Inspiration vs. Motivation: Letting Go of Fear-Based Living

Once upon a time, I had a dream. It went something like this:

Don’t die.

Every night, I’d lie in my room, barricaded by cheap stuffed animals, wishing and praying for angry men not to break into our house and take me away from my family. Later, it was the Wicked Witch. Then a house fire. Or airplanes. Or having a bodily malfunction and dying before I’d reached my full potential. Now, with a child, it’s literally everything.

Take me, that’s fine. But don’t you dare let my daughter grow up without a mother. Not. Happening. I will live forever, dammit. Watch me.

This doesn’t seem much like a dream – wishing not to die. But the amount of attention to detail I’d pay to this singular dream showed me one thing: perseverance. Even in the face of fear. Every day I didn’t die was a victory. Ta-da! I’m aliiiive! Good job me! 

That’s the funny thing about dreams. Sometimes, they aren’t actually dreams. They are fear-based goals – and, like mine, are completely out of your control no matter the amount of wishing or hoping or praying.

Which got me thinking: What am I inspired by, and what am I motivated by? What are my actual dreams, not my fear-based goals?

And is there really a difference?

It turns out that yes, there is definitely a difference. And I’ve been completely confusing the two.

I’m someone who needs daily inspiration. Maybe it’s the writer in me, my natural gypsy nature, etc. I’m the girl who sees a movie, reads a book or glimpses something incredible, and I want everyone to see it, read it or feel it too. Have you read that book? It’s life changing! Have you seen this movie? It’s the best thing EVER! Have you tried this remedy? It’s made of magic fairy dust and will cure you of all potential diseases!!!!!

No matter what the impulse, I want people to feel that same jolt I’m feeling, even if you are a completely different person and could give a shit less about X, Y or Z.

I get lost in the excitement. I want you to get lost with me.

As a motivated person, I’ve always taken joy in collecting accolades like dusty trophies on an out-of-reach shelf. I was motivated by the end result, by tacking these “experiences” on to my life story, so I could talk about them one day.

But was I inspired? Were these past achievements and failures and successes moving my life forward in some way?

Yes and no.

Because goals change. Motivations change. Dreams change. And inspiration is a different beast entirely.

Motivation: I need to work out so I can eat the ten cookies I’m going to make later.

Inspiration: I just watched an athlete with one leg run an entire marathon. What the fuck have I been doing with my life?

Motivation: I need to make $6500/month to support my family.

Inspiration: I want to be invested in the kind of work that keeps me up at night, even if that means a lower bottom line.

Motivation: I work so we can keep a roof over our heads and my daughter can go to her overly pricey, ridiculously ridiculous Montessori preschool.

Inspiration: Walking around the city, taking a vacation and talking to extraordinary people exposes me to different ways of life and pushes me to be a better writer, a better mother and a better human being. 

See? There’s a difference.

As we get older, it’s easy to bury our inspirations and instead only buy into our motivations, which, unfortunately, can seem shallow and unfulfilling if we really take a closer look.

What inspires you? What motivates you? Where is the dividing line?

If you want to lose five pounds, ask yourself why. Is it to look better, to feel better or to accomplish something?

If you want to make more money, is it to impress someone, support your family or because you genuinely love what you do?

Strip away some of the layers to find out where your inspiration comes from.

  1. Are you trying to prove something to someone else?
  2. Do you care what other people think?
  3. Are your inspirations/motivations yours or someone else’s?
  4. Do you resist resistance? (Resistance means change is coming; we can’t accomplish anything without it. Don’t give in.)
  5. In your life, where does inspiration live?

So much of what we want is in taking the time to sit down and ask yourself the hard questions, especially when it comes to goals, motivations and inspirations.

I did this exact exercise recently and was shocked to discover I’ve been leading with the wrong motives. I’ve been working on someone else’s dream. I’ve been motivated by the bottom line.

And somewhere in the process, I stopped writing. I stopped searching for myself. 

I stopped listening.

Because I’ve learned one valuable lesson thanks to tuning in (and The Desire Map): Even dreams can have expiration dates. Sometimes, change is essential for growth. Sometimes, letting go is the key.

If the goal becomes unenjoyable, if you are following someone else’s dream, if you are constantly hit with road blocks and “stop signs,” or if you’re just generally exhausted, it might be time to veer right instead of left.

You have to know when enough is enough.

But how do you know?

When following any goal, dream, motivation or inspiration, Danielle LaPorte suggests asking:

  1. Is this moving me forward?
  2. Do I feel more like myself?
  3. Does this clear the way for more good stuff to show up?
  4. Will I sleep peacefully tonight?
  5. Am I proud of what I’m doing?

We don’t often take time to answer the important questions. Life moves too fast, there’s not enough time, we’re so busy…We can’t keep up with the pace.

Before long, we don’t even feel in control of our lives or have any clue what we really want to do. We fall into our routines. We stay busy.

We stop watching the sunrise.

We’re lost in a different sort of dream, which can sometimes feel more like a nightmare.

So figure it out: What are your inspirations? What are your motivations? What goals do you set for yourself that are fear-based versus something that’s just in you?

As you start to do the work, you will start to receive the answers. They might be different answers than what you were hoping/seeking.

That’s okay.

They might be pleasant surprises or uncomfortable urges.

That’s okay.

They might even make you forget that lifelong fear of dying – because you’ll be too busy living. In every moment. In every second. Even through resistance. Even because of resistance. Even through fear.

That’s okay.

Push through your uncertainty.

Dream a new dream.

Give up the ghost.