Inspiration

Inspiration is a funny thing. It seems like the more you think about it, the less it can do for you. Inspiration can’t be cultivated, sought after, harnessed, it has to be found! Or so people say. With all the contradictory stuff that’s been said about inspiration, this article is meant to pierce through the veil, and to reveal to you useful secrets that you know to be true, but may have forgotten.

First, why do people want to be inspired? It might seem an obvious question, but we should never take those for granted. People want inspiration for different reasons. For example, anyone seeking to motivate themselves, to live a better life, to do better at this or that, to find something worth while, they’re all looking for inspiration. Inspiration ends all doubts, it reaffirms the will, it helps you ignore the unimportant. There are no hard choices when the path is clear and the answers are known.

But can inspiration be cultivated? At first glance it would seem as though the answer to that is no. How could it? The more we reach for it, the further away it seems to get from us. The more we want to be inspired, the less we remember what true inspiration even feels like. We cheapen it. We refer to it as flow states. Sum it up to passion. Wish we could only just touch that forbidden fruit again. But we’ve been kicked out of the garden and we are not welcome back while we moan about needing our fix. Inspiration likes to surprise us, when our minds least expect it. We could be in a deep conversation, at a bar, nowhere near our work! Perhaps we’ve just laid in bed and shut off all the lights. Inspiration can’t be found, it ambushes you!

If in fact it is impossible to cultivate inspiration, it is extremely important that we grab hold of inspiration when it shows itself. The worst thing we could do would be to let it run away after it surprises us. Do not let go of inspiration until it’s effects have worn off. Turn all the spirit’s blood into ink, into art, into sweat, or into whatever creation your inspiration has illuminated. We only have so many opportunities to spend time with our inspiration.

For example; we shall only be granted a few brilliant ideas in our life. This is a fact. One day you will die, and your brilliant ideas can finally be numbered. Depending on who you are, that number might be small, but it’ll be even smaller if you didn’t take time to remember your brilliant ideas! This number will be extremely small if you let yourself fall asleep after inspiration reveals itself to you. Trust me, that idea will be gone in the morning! It will be an extremely small list if you don’t excuse yourself from a conversation with a friend or lover to write down the idea you just had.

Of course, inspiration does not only manifest as a brilliant idea. As we know, inspiration is a state of being, in which answers are obvious, in which effort is unnecessary. The eureka moment is always followed by intense work. Inspiration could guide you through a perfect workout as much as it could lead someone to design a revolutionary rocket fuel. Inspiration can illuminate whatever darkness you’ve been wrestling with. But you do need to be wrestling with something. Inspiration will not appear to you if nothing matters to you.

Inspiration may only show itself to you momentarily, and may appear to take long breaks between appearances, but it is always working. Toiling in the deepest parts of your brain, engineering solutions to problems; it hopes to god that it figures it out before you do, so that it may impress you with it’s good work. I believe that the mechanism which provides us with inspiration is one that we evolved over time; there is surely a mechanism in the brain that keeps working on problems after your conscious mind has given up trying.

Inspiration is therefore a lot like those brilliant employees that the world never hears about because the CEO take’s all the credit. But, don’t forget that without a problem to fix, without something to care about, without a CEO to put the employees to work, all those wonderful employees, and your inspiration, they sit on their asses all day and do nothing.

Now, what if you can’t wait for inspiration to reveal itself to you? What if you need regular interactions with your inspiration? You have lots to get done and not much time to do it. You can’t be waiting around for answers! You need to know now! If that’s you, there’s a few things you can do. Think of them as setting regular appointments with those model employees of yours, to ensure that they’re working on the problem that you want solved.

First, you should always make sure that your environment is conducive to inspiration. Take the time to make it an appealing place for you. Clean the place, paint the walls, put up posters and pictures, flags, art, anything. It just has to be stuff you like, stuff that reminds you of what you like, of what you’re trying to do. Help your sub-conscious help you by situating it in the most awesome place you can make for yourself. Perhaps you work best at a certain coffee shop, so go there. But also take notes, notice what’s common in those places you like working, and try to bring those things together at home so that they always surround you.

Second, keep a schedule, and put things in it. Unfortunately, it has been my experience that having a blank schedule is conducive to doing nothing all day. Jocko Willink often says that Discipline Equals Freedom, which is counter intuitive to the way most people think of discipline. His point is simple. Your freedom to be whoever you want to be depends on your discipline to work hard and not fuck off. Many people might think that freedom is not synonymous with discipline. That freedom means that you do whatever floats your boat whenever you want. This is the surest path to doing nothing, and your inspiration will follow you there. Having an open schedule does not help relax, it does not help inspiration to strike by unburdening the mind. It does nothing for you except slow your momentum. Help yourself inspire yourself by regularly attending to problems that you mean to solve.

This leads to the third point. Momentum. Think of momentum as a measure of your quantity of movement. It is not only dependent on speed, but also on the mass that has been brought up to speed. Trains have higher momentum than fast cars. The interesting thing about momentum is that once you are up to speed, it is relatively easy to maintain it. As we all know from Newton, a thing in motion will remain in motion unless acted upon by an external force. This is true for our selves as well. You want to give yourself the highest amount of motion, because the higher it is, the more you will get done. Moreover, you want to address heavy problems of substance, that are important to you. You just have to be careful not to let external forces slow you down. Inspiration is inside you, and therefore if you slow down, it slows down. The faster the pace of your life, the more frequently you will run into your inspiration.

Fourth, don’t go it alone. I am constantly guilty of trying to do everything myself. I hate asking for help. I feel like I cheated when I get it. But this is not about help, this is about creating a network of people around you who reinforce your interests. When you meet someone you find interesting, befriend them, keep them around, introduce them to your friends. It is ideal that you befriend those who impress you the most. You want to keep those people close. Then, try to meet their friends. Meet their family. Chances are, there’s a lot more where that comes from.

The key is to have people around you who inspire you. And don’t question it too much. If you meet a character who is nothing like you, but you like being around them, just enjoy. They’ll teach you something about yourself soon enough if you stick around. Inspiration is a fickle bastard, but if you’re surrounded by inspirational characters, then you’ll encounter it a lot more often. Let it affect you, and beware of envy, the enemy of inspiration. Let yourself be impressed, be happy for the achievements of others. Congratulate them without any worry at not being able to measure up. The chances are that they’re impressed by you too if they’re spending time with you. If you surround yourself with people who impress you, who interest you, and who think about those same things which you think about, you’ll do better at everything, and inspiration will have unlimited access to you.

Importantly, you don’t always need to meet these people. In fact, there are a huge number of dead individuals that you might love to keep around in your life. It’s simpler than you might think. Reading their memoirs, or biographies, or watching documentaries about them, it’s like if they were there with you if you don’t over think it. Their ideas, personalities, and emotions can transcend time and space to infect you with their intuitions and provide you with inspiration. This even works for fictional characters. Spend enough time with a fictional character and you might find yourself stealing their mannerisms and thought patterns.

With these four steps you can certainly increase your encounters with inspiration. But what if you want to command inspiration to appear at will? I’m not sure that I have the answer, but I suspect that this is impossible. You can promote the likelihood of encountering inspiration, but you cannot expect to command it. No more so than you can command yourself to understand something that you’ve been struggling with. But if the goal is productivity, then I suspect that once the usefulness of inspiration has been maximized, the following step entails the promotion of something altogether different. Something that you can command, given enough training. You must develop confidence, because confidence can often bestow upon the brave a touch of luck that seems to elude the rest of us. We will explore this, and the relationship between confidence and inspiration in our next post.

I Stopped Writing

It is difficult to write casually now that I’ve begun to write online. I haven’t written anything in the last few months because I lack of inspiration. There is simply nothing that I have felt compelled to put down, and therefore I have not written anything. But at the same time, I am still quite passionate about many things. I have read a lot, thought a lot, and discussed many things with many people in the intervening time between now and my last post. Why then do I struggle to put pen to paper about these topics? The answer is simple; I’m confused. I have unwittingly decided to only write when it benefits my blog. I made this decision unconsciously due to the thrill I felt at writing for an audience as opposed to writing for myself. In the previous years, I would write 500 words a day, as a way to maintain my skill in woodcraft while studying engineering, a discipline which frowns on proper spelling and punctuation. The 500 words I wrote could and would be about anything at all I felt like discussing with myself. Occasionally, I would return to my previous thoughts and add my next 500 words to the last; but now that I have a blog, many subjects have become off limits to me. My 500 words could be about anything, my blog posts can’t; I want to publish well formed thoughts, not ramblings. This problematically disqualifies most of my daily thoughts!

As I witness this in myself today, I remind myself that the problem is recurrent. Some years ago I was deeply involved in music, and made this same mistake. Then, I was playing music all the time. A minimum of 5 hours a day, playing in school, practicing numerous instruments, playing in a jazz trio, a jazz ensemble, a wind instrument band, a choir, and in my own jamming with friends on instruments ranging from guitar, clarinet, saxophone, piano and some others. I wrote and recorded songs alone and with friends. Music truly was my life. Eventually, I began to perform in front of crowds. Concerts for school at first, then competitions, events, weddings. We played a lot. Eventually I slowed down, I did not pursue music in university, I felt like it was not quite what I wanted to do, and therefore time was not automatically set aside for it. Slowly, my musical friends moved to other cities, and I slowly stopped playing in front of people for lack of offers and of people I could bring together to form a band. I could not easily bear to play music for myself after that. These days, I still play, pretty well too, but for no more than an hour a week or so. Having felt the rush and satisfaction of playing for an audience, playing for myself became boring.

This transition is so difficult to understand when one knows that before ever playing for others, we had to fall in love with playing for ourselves. I must be careful not to fall out with writing in the same way. Writing matters to me; it has allowed me a new form of self-expression after music became mundane. Moreover, it has become one the primary methods by which I can make sense of the world around me and of my place within it. I get to draw satisfaction from the expression of my innermost feelings about this and that, it makes me happy, and it draws out the best in me. I must then write and write more! To keep the flow and relevant and constant, so that when inspiration strikes, my fingers will be nimble and practiced. After all, I always felt that masterpieces of all kind were the results of many shots on goal more than they were products of pure inspiration. Thus we must all be very busy with those things we love, in order to help the world be greater than it already is.

The irony at the end of all this is that while having nothing to write about for nearly three months, I finally broke the cycle and wrote an article about having nothing to write about. Stay tuned for more truly enlightened stupidities, coming soon!