are people who absolutely love it and do a great job at it. The universe is designed to take care of itself, and inspiration is the way all good things get done.

You cannot instill joy. You can only find where it lives and bring it forth. Trust your happiness and the happiness of others, and you will be astounded at how efficient it is.

*subtitles added by InnerSelf
© Alan Cohen. All Rights Reserved.

Book by this Author

Soul and Destiny: Why You Are Here and What You Came To Do
by Alan Cohen.

book cover: Soul and Destiny: Why You Are Here and What You Came To Do by Alan Cohen.Does your life have a plan and a purpose? Is your destiny fixed, or can you choose how your journey turns out? Can you change a destiny already set in motion? Why do certain people and patterns show up in your world? Is there a you that runs deeper than your body and personality? Will a part of you go on after you leave the world?

Alan Cohen sheds welcome light on the answers to these important questions, and many more. In his warm and relatable style, he makes big-picture ideas easy to understand, with many heartwarming, compelling stories. If you are trying to make sense of who you are, where you come from, and where you are going, here you will find many profound and touching insights to discover your true self and achieve your highest destiny.

Click here for more info and/or to order this book. Available as a Kindle edition.

More books by Alan Cohen

About The Author

Alan CohenAlan Cohen is the author of the bestselling A Course in Miracles Made Easy and his newly-released inspirational book, Soul and Destiny. Join Alan and musician Karen Drucker for a transformational in-person ACIM-based retreat in California, Into the Light, December 6-10, 2021. For information on this program and Alan’s other books, recordings, and trainings, visit


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