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 Bring Your “A” Game and Push Through Nerves

Have a stressful job and need to perform at your best? (Image The Guardian)

Somewhere out there, someone is reading this to get that last tip in preparation for a pivotal career event.

Someone else is reading it frustrated at what didn’t go their way, and looking to figure out how to do better next time.

And still others are considering what their next big event will be, and want to maximize it when it gets here.

We all find ourselves in make or break moments, and most of us feel the pressure. Intensely. Nothing is more nerve-inducing than facing high stakes, when our potential is even higher if we perform at our best.

It could be a presentation to the executive team, or the pitch to land your largest customer deal ever. It could be your first closing argument in court or a meeting with a venture capital firm to get your first million. Or perhaps, with a new year approaching, it’s nailing a job interview so you can start 2012 in the position of your dreams.

No matter the situation, you know it when you’re there. So how do you stay focused to be at your best when it matters the most?

The human body needs a combination of physical and mental conditioning to perform. You need to take care of yourself all the time if you want to be great some of the time.

Tony Schwartz writes extensively on this topic, and one of his early articles in Harvard Business Review sums it up aptly by describing executives as corporate athletes. He and co-author Loehr posit that leaders must spend as much effort on renewing energy as they do expending it. Specifically, they relate it to how athletes train, which includes physical, mental and spiritual aspects. Leaders should emulate this model, and pay heed to the link between mental and physical performance.

Yes, this sounds preachy but think about it – you would never expect an athlete who doesn’t exercise, runs on limited sleep, and fuels with junk food to focus and excel on command. And yet this is exactly the regimen many professionals are training under. This might work for a while, but not if you want to be on your game for the longer term.

This physical conditioning is the underpinning that helps all performance, and creates an optimal environment for mental focus. But we all know there’s a large and looming on-demand, stress management aspect that threatens to derail even the best training. If you find yourself wishing you could have a tried and true A-game no matter the circumstances — or nerves — read on for what I’ve seen work:

1)     Know the players. Much stress comes from not knowing, and the more knowledge you walk in with, the better you’ll feel. Learn everything you can about the people you’ll be meeting with. The more you know about the history and dynamics of the people involved, the better you’ll be able to anticipate the questions you’ll be asked.

On the day of, get there early so you can make small talk and gauge the room before you begin. As a bonus, this can help assuage nerves as you turn the faces into real people with whom you’ve found a connection point.

2)     Go through the motions. Don’t underestimate the importance of creating muscle memory in preparation. Know the points you want to make and practice them out loud. The goal isn’t to sound rehearsed, but to know your points well enough to be conversational. Rehearse your tone, cadence, and body language. For big group events, it’s helpful to stage the meeting ahead of time to determine who sits where, and how to hand-off different parts of the presentation so it flows naturally. Walk the area if you can.

3)     Visualization. This comes up in the article mentioned above, and for good reason. The ability to visualize your success has been shown to improve your chances of achieving it. (Or as Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”) Mentally go through a perfect scenario for how the meeting will go, including your peak performance. This should be an ongoing internal movie that you view a few times before the actual event.

4)     Find your pre-game ritual. Create your own pre-game ritual – something that helps pump you up and makes you feel positive before walking into a big meeting. For me, I use laughter. If I’ve just been laughing and talking about something fun, I will carry those feelings into the meeting. So I use the drive to an important event to laugh and trade entertaining stories with the other folks I’m going with, or if I’m alone I’ll call a friend. Some people like to listen to their favorite rock band, or even relax quietly. Find what works and keep doing it.

5)     Don’t fight your nerves, detach from them. As a communications coach, I can tell you with conviction that even the most polished presenters feel anxiety and nervousness. As do rock stars, actors, famous CEOs, politicians, and anyone else in the public spotlight who also happens to have a pulse. At times anxiety can come from out of nowhere — it certainly does for me. What great performers have is not the ability to eliminate nerves, but to succeed in spite of them.

Repeat after me: I can feel nervous and still bring my A game.

Don’t even try to fight your nerves, you’ll lose. When you’re just about to go into the meeting or event, and your shoulders tighten, hands shake, heart thumps –notice it, and then let it go. Don’t let these normal physical reactions to a stressful event spiral you into more anxiety. No need to suppress the feeling (as if you could anyway). Use the age-old technique and breathe deeply — four counts in and out. Focus on your visualization and practice the pre-game ritual.

And if nerves hit you in the middle of a key event, have “safety content” you can pull out that you’re most comfortable with. It could be a story, anecdote, data, case study, a question for the room to elicit response, or anything else you personally enjoy discussing.

Then get out there and wow them.


Have other tips for performing at your best? Comment 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

Call It Discipline or Self-Control…We Need More of It

Last week Tony Schwartz wrote an interesting post on Harvard Business Review, and it’s worth the read. Schwartz is a bestselling author, and expert on helping executives increase performance by managing energy. He argues in this piece that self-regulation is the #1 factor in success — yet we rarely take the actions that increase our capacity for self-discipline. Being able to self-regulate is, in essence, about energy management.  Read his take on it:

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