You Don’t Need to Look for Inspiration

Old fashioned well in the middle of the desert

Image by Albund via BigStock

You’re smarter than a simple snake, right?

You rarely start your sentences with, “I wish” or “If only I could find some inspiration.”

Right?

I thought I was clever and had any inspiration issues under control… until I read Hank Finds Inspiration by Craig Frazier.

It’s a children’s book about a snake named Hank on an endless pursuit for inspiration. He goes to the city expecting to find it gushing from the faucets and falling from the sky.

But once Hank gets there, he has no idea where inspiration is lurking (or even what it looks like).

He spends all day looking for a drip of inspiration and only finds it when he returns home. He could have had this elusive and nebulous ‘thing’ without moving.

The internet, being in nature, or long conversations with friends can feel like that. You know you should be finding inspiration any minute now and that’s it’s going to be a game-changer. But it doesn’t happen the way you expect.

The lesson of this book – you don’t need new external inspiration – hit me hard.

But more importantly, Hank gave me the insight to experiment with existing internal inspiration to see how far it could take me.

The answer? Far. Very far.

Have you ever felt like you needed a drip feed of external inspiration? New inspiration can make you feel alive. But just like a boost from caffeine, it’s a fleeting and endless cycle.

So I’m going to share how you can evolve your relationship with inspiration in unconventional ways. Because the liberation of your time, money, and talent is at stake. And your ability to simplify, organize, and be money wise is also at risk.

Join me on a journey to identify and overcome inspiration overload.

How I learned to tap into ‘internal inspiration’

You’re an inspiring person.

How do I know?

Because we all are inspiring people to someone. And that someone can always be us. A quick story will illustrate my point.

It was unbearable when I quit my cushy corporate job and learned that there were a thousand new skills and mindsets an entrepreneur needed.

After spending two months ravenously consuming knowledge, implementing new systems, learning how to podcast, and finding out how to write things that someone would actually want to read, it simply became too much.

I was inspired all right… to consume even more and find even greater inspiration. I was creating approximately zero value for other people during my consumption binge.

So I decided to test my internal inspiration limits by creating an experiment called the Continuous Creation Challenge. I did nothing but create for seventy-two glorious hours.

Blog posts, videos, book reviews, the foundation of a new product – plus some peace and quiet, new relationships, and incredible sleep – flowed effortlessly.

Better yet, there was no downside to temporarily eliminating reading, watching videos, listening to music or podcasts, browsing the internet, or other consumption.

I inspired myself and – to make sure it wasn’t a fluke – I did another Continuous Creation Challenge for 120 hours. The explosion of creativity, my own inspiration, and creation of valuable tools for others was insane!

You could inspire yourself too. It could be a vision board, reviewing your stash of memorable quotes, or walking around your neighborhood randomly helping people.

None of these things require new or external inspiration. Even better, you might become more inspired when you unchain yourself from the need for a constant drip-feed.

Speaking of drip-feeds…

How to inspire yourself

You’ve scheduled time to create, have meetings, play with new technology, or take action that leads to making money.

But when’s the last time you scheduled ‘inspiration time’ or thought to limit your energy in seeking external inspiration?

My guess is never (but tell me if I’m wrong in the comments).

Inspiration is as essential as it is intangible. It motivates our action.

But inspiration overload is a real threat to achieving our biggest goals. Inspiration could be just one new blog post, TEDTalk, walk with the dog, chat with a pal, or great podcast away.

The search for inspiration is more likely a vicious cycle though. I’ve become an ‘inspiration addict’ before and it can be paralyzing.

So I took steps to reduce my craving for new, external, and endless inspiration. Now, I feel amazing, create more, and am more valuable to everyone.

I’m not saying you have a problem. I doubt you’re broken or need to be fixed.

But wouldn’t you like to need less inspiration to tackle those legacy-building projects?

Wouldn’t you be happier with a system that could guarantee you inspiration from within in whatever dose and whatever category you needed it?

You might need to tweak this to work for you, but here’s how I achieve almost limitless inspiration and reduce the time it takes to light my fire:

1. Curate your existence

Every experience you’ve had is rich with inspirational gems. Whether it’s with Evernote, spreadsheets (my favorite), Scoop.it, or some other tool, you can filter your best, most inspiring experiences and organize them digitally. Blog posts, podcasts, book chapters, YouTube videos, conversations, or any other experience can be archived for instant digital access.

Now you have the superpower to leverage your best experiences and limit or eliminate your need for a constant drip-feed of new inspiration. (I’ll explain more in the comments if you like.)

2. Schedule and set ‘inspiration time’ limits

You don’t leave the time for your showers, meals, commute to work, or sleep open-ended. So treat any need for new sources of inspiration like your other needs. Block off a daily, weekly, or monthly chunk in your schedule for ‘inspiration time’ to find the things that get your motor revving.

Once that inspiration time is up, though, it’s time for action. No more staggering through the day looking for endless external inspiration. If you lack self-control, use a tool like, well, SelfControl to shut out the distractions.

3. Keep an inspiration log

If you have your personal or business goals written down, you can integrate an inspiration log into them. For each goal that you do accomplish or didn’t complete, write down whether external inspiration was the limiting factor. You might discover that you don’t need (or even benefit from) the wild goose chase for external inspiration.

Liberate your potential

Blog posts and social media aren’t a necessary drip-feed to which you always need to be connected. Instead, they’re a source of inspiration as and when you want it.

~ Thom Chambers

What if you never had to drink caffeine again to feel alert?

What if you never had to exercise to be healthy?

And what if you never had to look outside for your inspiration?

The first two questions are beyond me, but answering the last one is possible. You can grab inspiration right now and never need to get charged by someone or something else.

You might still want to get inspired by something awesome. But there’s a huge gap between craving inspiration (as a form of distraction) and wanting to be further inspired to achieve awesomeness.

You can walk an energizing path with your existing experiences and resources. Or you can ceaselessly search for an inspiration destination on the horizon that never gets closer.

Inspiration is at and in your fingertips.

It’s your call.

Over to you

What kind of inspiration have you found most rewarding and long-lasting?

Can you share your methods of lighting your own fire and avoiding inspiration overload?

About the Author Joel Zaslofsky is an entrepreneur who gives instant access to the free tools that he and thousands of others use to simplify, organize, and be money wise. When he’s not helping people do a Continuous Creation Challenge, enjoying nature, working on his online show Smart and Simple Matters, or chasing his son around the house, he’s cranking out useful stuff at Value of Simple to support the liberation of your time, money, and talent.

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Responses to this Post

Comments

  1. christine swinson says:

    Absolutely fantastic advice! And I’m going to utilize it! Thank you!!

  2. Thanks for the framework for something I’ve been doing out of necessity and desperation from time to time, with great benefits, yet feeling guilty because I’m not able to “keep up.” Creative respite is incredibly productive, and nourishes me in ways nothing else does. AND it’s important to continue being open and learning. The question is always finding the balance.

    I greatly appreciate this articulation of the problem, mostly in terms of solutions.

    • Hi Deborah,

      I used to just dwell on the problem and spin it around in countless ways. Eventually, I came to realize that if you don’t offer solutions – to your own issues and to other people’s (who are open to the value you provide) – you generally should just stay out of the way. I struggle too with “keeping up,” but managing a potentially overwhelming environment is now a welcome challenge. Is there something in particular that you plan to do more of, less of, or differently as a result of reading this article?

  3. I’ve always had the opposite problem: an internal fountain so prolific I long ago gave up trying to use it all. But posts like this help me understand my writing clients who haven’t learned to trust their internal inspiration yet.

    I’ll be sharing those tools with my readers. Practical and simple.

    I learned to live without caffeine long ago. I use coffee as a tool sometimes, but simply getting enough sleep and enough water makes a world of difference.

    Exercise is a different matter . . .

    • You’re a familiar name – and not just because we’re both Joels – but I don’t think we’ve directly interacted before. It’s time to remedy that in these comments (our mutual friend Shanna Mann would have been the catalyst for this eventually).

      Congrats on achieving your prolific internal fountain, Joel! I imagine there are periodic downsides to this, but the upsides look promising from an outsider’s perspective. Can you explain a little about how you came to have this endless internal well to tap whenever you needed to? There are many people who could benefit from understanding your path and how your compass never needs to point anywhere but back at you.

      P.S. Sleep and water are not underrated. I’m always conscious of how these two huge forces impact my abilities at certain points in time.

      • Your THAT Joel. Amazing. (Shanna is a stupendous connector. Funny to meet up at Mark’s place.)

        Here’s the short version: the fount is not something I created, it’s merely something I recognize, because EVERYONE has it. To be human is to be creative. Until you’re 12, and they talk you out of it.

        I went through some Major Life Events ™ which slammed me hard and made me take a look at what I really wanted. Looking inside, I realized that if I wasn’t emotionally self-sufficient, I wasn’t going to survive. We all need others, we need external relationships and inspiration. But in any given moment, some external stimuli will be unavailable. At that moment, we can be self-sufficient, or we can live without something.

        It’s a slippery concept, much like how we all need approval, and the best way to get the approval we need is not to need it. From the specific to the general and back again.

        The greatest work I’ve done with my clients is to help them look inward and find answers to their questions, solutions to their problems and challenges, and visions for their creativity.

        We all put up a shield on the outside, to protect ourselves as necessary (or as perceived) from the 6 core fears: injury or death, abandonment, ridicule and rejection, confinement, loss of control, the strange and unknown.

        What very few people ever note is that we put up a shield on the inside as well, to prevent the voices in our head and heart, our unconscious, from sending up messages we don’t want to hear.

        One of those is our innate ability to create. With infinite power comes infinite responsibility.

        Have I wandered so far afield that it’s stopped making sense?

        • I just followed the path you lead us down, Joel. I dig it! Self-sufficiency is an amazing thing to grant yourself. I say grant yourself instead of having someone else bestow it upon you because we normally only need our own permission and resources.

          Thanks for such insightful commentary. It’s guidance like this that explains why I read comments on blog posts.

  4. Lynne Brassi says:

    Reading your artilce helped confirm something for me. Thanks! In painting, I’ve long looked for external inspiration as to what to paint, what style. I’ve found rewarding inspiration from my response to seeing other’s art. I eventually realised that for now anyway, I’m drawn to atmosphere / light/ feeling/ mood in painting; irrespective of subject as such. So this has expanded my outlook as to painting ideas and put aside angst about style. Now my focus is to paint to express that inspiration I feel from mood & atmosphere in painting.

    • Sometimes we find confirmation of what we intuitively know in the strangest places. Like a guest post on Lateral Action from a guy named Joel Zaslofsky. :)

      Reading your painting process has made me curious to see your actual paintings, Lynne. Can I find them somewhere online?

  5. I used to be somewhat of a motivation junkie. Anytime I felt lost or uninspired, I’d look for motivation somewhere – either in a book or in a friend.

    I’ve found the most inspiration writing because writing is kind of like problem solving to me. Not sure if anyone else sees it that way, but the whole process of having to put my opinions and ideas into words and the challenge of having it all make sense is very inspiring. Because in the end I understand more than I did when I started. And if it’s published on my blog and I get thoughtful comments that make me think and understand even more.. then that adds to the inspiration big time.

    And to avoid inspiration overload, the best thing is just stop consuming – intentionally. After trying your Continuous Creation Challenge, and seeing the benefits, I could see myself scheduling one once a month. And to avoid burnout while I’m creating, I try to take breaks every 2 hours. A while back, I read that’s the way Roald Dahl wrote – taking breaks after 2 hrs – because he said his writing would be ineffective after that. That’s been true for me as well. When I write for long crazy hours and read it the next day, it’s not good work.

    And as far as curating – I’m still looking for a good way to curate the most helpful articles I’ve read. I used to just use bookmark folders, but that’s starting to become a mess.

    • (Other Joel replying here.)

      Denise, I’m a huge fan of writing as discovery process. Freewriting is very hard for most people to learn, because it requires allowing the flow without self-editing, but somewhere around the 3rd page, stuff starts to come out you didn’t even know was in there.

      Sometimes it helps to have a skilled questioner draw those things out as a way to learn the process, but it involves lots of trust and patience on both sides.

      Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says that flow is only effective in our work for about 90 minutes. (Or did I read that elsewhere? Grr. Don’t know where my notes are.) But after 90 minutes, the benefits of being in the zone, that single-minded focus, fade. Since it takes about 30 minutes to get into flow, 2 hours is a naturally occurring limit.

      If only I could learn to follow it.

    • I feel like most people have peaks and valleys when it comes to needing inspiration to move forward. Well, maybe not Zen masters, but I don’t know many of them.

      I really respect your perspective on why you write, Denise. I’ve never seen anyone else describe writing like problem solving, but it makes sense. Thanks for the kind words as well about the Continuous Creation Challenge. It’s a great way to force yourself (in a positive way) into avoiding the urge for new and external inspiration. Curating, of course, is another topic for another time. Although it’s hard for me to resist commenting on my favorite subject at the moment.

      • Well, then, Joel, when WILL you be writing about curating? I wanna read it.

        • I’m still refining my thoughts on curating our entire existence, or “Experience Curating” as I call it. I’ve actually come a long way in a short period of time on how we leverage its massive power. The first chapter of my Experience Curating book is written and I’m planning to publish it in the first few months of next year. But I realize that doesn’t help you a ton right now.

          You can only hear what I have to say about curating at the moment. My original thoughts are found in episode five of the Smart and Simple Matters show and some updated concepts are discussed in a recent interview I did with master curator, Robin Good.

          If you join me on social media Joel, I’ll share the nutshell version of Experience Curating with you in about a week. My YouTube recording of a five-minute talk I gave on the philosophy should be live by then and I’ll be sharing it through a number of channels.

  6. I tend to overdose on external inspiration. I hoard articles and quotes that might come in useful, even if they don’t apply to whatever I’m working on at the moment. And often, I do find this stuff useful — though sometimes I never look back at it again.

    The most useful practice I’ve found for tapping into my own inspiration is writing my version of morning pages (a practice that the ever wise Shanna Mann convinced me to try). The term comes from Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” (which, I admit, I’ve never read), but my approach deviates somewhat from hers. Before I start in on whatever projects are on my list for the day, I spend a little time free-writing. The topic can be something on my mind, a piece of writing I need to be working on (formal or informal), or even just a prompt question like “What do I need right now?” I usually shoot for 750-ish words, but I don’t hold myself to that. I close the top of my laptop enough that I can’t see the screen or my hands, so that I have to pay attention to what I’m writing and can’t go back and edit or reconsider as I go. Sometimes I even close my eyes. It’s the closest I’ve come to getting my thoughts out of my head without them getting too polished and organized in the process, and what comes out almost always surprises me. I’ve ended up using some of the pieces — with very little editing — for blog posts and the like.

    I think what’s so beneficial about this practice for me is that it gets me away from the constant stream of external inspiration sources and leaves me sitting there with just my own thoughts and a way to record them. Whatever comes out — crap or enlightening or something in between — is from my own head. I’ve yet to find something else that’s as powerful for me.

    • That’s sweet, Erin! The more I hear about amazing experiences with morning pages, the more I’m determined to find the verbal equivalent of them. Can I just talk into my microphone for ten minutes and feel the same kind of impact? How does the practice translate from the written word to the spoken word (or does it)?

      I’d encourage you to continue capturing those articles and quotes because they will come in useful. To you and to others. Ask me how I know. ;)

      • Joel, part of the benefit is moving your hands and watching the words appear. Uses multiple senses and sensations. Speaking is too ethereal to get the same effect.

        What’s your reason for looking for a verbal equivalent? Ease, comfort, functionality?

        • I don’t enjoy writing. However, I do enjoy talking (and I’m much better at it). Basically, I’m looking for any opportunity I can get to stop typing and start speaking more. If only there was such a thing as guest podcasting…

      • Have you tried going the written route? It might surprise you…and it might make writing easier. It certainly has for me.

        I’d be curious what your experiences with just talking for 10 minutes might be. For me, writing seems to bypass the filter I can’t get rid of when I’m talking. But maybe for you it’s the other way around…

  7. Hi Joel,
    Excellent post!
    Your CCC inspired me to do an art retreat on my own, as you do know :-)
    I am having such a great time and your checklist has proven its value.
    The extern inspiration was nessecarry to ignite the journey into internal inspiration.
    Thank you.
    Helga

  8. Hi Mark,

    External VS Internet inspiration? Of course I vote for the internal one because as you said external inspiration lasts no more than a couple of hours or days and it is a result of external people and environment. On the other side, inspiration which emerges from yourself is much much more powerful and lasts almost for decades!

    Thank you,
    Zourkas

  9. I’m with you, Inspiration is an addiction and I’ve been a willing victim. I like to call it Multiple Curiosity Disorderâ„¢ (smile) I’m not sure where the line separates external and internal sometimes – it feels to be one. Everything has the potential to inspire me, people always tell me that I see things others can’t – so is that external or is it internal – I don’t seek it, I find it. (that might be true) Either way, It feels like a curse when I work in fits and starts – paralyzed by possibility which is a fascinating place resembling both pregnancy and purgatory. The sparks bring initial momentum only I’ve not yet learned the best method for sustainability – it feels impossible to sustain momentum for anything that isn’t everything. It was researching such tonight and that brought me somehow to this site and your article. I am glad for that – I am accepting the Continuous Creation Challenge too. Thank you.

    • Your Multiple Curiosity Disorder sounds like being a multipotentialite to me, Kariann. My friend Emilie of Puttylike.com knows all about that and helps people like me (and perhaps like you) with this kind of affliction/blessing.

      I also wanted to let you know that your comment was beautiful, especially when you wrote, “…paralyzed by possibility which is a fascinating place resembling both pregnancy and purgatory.” As you’ve inspired me today, and I hope to return the favor with the Continuous Creation Challenge or something else. Let me know how your “CCC” experience goes in an email or on the Google+ Community dedicated to it. You have a lot to offer the rest of us.

  10. Inspiration for my inspiration – thanks for this :)

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