Stop being an inspiration junkie: how to take real action

by | Personal Effectiveness

Dear readers,

I have a confession to make. (One of those anti-climactic confessions just to make a point.)

I’m an inspiration junkie… I take my first shot when I wake up, and at the end of the day I’m drooling rainbows.

But I really can’t help it, as it feels so great to think of everything I could do, while looking at motivational quotes for hours on end.

Is this you in some way? I know it’s me, and I know it’s most people. We get inspired and have all kinds of good intentions, yet we never act! We never turn this inspiration into action, choosing to stay in a state of mental masturbation instead.

And that’s too bad, because inspiration is the best fuel for change. Do you want to use this fuel as bad as I do? Then bear with me, while I explore how you can use your own inspiration to change your daily life.

Why is inspiration so addictive?

First of all, simply because it feels really good. There is something about hypothesizing the perfect future, about dreaming how it all might be. This hope can help us get through bitter times, but it can also keep us back when we become fearful that it will not truly be that good.

So we fear that our carefully constructed dream will go bust. Remember the moment before picking up the phone to call your new love interest? Wasn’t it much nicer not to call, to keep the butterflies flying around, protecting them from possible rejection? We like to keep dreaming, to keep our head in the clouds, never realizing that only getting out of the cloud will result in true progress in our lives (plus, the view above the clouds is much nicer).

Moreover, our culture is built on looking to the future instead of the now. You’re not happy now? Well then, just buy this product and you’ll be happy! For proof, just look at this ad which only features smiling people! But this never works for long, so we keep looking to the future to bring us happiness. Even worse is that employees are kept engaged with the prospect of an approaching promotion, all the while putting up with just 25 vacation days a year, making big plans for after their retirement. Oh, and don’t forget, pray every day and go to heaven at the end of your life!

Another reason why it’s so easy to keep dreaming and stay addicted to inspiration, is that taking action is hard. Let’s take a classic example: you get inspired to eat salads instead of your daily McHuge with extra mayonnaise, after which you feel like shit. Picking up the menu in the drive-through used to cost you about five minutes, but slicing and drying the lettuce, making some organic mayonnaise etcetera will cost you an hour a day. Yet imagining how fit you’ll feel is effortless. The message: taking action is hard, dreaming is easy.

What is meaningful action?

There are some pieces of inspiration that can’t really be acted upon. If you dream of being a fairy tale princess or the frog she kisses, no amount of action is going to make that dream real. (Sorry for putting it so bluntly. I hope you’ll still read on.) But it’s very possible to act upon most of our other chunks of inspiration. And sometimes that results in meaningful action.

For me, taking meaningful action is writing this article. Or travelling. Or minding my breath in moments of stress. Or bringing a smile upon someone else’s face (street merchants, for example, by saying a heartfelt thanks and smiling a genuine smile).

For you, it might be to cook yourself a healthy meal. Or to pick up those dumbbells and start exercising. Or to stop and smell the flowers on your way to work.

In the end, I see meaningful action as being something that gives a sense of direction to my life. The most intuitive definition I can give is:

Taking meaningful action is something that might not always be easy, but that I feel I must do because it will take me, or others, a step forward.

And that can be as small as bringing a single smile upon someone’s face (including my own).

It’s in the small things

When you try to find what inspires you, don’t immediately look for the big things. Don’t think you should become a racecar driver to live the most exciting life. Or that you should move to Africa to help orphaned kids. Those are perfectly fine endavors, but they stem from elephant-sized chunks of inspiration—useful to move your life path in a certain direction, but they drown out the details.

Because next to those big chunks of inspiration, we have the small bits: the urge to look at the clouds, to hear the birds chirping, to marvel at the universe, to pull down your pants in a crowded place just to see what happens. Look for the details, because life happens in the details. Even if you’re a racecar driver, the best moments are when you take that turn with graceful precision, or that second when you pass your opponent to take the lead. Isn’t life as a whole just a pileup of every little detail?

The often-used phrase “happiness is in the small things” describes exactly this, and the reason that people feel this way is, in my opinion, twofold: focusing on something small…

  • creates space to be in the moment. For a second you’re not overtaken by the incessant, all-enveloping stream of thoughts, but you’re actually here, on earth, in this moment of time.
  • instills a sense of wonder and inspiration.

Creating this small piece of quality time for yourself is, in my vocabulary, moving forward, thus it is meaningful action. So next time you take a stroll, stop for a second and smell the flowers along the way.

Taking action

Let’s finish by looking at how we can truly convert inspiration into action. When unused, it becomes useless, like a shisha without tobacco, a swimming pool without water, your legs when you have a segway, whatever your preferred metaphor is.

The problem with inspiration is that it quickly subsides. With inspiration comes motivation, but no matter how large this new bout of motivation is, it will ebb soon and you’ll return to your stream of ingrained habits. So the first tip is: act on your inspiration while it’s fresh.

Acting in other ways than ingrained habits and impulses dictate requires willpower (self-control), which is defined as

“the capacity to override one response (and substitute another).”

Luckily, willpower is like a muscle: it can be exercised. We already know this: at first, something takes a lot of effort, but when it has become a habit, it’s almost effortless. So to make it easier to consistently use your inspiration, make taking action a habit.

A final suggestion: maybe it helps to see taking action as a reward to yourself. Isn’t acting on your inspiration an attempt to create a more meaningful life for yourself, and isn’t that the ultimate expression of self-love?

Addiction to inspiration is not a new affliction, but there do seem to be more sufferers than ever. Inspiration junkies have great ideas about the future, but are taken by surprise when the future actually happened, yesterday. Don’t fall into that trap, bring some meaningful change into your life if you feel even the slightest urge!

Did you act on your inspiration recently? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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