It’s common to confuse the meaning of motivation versus inspiration, as they both have a similar meaning. When you’re inspired, you have the urge or ability to engage in a specific task or feel a certain way. Similarly, being motivated is the desire to behave in specific ways, and that prompts you into action.
Both motivation and inspiration lead to action. Inspiration can be the reason we compose a song or try something new with our exercise routine. Motivation can help us accomplish those things, too. But while the words are similar in meaning, they actually mean significantly different things.
What is Motivation?
Motivation is a psychological concept. It’s a stimulant or driving force that compels you to take action. Meaning, when you feel mentally stimulated, you behave or act in a particular way. You focus on a goal, like exercising daily, and that goal triggers you into action.
When you feel hungry, you’re then motivated to find something to eat. When you feel guilty about not seeing a friend, you’re motivated to contact them. Motivation can be psychological, biological, or social. It causes an action, often based on what you think you should be doing.
Motivation is a great tool because once you have a defined goal, you can focus your efforts on achieving that goal. You can use shared goals to help friends, team members, and employees take action towards success.
What is Inspiration?
Inspiration is a little trickier. It’s the feeling you get when you encounter a specific experience. A wide variety of stimuli can trigger it and it’s different for everybody. What inspires you may not inspire your neighbor and vice versa.
When you’re inspired, it’s easy to find a reason to act. It comes naturally. But it’s less likely to create long-term action. For example, you can leave a TED Talk inspired to start your own business. But once the emotional connection goes away and left with a long list of difficult tasks, it’s easy to put the notebook away and start something else.
Inspiration can be difficult to sustain progress over months or years because it’s often connected to ambiguous ideas. These are your dreams, your hopes, your greatest ambitions. And they come with deep emotions. The vague nature of inspiration makes it a concept that’s difficult to pin down into action. Rather than focusing on the details of the goal, inspiration encourages you to act out of a deep desire to maintain the emotional connection you initially felt.
The Important Difference
One way to look at the difference between motivation and inspiration is what triggers the action. Motivation creates action. The more you plan, and the more you achieve, the more motivated you feel to continue driving that action forward. But inspiration is more of a pull. You feel compelled to act in that moment, but once the moment is over, the urgency to continue the action goes down. Motivation is a drive, inspiration is a feeling.
It’s easier to sustain motivation in others as well. You can motivate people by breaking their goals into bite-sized chunks and encouraging them to keep pushing forward. But if you can’t dig into that internal, emotional well, it’s difficult to keep someone inspired, which then is hard to sustain their focus toward their goals. You can tie motivation to any goal, where inspiration is connection with individual personality, values, and beliefs.
How to Apply Them
When you seek to motivate someone, you’re persuading them into an action or behavior through defined goals. But when you inspire someone, you’re influencing them. One has clear metrics for success, where the other is encouraging a general outcome without parameters. That makes it difficult to sustain and even more difficult to tap into.
Because motivation involves breaking a goal down into steps, it takes away the emotional pull that inspiration relies on. This can make it easier to bounce back from setbacks, overcome difficult obstacles, and build confidence.
Motivation also taps into the reward system in the brain, which triggers the release of the same chemicals in the brain that inspiration does. The key difference is that the reward system drives behavior through these neurochemical connections. Inspiration creates emotion when thinking about the overall idea, but motivation creates emotion at every small step along the way. That is far more likely to keep you engaged and focused while working towards your goal.
Look at the difference this way. A healthy diet might inspire you emotionally, but to sustain that lifestyle you have to change your daily behavior. If you rely on inspiration, you have to tap into those deep, emotional reserves every time you think about what you want to eat. But if you break eating down into all the tiny steps from grocery shopping to cooking, you make changing your diet manageable and easier to achieve.
The key to understanding the difference between motivation and inspiration is identifying the driving action. Inspiration can start you on your goals, but it can’t sustain behavior over a long period. You can only tap into inspiration when you link the behavior directly with your internal values, emotions, personality, and interests.
Motivation, on the other hand, creates momentum, which drives your action forward step-by-step. It’s self-sustaining and replicable—no matter what goal you apply it to. You can create motivation in others and sustain motivation towards long-term goals.
While inspiration has been the source of amazing creative, industrial, and societal achievements throughout history, motivation doesn’t rely on an emotional spark to get started. Once you understand how to unlock motivation, you unlock the potential to achieve any dream and any goal, allowing you to live your limitless life.
If you want to learn more about how to tap into motivation and reach any goal, watch this video: