Stop Motivating

We hear this time and time again that in order to get things done we need to motivate ourselves or others around us. True as that might be, there is a far better alternative than the traditional carrot or stick approach.

Firstly let’s look at what motivation really is. Whether we are motivating ourselves or others what we are really doing is trying to ‘push’ ourselves or others towards a temporary objective. That push can either be in the form of a punishment or a reward. Think about how managers of companies motivate their staff by enticing them with bonuses or putting their job on the line, that is essentially the proverbial carrot or stick. Similarly in our personal lives we encounter limitless forms of motivation for instance, our partner cooking us an extravagant dinner (reward) so that we can take them shopping or the kids nagging us (punishment) to buy their favorite toy.

The "Traditional Approach"

This traditional approach has pervaded all aspects of our lives in the way we get things done, it is part of our social conditioning and most people accept it is as gospel. There is however an underlying inefficiency with this approach and that is it is only a temporary answer to getting things done. Motivation becomes progressively inefficient with time yielding diminishing marginal returns whether it is based on positive rewards or negative punishments.

For instance, if you reward an employee’s performance each year by offering a constant year-end bonus, with each passing year the reward will become part of the employee’s expectations thus diminishing the bonus’s effectiveness. To counter this diminishing marginal effectiveness you will need to raise the bonus to achieve a similar raise in performance – this is the reason why employee’s demand raises. They feel the value of their sacrifice of time and energy outweighs the rewards.

In the absence of true purpose for the sacrifice of time and energy, it is human nature to become desensitized to external rewards. The financial rewards become a means to an end whilst their ability to sacrifice their time and energy for other people's purposes diminishes.

So what is the solution to the underlying flaw of the motivation approach?

Inspiration: The Fuel for the Future

When we hear the word inspiration most people are quick to associate it with motivation. The truth is that they are worlds apart yet their primary purposes to drive human behavior are the same.

While motivation may be a fuel that keeps us going temporarily, inspiration is like a fuel that doesn’t run out.

Inspiration means to be “in spirit” and the word spirit comes from the Latin word spiritus meaning breath. So if you are inspired you are literally in breath, or filled with life.

Although everyone’s definition of inspiration may differ it is clear that it is the unspoken code that speaks volumes to truly lead people. I’m sure at some point in your life you’ve met an inspirational leader of some sort, whether they were your manager, friend, family member or even a complete stranger it was clear that this person awoke something deeply profound within you.

The role of the inspirational leader is to show us what’s dormant within us, to awaken and align us to our true purpose and passions. This awakening of purpose breathes new life into us. We become inspired ourselves and able to achieve great feats without the need for rewards let alone rest. When we look at true inspirational leaders such as Gandhi, Mandela or Lincoln we see a force great enough to lead nations and change the world. This is the power of inspiration.

Start Inspiring

There’s no doubt that inspiring others is far more effective than motivating them. This begs the question, how do we start to inspire others?

There is no exact science of inspiration since every leader is unique, however there are some common traits of an inspirational leader that can be adopted. For ease of comparison between the two approaches, let’s briefly look at the differences between Inspiration and Motivation.

  • First of all leaders inspire whilst managers motivate.
  • Inspiration always comes from a positive source whilst motivation can either be positive (rewards) or negative (punishments)
  • Inspiration comes from within oneself where as motivation comes from an external source (i.e. manager, family, friends etc.) Leaders inspire first by finding their own individual source of inspiration then guide you towards your own internal source.
  • Inspiration pulls you towards your (usually long-term) personal goals and purpose whilst motivation pushes towards the temporary tasks and objectives of others.
  • Inspiration is results focused where as motivation is rewards focused. Results are for the betterment of others whereas rewards are usually for self-gain
  • Being inspired can last a life-time regardless of any outside influence whilst motivation can last for seconds, minutes, days, weeks or months provided that the source of motivation is sustained.
  • Inspiration is about finding your greatest potential that’s dormant within you and others. Motivation is about finding what is required to make others perform a task for you.

6 Simple Ways to Start Inspiring Yourself and Others

Find yourself and your purpose: Being inspired doesn’t come over night. It’s a life-long examination and reflection of your inner self. Once you know who you are and where you want to go it’s the combination of clarity of vision and living out your purpose that leads people.

Help others to inspire themselves and find their purpose: You can’t give something you don’t have. If you’re inspired it is far easier to inspire others and help them find purpose. This involves spending the time and energy to understand and know others so that you may guide them towards their personal goals.

Common Humanity: Just like how everyone wants to be treated with respect and fairness finding your common humanity with others will help you connect with others on a profound level.

Serve others: The keystone of inspiration is to serve others rather than yourself. If you devote your time and energy to others selflessly to help others there is no limit to what others will sacrifice for you.

Bring out potential: One thing that distinguishes leaders for managers is that they know how to bring out potential that is dormant within each and every one of us. The more you are able to bring out in others the more you will empower others to achieve the truly remarkable.  

Cultivate Virtues:  Leaders are extremely virtuous in one way or another. Whether they are full of integrity, patience, or humility, a leader’s power comes from their ability to cultivate a solid foundation of virtues. Virtues are the qualities that people strive for yet usually fail to uphold. Be the virtuous leader that people can look up to.

Lead an Inspired Life

Every one of us has the potential to inspire and lead. It’s a matter of looking deep within ourselves to find our true self and purpose then living it out with conviction. Whether it’s in our careers or our personal lives, the only true way to lead ourselves and others is through inspiration. The motivation of others can only take us so far whilst the inspiration we find within ourselves and spread to others can last lifetimes and accomplish true greatness.

In a world filled with motivation, breathe fresh air into your life by inspiring yourself then others and see a world of remarkable accomplishments.  


Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
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A worthy read for those who want to inspire themselves and others.