How to Get Inspired

Pure Joy!

Kids are naturally inspired. How can you get some for yourself?

Last week, I spoke to a group of trainees in one of  the top wealth management programs in the world. If you saw the Pursuit of Happyness, then you know their life. Six months of intensive work, endless cold calls to find clients, and a high all-or-nothing benchmark of client money to get under management by the end of the program.

Most fail or drop out.

I was there to discuss how to cultivate personal presence to earn a client’s trust. You can imagine that I had a highly engaged audience as this was a singular goal for the entire group. The room was filled with motivated, energetic go-getters. Yet, one guy stood out. He was lit from within. His entire presence said positivity — not in a screaming, effortful way, but in a natural, grounded way. His comments were thoughtful, encouraging and self-aware. He was clearly inspired about not just this new career, but about life.

My money’s on him to make it, and be a smashing success.

I think a lot about inspiration. My life’s work is helping others communicate to influence, engage and build followership. Mostly, I focus on how to inspire other people, as I discussed in this prior post.

But it’s impossible to inspire others without being personally inspired. Inspiration is an internal light that, for most of us, shines intermittently. There are occasions when we have it in spades, and other times when we can’t buy it.

Inspiration is a unique feeling in the human condition. It starts inside of us, and emanates outward. It’s raw energy moving us forward. Others can see it, and feel it. We’re drawn to it.

And it’s different from motivation, which is a reaction to outside circumstances. You may be motivated to get a new job to buy a new house, but you’re inspired for you.

How do we exactly get inspired when we’re not? Or get out of a rut of comfort or complacency?

I’ve done my own research in this area, and it continues to be a learning edge. I’m generally an inspired person. However, like everyone, I lose it and know how flat life is without it.

One of my goals with my work is to bring more inspiration into the world. (It’s lofty; but hey, I’m inspired to do my part.) Here’s what I’ve found works in my research and experience to get a jolt of inspiration when you need it.

1. Carve out thinking time.

Neuroscience research shows that insights happen when we have a quiet mind. Sixty percent of problems are solved through these a-ha moments. Since insights trigger inspiration, we have to seek out times to think. In our data-saturated, distracted lives, this requires being purposeful. As I wrote about here, the book The Thinking Life offers practical ideas for incorporating thought time into your day. One favorite tip is making drive time, quiet time. Another is carrying a journal to work through ideas while waiting for meetings or appointments.

2. Seek new input.

Boredom and routine sucker punch inspiration. The new — whether ideas, experiences, or perspectives — help us to make mental connections. Novelty forces us out of our ruts and gives us fresh concepts to process. How you go about getting new input can vary with your style. I’ve seen people find success by starting a business book club, joining an outside industry committee, or committing to seeing friends regularly. Heck, you could start doing hot yoga. Just do it. And hit refresh regularly.

3. Take a step.

MLK said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” What gets us stuck is that we’re unsure of the entire plan. We’re in analysis paralysis trying to fit all the pieces together before we begin. But we may never see all the pieces from our vantage point at the bottom of the stairs, and so we have to start the ascent without clarity.

At times having a green field of opportunities is hardest. When I sold my last business, I remember feeling that I could take so many different avenues that it felt scary to start down any of them. I find this same condition with my stay-at-home mom friends seeking fulfillment by launching a new career. There are so many ways to go that the easiest choice is no decision.

Back to #2, that first step creates new input that leads us places we can’t imagine at the outset. Movement leads to inspiration. Plus, so much of life is experiential. You don’t know how you’ll feel until you’re there.

4. Get creative.

Inspiration often comes from using other, less-used parts of our intellect. Visuals have been found  to light up various parts of our brains, as has music. That’s why good motivational speakers incorporate both in their presentations. If you need inspiration, look at art, or photography. Put on music and go for a walk (my fave). The brain is a quirky organ. Often when we focus on something altogether unrelated, we gain an insight on a problem we’ve worked hard to solve for months.

5. Fill up your energy tank.

It’s Maslow’s hierarchy at work — if our basic human needs aren’t fulfilled then we’ll never travel up to the point of self-actualization. Fatigue undercuts inspiration at every turn. As does continuous stress. If those are your living conditions, you’ll battle to be inspired every day.

Tony Schwartz’s work has raised the dialogue from time management to energy management. Consider how important energy is to your ability to inspire yourself and others. What’s more critical? When you feel depleted, don’t accept it as a normal part of your life. You know all the ways to gain energy: eating better, exercising, reducing stress, sleeping more.

Another, less finger-wagging way, is to find fun. Seek out people who give you joy, and take time to enjoy them. Same goes for activities. We’re at our best when we have an inspired career, in an even more inspired life.

How do you inspire yourself? Comment here or @kristihedges.

Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage OthersShe blogs at kristihedges.com

Advertisements

What Does and Doesn’t Inspire Others (No sound bites required)

Mitt Romney takes his shot at inspiring

It’s that time of year again: the air is crisp, leaves are falling, and political candidates are arguing. Even as we just left the polls this Tuesday, we’re really preparing for the Big One, as this is the oh-so-lucky year before the presidential race. We get twelve more months of this, so gear up!

Of course, unless you’re a political consultant, you’re probably not too excited about listening to the candidates (and their ads) for months on end. Most political leaders — like their corporate counterparts — simply aren’t inspiring. We’re not even sure they believe what they’re saying.

And boy do we need some inspiration about now. The Harvard Business Review recently featured a downright depressing blog post on America’s pull toward mediocrity. The worst part was that we’ve heard this message before, and it’s a widely accepted viewpoint. We don’t even have the energy for outrage. (Especially since it was a major theme in the last presidential campaign with little progress.)

Inspirational leaders seem to be able to ignite a magical light in others, both a call to action and a breath of optimism. We need it in government, our community, and in business. One could easily argue that being able to inspire others is the leader’s job. A leader can never manage, direct or cajole enough to achieve great success, but must inspire self-motivation.

Especially in times of uncertainty, authenticity is paramount and palpable. You can’t phone in inspiration. To inspire a feeling in others you must have it in you first. It is impossible to get others excited if you are burnt-out or unsure. Nor can you get others to take something seriously if you don’t think it’s a big deal yourself. But if you believe down to your soul, and demonstrate the actions to back it up, doors will fly open.

If you’re looking to hone your inspirational skills, try these practices of great leaders:

  • Get intentional about your actions, and the desired reaction.

Inspiring leaders aren’t accidental, they work at it. In fact, every great leader I’ve ever worked with has believed that inspiring others is a craft that needs to be constantly honed. Inspiring leaders are intentional about what they want to communicate AND what emotion they want to impart. They have an acute ability to bottom line a situation and communicate straight to that objective.

  • Be self-aware and authentic.

Motivational leaders have a keen sense of how they are perceived by others. They pay attention to their own body language to make sure their intent is clear. Many actively seek out advice in order to constantly improve on their skills. Finally, they don’t try to be someone they aren’t. They know who they are, and what personal characteristics  draw others to them. They try to be more of themselves, rather than more of someone else.

  • Relate on an individual level.

We are drawn to people as individuals, not as concepts such as business owner or boss. Great leaders take the time to really know others – whether customers, employees, partners or friends – in order to foster strong individual relationships. They are the ones who remember your kids’ names and ask about your weekend softball league. Even when talking to large groups, they make a connection based on shared interests and set a tone of commonality.

  • Be open to viewpoints and listen attentively.

Listening is a gift that you give to others, and takes very little to do. Yet most leaders do too much talking and not nearly enough listening. Inspiring leaders make people feel heard – whether or not they agree with them. They give people the courtesy of their full attention. They don’t make you compete with their Blackberries or scan the networking event while you are talking.

  • Share your failures and struggles as leveraged experiences.

Business leaders often feel the pressure to be perfect – to be stoic, have the right answers, and hide weakness. However, we’re drawn to each others’ weaknesses – it’s what makes us human. Back to the election, we look at candidate’s backgrounds to find what they are made of – where they have struggled and overcome. The same is true of business leaders. Inspiring leaders don’t hide their failures; they admit them and use them as learning experiences. They share struggles openly when it makes sense to leverage them for moving the company forward. They aim not to be on a pedestal, but on common ground.

  • Learn to be a story teller.

People are overloaded with data and rarely retain it. What we do remember are stories. Humans are story tellers by nature, and use them to create understanding for ourselves. Stories transport us and form a connection that is lasting. Great leaders share their stories openly to make their points come alive and to motivate others.

Heads Up: Cautionary Tales Coming Your Way

In the next year, there will be ample opportunities to learn from the mistakes of others about what doesn’t inspire (and hopefully a few that can demonstrate what does.). View it all through your leadership lens. When someone inspires or motivates you, think about what caused it. How did they affect you? What made you remember them? How can you apply that learning to a pressing business issue you have?

Never forgot that your team wants — even hopes — to be inspired. By you.

Herein lies a leader’s great challenge and greatest possibility.

This post also appears on Forbes.com.

%d bloggers like this: