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


How To Improve Your Memory Over Lunch

Feel like your brain is made of swiss cheese? You can fix it by giving up simple distractions. (Image by Ambro)

Driving back from a meeting recently, balancing a cacophony of mental to-dos while flipping channels on satellite radio, I landed on an NPR interview with P.M. Forni. What he said made me stop and give him my full attention. Forni, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, was discussing his book The Thinking Life: How to Survive in the Age of Distraction. This is an idea that landed in the right car.

Forni’s point is that we’re turning into a society that’s addicted to distraction. Besides making us unsafe drivers and annoying dinner companions, there are deeper consequences. Forni posits that we’re losing our ability to think critically, which also chips away at the human need to be contemplative and strategic about our work and our lives.

Forni isn’t the first person to arrive at this conclusion, though his thesis is relatable to many of us.

Whether your particular distraction is email, Twitter, a smartphone or television, you’ll likely find some truth here. How many of us have quiet time in our day at all? And if we don’t have mental space to process, how do our decisions suffer?

Angelika Dimoka, director of the Center for Neural Decision Making at Temple University, explains this point scientifically. She explains that the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain responsible for decision making and control of emotions, goes on hiatus when it gets overloaded. “With too much information,” says Dimoka, “people’s decisions make less and less sense.”

We need to develop our thinking muscle or it atrophies, Forni says. Relying on knee-jerk decision making is a risky endeavor. As popular writers on behavioral economics, like Jonah Lehrer and Dan Ariely have shown us, gut instinct is highly suspect.

A recent study in Harvard Business Review found that 87% of people made an ethical decision with only three minutes of processing time versus 56% of those who had to respond immediately.

Part of the problem we’re facing, according to Forni, is that information retrieval has replaced memory as what passes for knowledge.

In 2008, an article written by John Naughton of The Observer was headlined: “I Google, therefore I am losing the ability to think.” His conclusion: “The combination of powerful search facilities with the web’s facilitation of associative linking is what is eroding [our] powers of concentration. It implicitly assigns an ever-decreasing priority to the ability to remember things in favor of the ability to search efficiently.”

All of this resonates with me. I find that the Internet has made my memory lazy. I have trouble recalling names of books I’ve read, or historical details. After all, in one click I can go back and look again. And I find that I can have an issue rattling around upstairs for weeks, but when I take a quiet hour or two to process it, I can often knock it out with a good a-ha moment.

So what’s a busy person to do? Can swiss cheese brain be reversed? Fortunately, Forni offers practical ideas for increasing our ability to think without adding more hours in the day. He maintains that with small changes we can seize the time we need for thought. Here are a few tips I found helpful.

  1. The Thinking Lunch. A couple of times a week simply eat lunch and use the time to think. All too often we use our lunch time to read the paper or catch up on email.  If you don’t have a business meeting over lunch, have the meeting with yourself.
  2. Make Car Time Count. We spend a lot of time in our cars, and it’s a prime place for distraction. Forni advises to consider having a quiet car. Don’t automatically turn on the radio or make calls. Instead, use the time to process thoughts or develop ideas.
  3. Embrace Waiting Time. For most of us, when we’re forced to wait we get impatient and reach for any distraction — usually our smartphone or the latest US Magazine at the doctor’s office. Instead, keep a small notebook and use that waiting time for thinking about whatever’s on your mind: that big idea you’re working on, your PowerPoint presentation, or an article you’re writing.
  4. Use the “One-Third Solution.” A good part of what we schedule in our day is out of routine, not necessity. If you want to create more time to think, you may find it by eliminating needless items in your schedule. Whatever you do at work, see if you can do 1/3 less of it. Forni uses business lunches as an example. When we get introduced to someone, lunch is the default. See how many meetings can be done via phone, or over email instead.  With a few small tweaks, you can reclaim hours in your week. The challenge is to not fill them up by surfing Facebook.

Do you have an opinion about creating more thinking time? Share here or @kristihedges.

Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others. This post also appears on

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