One of the most common misconceptions about inspiration is that it’s fleeting.
“Inspiration is always more active than mere appreciation. There’s a thrilling feeling of elevation, a burst of energy, an awareness of enlarged possibilities,” writes New York Times columnist David Brooks in an essay about what inspiration means. “The person in the grip of inspiration has received, as if by magic, some new perception, some holistic understanding, along with the feeling that she is capable of more than she thought.”
But it’s far often less magic and more about the right circumstances. Think about all of the times a great idea has hit you. What were you doing? Who were you talking to? What was your mindset like? All of these things can hold influence over you, and, most importantly, you over them.
“Inspired work stands apart from normal life. In the first place it’s not about self-interest as normally understood. It’s not driven by a desire for money or grades or status. The inspired person is driven intrinsically by the work itself. The work takes hold of a person,” Brooks continues.
Simply put: You don’t have to wait for inspiration to strike. You can create the perfect conditions to amplify moments where you discover what inspires you.
1. Carry a notebook
It’s true that inspiration can be sporadic. Maybe it’s a conversation you hear while you’re in line ordering morning coffee. Maybe it’s a piece of advice from a dear friend. Or the colors on a billboard.
Whatever it is, don’t assume that you’re going to remember it for later. Write it down, and include as much detail as you can. When you return to it later you’ll want to remember the main points and the reasons why it stood out to you, even if they weren’t too clear in the moment. The tricky thing about inspiration is sometimes it’s so clear and others it’s a glimmer of an idea. Both are equally important.
An inspiration journal can be as formal (include date, time, setting details) or as lax (free-writing ideas as they come) as you’d like, but make sure it works for you. After all, if what you jot down doesn’t reignite that inspiration, what good was writing it down in the first place?
2. Step outside your comfort zone
Some might say feeling uncomfortable is the key to success. Studies have shown that trying something new can even make you happier.
It’s good for creativity and finding what inspires you, too.
If you’re a creature of routine, then you know how reassuring it can feel. Everything is in your control and you don’t have to wonder what’s ahead. There are a lot of reasons why having a routine is good, but seeking new experiences can help you in a lot of ways too. It heightens your senses, helps you to think about things in new ways because you aren’t relying on what you already know, and forces you to make new decisions.
All of this can seem scary, but it can also be inspiring! Things that inspire us are most often ideas that we haven’t had before. Trying new things invites new ideas, which is the ultimate goal in discovering inspiration. So the next time you hesitate about stepping into the unknown, remember all the good that can come of it.
3. Ask away
Asking questions is an easy invitation for inspiration. The more we learn, the more we have in our arsenal of creativity. Imagine if some of the greatest scientists of our time didn’t ask questions. We might not have all the modern-day amenities that we do or awe-inspiring art.
A journal can be an obvious way to develop and answer these questions, but try thinking through them on the fly as well. Thinking fast can bring a surprising number of ideas.
Whether it’s of yourself or the situation you find yourself in, don’t be afraid to ask tough questions. What’s on the other side of them might just spark something great.
4. Look to your guides
Who is it that you look up to? Is it a famous writer? Painter? Scientist? A teacher or a loved one? Whoever it is, you probably look up to them because they’ve achieved or modeled some attribute you want to emulate. They are inspiring to you. And just the same, they’ve had to seek out new ideas that helped them achieve their success.
For writer Ernest Hemingway, it was his own storied experiences. For French artist Claude Monet, it was his vibrant flower gardens. Each found inspiration in totally different ways and expressed them in different outlets, but they were inspired nonetheless.
Who inspires you can help you find your ultimate inspiration.
Start with a little research. Find the leaders and what inspires them. In the end, it might not be a lightbulb moment, but with enough momentum, it’ll eventually come to you too. Stick with it, the more you learn and the more you try, the more inspiration you’ll potentially have.
5. Brainstorm often
There’s no magic recipe for inspiration, and that may be what makes it so great. Even sometimes a dab of this and a dose of that can produce something pretty tasty.
Brainstorming is often a messy process, but that’s what makes it such a great way to find what inspires you. That is also often messy.
Even so, you can get the most out of brainstorming by:
- Being open to new ideas: Don’t dismiss something because it seems a little silly. Keep it. It might turn into something eventually.
- Setting a good environment: Brainstorming comes easier when it’s in a place you feel comfortable to think outside the box.
- Preparing adequately: There’s a time and place for free-writing. If you need a little more structure in your brainstorming session, make sure you have your research ready.
Doing this as often as you can can make a real difference in finding your inspiration. Even if it starts slow, don’t give up. Rome wasn’t built in a day!