I consider myself an “inspirationalist.”
Basically what this means is that I easily get swept away by the rush of energy and good feelings that accompany any random new idea or thing that strikes my fancy. It also means that my fancy gets struck pretty damn often, which is both super amazing and super annoying. On the one hand, I get extraordinary pleasure from small things, and on the other hand I struggle to get anything done.
Getting swept away is a trait handed down to me by my dad, who I’ve seen dive with complete abandon throughout my life into such seemingly random hobbies as Bonsai trees, magic, pottery, and violin. Some people could call it obsessive, but I call it passionate.
Passion runs in my blood, and it’s one of the things that most defines me.
Before I learned to consciously harness my wild inspiration, I couldn’t seem to resist the rush of good feelings that accompanied every random new idea, and I struggled with consistency and follow-through, which made me feel like a super loser a lot of the time. I also had a really hard time knowing what I “wanted to do with my life,” since I couldn’t choose between the thirty eight million things that I loved to think about doing.
Every time I saw something shiny (think: I tried a new hobby, sport, skill, or lifestyle choice) I felt sure that this shiny new thing was important, and I pursued it full-on with everything I had. Inevitably within a few days or weeks however, the rush of inspiration waned, and the shiny new thing got left in the dust. Following each shiny-to-dust cycle, I always experienced a period of absolute desolation, grieving the loss of the new thing’s importance in my life, and cursing my stupid inspiration-addicted self for not knowing better.
Note: you could probably call my behavior a bit ADHD-ish, but since I don’t find that label helpful (and because I prefer magical-sounding terms), I’m going with “inspirationalism.” You do you, though.
If you relate to being an inspirationalist, you’ll most likely recognize the negative self-talk and self-concept that accompanies it. Despite experiencing an enormous amount of joy and happiness during each cycle, being easily inspired often leads to a pretty negative view of yourself.
For example: You might run into an old friend who runs marathons and looks amazing, and commit to running more often. You run three days in a row, feel super proud of yourself, and daydream about your future life being filled with race days and running buddies and vibrant health and energy. Then while watching tv you see this baking show, and the host is so cool and funny and happy and you think “maybe I’m actually more of a homebody than an athlete.” You can’t stop imagining yourself wearing well-fitted dresses and baking beautiful treats for your friends and family while Christmas music plays, so you skip your run and go buy all the ingredients to make a pineapple-upside-down cake, but it’s not very good so you criticize yourself for being neither athletic nor domestic, and then wonder if you’ll ever find “your thing.” Then you get sidetracked by an article about how so many dogs are abandoned and treated badly and need homes, and you spend hours and hours on the internet looking at shelter dogs, thinking you might get one, and daydreaming about how you and your new dog will do everything together. Then when you realize you’re not up for the responsibility of a needy dog, you experience a combination of grief over the lost daydream, anger at yourself for getting your hopes up again, and shame that you’re not the kind of person who ever follows through on anything. Whomp, whomp.
Guys, I get it. My “passionate and enthusiastic” nature used to make me completely miserable. I’ve always highly valued the idea of following my heart, and I wanted to live a life that honored my impulses and whims, but my rush-then-crash inspiration hurricanes made me feel both like a crazy person and a total failure.
The problem is that we live a world where linear, rational, stoicism is highly valued and praised.
Passionate, enthusiastic people are the minority in this world, and the masses of reasonable, even-keeled people honestly don’t know what to do with us. Inspirationalism, when properly harnessed and channeled, is an absolutely incredible gift. You have a big, juicy imagination, a giant heart, tons of empathy, a creative edge, and most likely an eye for the beautiful. If, like I did, you feel like you’re constantly disappointed, constantly riding an emotional roller-coaster, and never living up to your potential, you’re probably just an inspirationalist who needs to learn how to harness her powers.
The good news is that you don’t need to ignore or repress your whims in order to “get things done,” you just need to work on the following powerful skills.
How to Harness Your Inspiration
1. Let go of the idea that anything will define you.
While knowing what box to put yourself in would certainly make life easier, it’s just not how things work. You are infinitely complex and ever-evolving, and searching for something (or someone!) to define you will always end in disappointment, frustration, and feeling like a failure. Often we get swept away with a new idea simply because we have these giant vivid imaginations, and we can easily fast forward and start imagine who we’ll be if we let ourselves be defined by some new activity or thing.
Instead of imagining what your life would be like if you became a serious rock-climber, or scrapbooker, or whatever, see if you can stay present-focused. If the activity sticks, great! If might even eventually become a part of how you define yourself, but right now all you’re doing is projecting and forcing. If you have a strong desire or need to find something to define yourself by, what you really need is to cultivate courage. It takes a ton of courage and compassion to own all 360 degrees of yourself, but you are too complex and expansive to be put in a box. If you need to define yourself by something, try defining yourself by your inability to be defined.
2. Watch your thoughts.
In order to allow your inspirations to rise up without getting knocked over by them, you need to learn how to stay grounded. This means you need some separation from your thoughts, because your thoughts are where the roller coaster happens. When you get in the habit of watching your thoughts, you start to realize that the real “you” must be the consciousness who is observing them, rather than the thoughts themselves. By habitually learning to watch your thoughts, and recognizing that you are not your thoughts, you can start to simply observe the roller coaster as it goes by.
3. Celebrate your gift.
I want you to really think about the benefits of your passion and inspirationalism, and allow yourself to actively celebrate them. You were born with an incredible gift, and the more you view it as such, the more likely you will be to honor it’s power. This means you’ll have to embrace your unique brand of weirdness though, and be ok with structuring your life a little different than other people. You might need multiple avenues of stimulation to stay engaged, or you might need to constantly be adding an element of novelty. Maybe you’re well suited to a job that requires extraordinary multi-tasking or juggling multiple skill sets. For me, being an entrepreneur perfectly suits my inspirational need to constantly be growing, learning, and switching between multiple projects. Some days I do nothing but write and be creative, some days I work on business skills, and some days I spend consuming and soaking in the knowledge of others.
Set your life up in a way that celebrates and honors your gift every day, and never apologize for doing whatever works best for you.
4. Grieve for the loss of your cherished dreams
I know it sounds kind of stupid, but if get attached to your daydreams, then every time you set a daydream to rest you need to allow yourself to grieve for it. Other people won’t understand, and that’s ok (see #3). Grieving is just about allowing yourself to acknowledge the loss of something cherished. If you’re the kind of person who gets so attached to your your inspired daydreams that they become cherished (like me), then you’ll need to allow yourself time to grieve each one before moving on. Sometimes you might even need to grieve the loss of your actual inspiration itself, since it’s a magical chemical cocktail, and losing it after a period of living with it can be gut-wrenching.
When I made the decision to pursue fitness as a career, I grieved for weeks over all the hypothetical-future-career-identities I felt like I was giving up: doctor with no borders, famous actress, badass lawyer, sheep farmer in New Zealand. Was I really ever going to become any of those things? No, not really. But I had been nursing the daydream of each for several decades, and until I allowed myself to grieve for them I felt torn about my decision to pursue fitness. Did this make me sound totally insane to my hyper-pragmatic then-boyfriend? Yes. But I promise you, giving myself permission to grieve has allowed me to move through inspirational hurricanes with infinitely more grace and joy.
5. Consciously curate your consumption.
If you know you’re easily distracted, you’ll need to be hyper-vigilant about what you expose yourself to. There is a strong relationship between your attention and your energy– wherever you look, your heart will want to follow, so look only in the direction you want to pursue. Put another way: Don’t let yourself squander your gift on bullshit.
Be unapologetically discerning about what you spend your attention on, and don’t expose yourself to anything you wouldn’t be willing to actively pursue or obsess over. This means if you don’t want to spend your energy wishing you weighed less, maybe don’t follow fitspo blogs. If you don’t want to spend your energy researching world trips, maybe don’t follow travel accounts on instagram. Focus your conscious attention like a laser, onto stuff that inspires you in the directions you’re willing to take long-term action on, and literally refuse to allow anything else into your attention field.
Note: If this makes you uncomfortable, see #3 again. Most people in our culture are constantly over-stimulated with information and awareness, and that’s what people will expect you to do. Some people can handle that well, but an inspirationalist cannot: being discerning with your attention is one of the best ways you can honor and celebrate your gift.
Personally, I used to think I should read the news and pay attention to world events, but then I realized that reading the news inspired me to want to help everyone and everything. I would end up feeling overwhelmed, powerless, and depressed– paralyzed by choices, I would do nothing, and hate myself for it. Now I refuse to read the news, and exclusively pay attention to things I am engaging with or taking action on. Unless I plan on volunteering my time to hurricane relief for example, I won’t watch the video or read the blog post about how horrible the damage is. I read, watch, and consume only the things that I plan on spending my time and energy on. It’s a pretty small list, all things considered.
6. Develop discipline.
Since most inspirationalists are used to acting on the burst of energy and good-feelings that accompany “inspiration,” it often feels like you can’t motivate yourself to get anything done until inspiration strikes. Just sitting around waiting to be inspired is pretty disempowering, but many people do exactly that, because their inspiration bursts meant they never needed to cultivate the skill of discipline. Most people think discipline is about willpower or forcing yourself to do things you don’t want to do, but I disagree. I see discipline as the ability to do the things you do want to do, but without the rush of inspiration.
Think of it this way: you’ve basically been programmed to get a treat every time you want to pursue something. Your body floods your brain with endorphins and adrenaline every time you get inspired to pursue something, so you now associate taking action with being, for lack of a better term, high. This association makes it really difficult to get motivated to take action without first getting the treat of the high.
Pursuing action toward a goal has nothing to do with chemical rushes though, and everything to do with knowing your value system and your goals. Discipline is about learning to rely on your values and goals to tell you when it’s time to take action rather than your chemical rush. Learning to take action on your desires, even when they don’t come with a treat, will allow you to follow through and develop a positive sense of self.