Whether you're feeling weather-related blahs or just have a sense that your life could use some perking up, there are times when we can all use some inspiration. Sometimes you just can’t get yourself motivated, and you don’t have a clue about how to get started. Even though your to-do list is quite full, it’s not enough to wake you from your listless state.
Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D. is currently a professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The author of over 160 refereed articles and book chapters and 16 books (many in multiple editions and translations), her most recent popular work is The Search for Fulfillment.
Editor: Arman Ahmed
Psychologists who study inspiration face a similarly daunting task. As stated by Texas A&M University Commerce’s Daniel Chadborn and Stephen Reysen (2016), “The psychology of inspiration has, over the course of its study, been fraught with issues concerning its definition and focus.” However, they believe that a clearer picture is emerging from the various strands of research and theory that have emerged over the years. Their study of inspiration provides a few ways to boost your creativity.
The authors started with the premise that “inspiration acts as a motivational concept, in which inspiration is evoked (generated) from a source and a person then finds some means to transmit an idea and is driven to produce some creative outcome as a result.” Inspiration involves a passive and an active aspect: It is passive in the sense that you see someone else who leads you to want to improve yourself, and active in that it leads you, in turn, to want to create something of value. When you’ve got a case of the blahs, seeing someone you admire being successful may just help you fire up your own creative juices.
Chadborn and Reysen were particularly interested in the notion of inspiration from a social identity perspective, or how seeing yourself as similar to someone else can inspire you to reach for greater heights. However, in addition to seeing yourself as similar, you also need to see the other person as having greater status or some other quality that you wish you had. If you’re a cook trying to get motivated to prepare your next meal, you’ll be more inspired by a cable show featuring a top chef than the hash-slinger who lives next door.
To test their hypothesis that identification would trigger inspiration, the Texas A&M researchers conducted a series of studies on college student samples (primarily white females) to complete questionnaires assessing their degree of identification with their own group (Americans), as well as identification with an “outgroup” consisting of either artists or accountants. With no outgroup specified (i.e. Americans), the extent to which participants identified as American was associated with greater inspiration. With an outgroup stereotyped to be more creative, though (i.e. artists), the ingroup made less of a difference than did identification with the higher-status outgroup.
Thus, you don’t always have to dig deep into your own soul to get inspired. You can turn to those you see as similar to yourself or, even better, those you see as personifying the inspirational goals you would like to achieve.
Let’s take a look at how you can incorporate the findings of the Chadborn and Reysen study into your own ability to motivate yourself:
- Don’t give up on yourself when you can’t seem to get inspired. It's easy to conclude, especially when you’re in the doldrums, that you’re just not a very motivated or talented person. The ingroup-outgroup inspiration study shows that you can be brought out of your doldrums under the right conditions.
- Accept that it’s OK, and maybe even advisable, to look to others for sources of inspiration. The ideas and beliefs of others can help guide you to greater heights.
- Take a mental break to allow yourself to refocus. Digging into your own mental processes can provide unexpected sources of inspiration. In some of the items on the measure of inspiration used in the Texas A&M study, just thinking about what is important about being an American tapped into how inspired the participants felt.
- Use spontaneity to your advantage. One item on the inspiration questionnaire used in the study asks participants whether their ideas come to them spontaneously. Again, taking that mental break can also be the break from the rut you’re in and you’ll see things in a different light.
- Read something. You may just have run out of ideas. Perhaps you’re tired of cooking the same meals week after week. Refreshing your recipe stash can lead you down a trail of completely new ideas that represent great variations from your standard fare.
- Team up with others. Putting your group identity to work may mean that you partner up with people, like you, who are also seeking new sources of inspiration. Together, you may find that you’re bouncing far more creative ideas off each other than you could have come up with on your own.
- Realize that there are just some times in life when you won’t feel very inspired. It’s OK to spend the day in your sweats, couch- and web-surfing, and just relax. Maybe it is cold and gray outside, or perhaps too hot even to move. An occasional day off shouldn’t detract you from achieving your goals.
- You may not get that one great idea, but perhaps you’ll have several small ideas that you can build up into something grand.Break your inspiration down into manageable pieces