Motivation from Inspiration

This week I’ve been doing an awful lot of reflection on what kind of person I want to be. It was sparked by an off-hand comment a friend made on a chat program and has kind of snowballed into a critical reflection on the kind of person that I am (I’m certain that I took the comment in a much different way than my friend intended). I’ve been concerned that my motivation for achievement has some very shallow and self-centered roots. That my thirst for achievement has more to do with comparing myself to others or impressing others than it does with personal satisfaction and growth. I don’t want to be motivated by these things, so I’m trying to find other sources of motivation to help balance myself. I don’t think I’ll ever be rid of my competitive side that drives me to compare myself to others or seek out praise, but I can certainly seek to add other kinds of motivation.

One of the ways I find to channel some of my competitive urge from negative to positive is to use inspiration to fuel my motivation. I focus on a role model and use their life, accomplishments, personality traits, and talents to inspire me to work on those same aspects of myself. I see it as an indirect form of competition since really you are competing with an ideal and not the actual person. Here are some questions that I use to help me find my motivation from inspiration.

Who do I admire and respect? I try to think of different people, past and present, who make me go ‘Wow!’ These are the people who make me stop and really pay attention to all the great things that the human species is capable of. These may be world famous individuals or they may be people who are simply within your own little community. I’m sure that we could come up with a huge list of people, but don’t succumb to the temptation to simply create a list of 100 famous people from history. Instead try to pick a few people who have some personal meaning to you. Someone who stands out from the rest. Also, for actually doing this exercise, it’s easiest to only focus on one person at a time. If you try to incorporate the skills and talents of more than one person, you’ll probably just find yourself overwhelmed.

Why do I respect this person? The next step of the process is to actually define what it is about this person that you respect. Take a look and see if you can write down a list of their qualities. What is it that made this person successful? Was it their bravery? loyalty? kindness? determination to succeed against all odds? trueness to themselves? ambition? the ideals they hold important? maintaining grace under pressure and scrutiny? I’m sure one or many of that list will end up on the list that you make for whomever you have chosen.

How can I foster those qualities in myself and express them in my life? Now we come to the fun (and hard) part. Look at the list of qualities that you have admired in that other person, and compare it to your own behaviour and actions. How do you measure up? Try to be honest with yourself and don’t simply pat yourself on the back and say “yup, that’s just like me too!” That kind of attitude won’t actually bring you any personal growth or progress. Another danger to be wary of is to see it as hopeless and just shoot yourself down by saying that you’ll never be able to do the things that person did. This attitude isn’t really helpful either and if you’ve picked a person who is meaningfully important to you, you should be able to find some aspect of your own life to develop.

What is your action plan? Finally, it’s always better to actually write down some goals. So, take a look at your list and write down the ways that you plan on fostering the qualities you are going to be working on. Keep the list somewhere you will see it every day. Even better if you can refer to a picture or other reminder of the person that you chose so you can remind yourself of your goals.

You can choose to do this kind of exercise to orient yourself in life if you are feeling lost or you can do this to help motivate yourself towards a specific goal. Here are some examples of people whom I’ve used in the past to inspire myself . . .

  • Terry Fox – when I was training for the 10 km run I did last year, it was hard to be running so frequently. When I found myself dogging it on the treadmill I tried to keep Terry Fox in mind. Did you know that on average he ran the distance of a marathon every day when he was running across Canada? His prosthetic leg chaffed and caused bleeding and he kept running. He ran through bad weather on roads of all conditions and even when he was sick. Thinking of his determination made it a lot easier to do my runs which were small in comparison.
  • Audrey Hepburn – whenever I think of grace and style my mind always travels to her. I try to embody her image whenever the situation calls for class and elegance. She always seemed to be easy and natural with herself but maintained poise and dignity as well.
  • Benjamin Sisko – yes, you can pick fictional people too! I am a huge Star Trek fan and this character captured my imagination and admiration from the get-go. His values, decisiveness, beliefs, eloquence, leadership, and dignity were evident from the very first episode of DS9 (that’s short hand referring to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine for any non-trekkies out there). I suppose the credit could also go to the actor who plays him (Avery Brooks), the writers and producers who created the character, and even to Gene Rodenberry who had the original vision for the Star Trek universe (even though this series diverged from his original vision).  But, his vision of humanity fits so nicely in line with my own, that focusing on that character seems easier to me for the purposes of this exercise.  Here is a good quote from Sisko from the first episode:

That may be the most important thing to understand about humans. It is the unknown that defines our existence. We are constantly searching… not just for answers to our questions… but for new questions. We are explorers… . We explore our lives day by day… and we explore the galaxy, trying to expand the boundaries of our knowledge. And that is why I am here. Not to conquer you with weapons or ideas. But to coexist and learn.

  • My grandmother – for whom, unfortunately, no wikipedia entry exists.  I don’t know much about her but I do know that she raised a family and ran a farm after her husband died in World War II.  I’ve also heard that during that war she helped a Jewish family hide and escape the country (my family comes from Germany).  I can only imagine the difficulties she faced and had the courage to do the right thing in the face of fear and danger.
  • My mother – even though we have our differences, I’ve come to admire her for her strength and determination.  She is a force moving through the universe and if you get in her way you may just be scooped up and taken along for the ride.  But don’t worry, because if my mom involved with it, it’s safe, sturdy and efficient!
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    1 Comment

    1. February 11, 2008 at 5:04 pm

      […] Models.  As I mentioned in my post about finding Motivation from Inspiration, a role model can be a very effective way to find inspiration.  Searching online can be a great […]


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