The Difference Between Inspiration and Motivation

By Mia Barnes – January 1, 2021

Sometimes, the magic works. You get an idea that excites you, invigorates you and makes you feel alive.

Other times, you stare at life as if it’s a blank page, and you have a nasty case of writer’s block. And yet, you still power through and get things done, even if it only feels like you’re going through the motions.

This phenomenon raises the question — what is inspiration and motivation, anyway? Are they the same thing? As you’ll see, while you need both to succeed, there are substantial differences between them.

What Is Inspiration?

Inspiration is like a lightning strike. It’s a transformative experience that takes you out of the mundane present and into a world of fascinating possibilities.

If you Google the phrase “What is inspiration?” you’ll find several dictionary definitions. According to the fine folks at Oxford, it’s “the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially creative.”

When English poet John Keats gazed upon a Grecian urn, he felt so moved that this work of art had withstood the test of time that he likewise had to memorialize it in poetry. His flash of inspiration arose, not only from the vase itself, but from the symbiosis between what he saw and what it meant to him.

Thus, inspiration is both a sudden realization and marriage of consciousnesses. It occurs when something in the external world resonates harmoniously with your soul-knowledge, leading to a flash of insight about your relationship with the universe around you and your place in it.

When inspiration strikes, you often feel overwhelmed with so much emotion that you feel like you would move Mt. Everest to share your new insight with the world. However, much like time will eventually crumble Keats’ urn to dust, once the feeling fades, so does your urge to act.

Inspiration, therefore, is only one ingredient in the grand cake of creation. To complete your work of art — or finish your novel or build your business — you need something more.

What Is Motivation?

 You could say that while inspiration is the match that lights the flame, motivation is the wick and wax that keeps the candle burning. Like inspiration, it waxes and wanes, but like a fireplace, you have to stoke it to keep it alive.

Psychologists even study motivation, and they separate it into two categories — extrinsic and intrinsic: 

  • Extrinsic motivation arises from outside yourself. For example, you might get up and go to work in the morning, regardless of whether you want to, because you have bills to pay.
  • Intrinsic motivation comes from within. You participate in hobbies, for example, because they bring you joy. This type of motivation covers the things you would do even if nobody asked you to do them.

Sometimes, the lines between the two become blurred. For example, you might exercise because it delights your body to move. However, you might also do so to stay in shape, fight off disease and — hopefully — enjoy a longer, more active life.

To create works of genius in 2021, you’ll need motivation to harness inspiration’s energy. Think of how many people you know who have said, “I’m going to work out everyday,” versus those who actually get in movement everyday. Whether it’s completing your New Year’s resolution or simply making a promise to yourself, here’s how you can work to execute your goals in 2021.

How to Cultivate Inspiration and Motivation in Your Life 

How can you inspire yourself and harness the power of motivation to keep your next flash of inspiration from fizzling in the proverbial pan? You can cultivate both, but in the end, there is no substitute for rolling up your sleeves.

1. Getting Inspired

If you want to feel inspired, you need to spend some time alone to let the match strike tinder in your brain. Take a walk in a gorgeous, natural setting. Wander a museum and gaze at works of art for hours on end.

Be patient with yourself. Even if you install a lightning rod atop your house, there’s no guarantee that the next storm will power your kite. History doesn’t tell us exactly how long Ben Franklin stood around in the rain — only that he could demonstrate the electrical nature of lightning in the end. 

2. Getting Motivated

Motivation, while slightly less glamorous, requires no luck. All you need is a system to keep moving forward:

Get a Planner

Write down what you hope to accomplish and dedicate time to it each week. Do you dream of completing a novel? If you wait until you “feel” like writing, you may never finish. But if you write one page a day, you’ll have 365 pages in a year.


Do a guided meditation where you imagine yourself working through each step on the journey toward your goal. If you struggle to start, you can find tons of freebies on YouTube.

Do It Even When It’s Hard

Unless you’re one of the seven dwarfs, you may not whistle your way into work each morning — but you still report for duty. Take progress toward your goals every bit as seriously, and put in the effort even on the days when it feels like a chore.


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