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Motivation vs. Inspiration


Is this a "should" or a "want"?

Why is it that some people seem to move effortlessly through life, appearing to glide through without facing any sense of struggle or resistance whilst others find themselves stuck, blocked, frustrated and stumbling. Why is it easier for some people compared to others? Why do some people face perceived challenges with enthusiasm and vigor while others appear to flounder and struggle?

To understand this it is necessary to explore the underlying drivers behind why we do what we do and the power of our thoughts to influence the efficiency and efficacy of our actions.

What sparks our desire to do something? Where does that desire actually originate?  As coaches how can we help clients to identify and ignite that spark and move forward? What might lie at the heart of someone’s “stuckness”?

In these situations it is important for a coach to possess awareness of the difference between an action set forth from a place of wanting vs. feeling that one should. This could also be described as the difference between motivation and inspiration.

Let’s explore the difference between the two perspectives and how they inform our lives.


We are often compelled to do something or set ourselves objectives based on things we think we should be doing. We do this so subconsciously that often we do not even realize the true reason for our action. Doing something because we feel we should requires motivation.

Motivation can be described as “trying to stimulate oneself towards action. “ Consider that for a moment.

When we are doing something because we think we should, we are motivating ourselves to try to achieve something even though we do not always feel overly enthused about it.

 “Shoulds” can arise for a number of reasons, including:

  • societal and/or self-imposed expectations
  • cultural expectations or traditions
  • a sense of political correctness, courtesy or obligation
  • parental pressure
  • a sense of competitiveness
  • perceived necessity and lack of choice

Take a minute to consider how it feels when you know you should do something. You may notice:

  • It requires motivation and effort
  • A sense of resistance
  • A feeling that you must endure any discomfort and rise above it
  • You might feel guilty if you haven’t done it
  • It might feel like pressure hanging over your head
  • A sense that you have to push yourself do it


When we truly want something the desire usually arises from deep within us, based on life experiences, discernment of preferences, our intrinsic values system, our underlying beliefs and generally a sense that we will feel better in the having of it. When we truly want something we feel inspired towards it.

Inspiration can be described in spiritual or theological terms as a divine influence directly and immediately exerted upon the mind or soul.” Take a minute to consider the difference in this description compared to the one provided for motivation. On an energetic level it is easy to feel the difference between when you really want to do something versus when you think you should. Another way to describe it might be the feeling of being propelled as opposed to feeling compelled.

When we want to do or have something we feel a sense of excitement, anticipation, eagerness, even impatience. In moving towards our genuine desires we may feel:

  • inspiration
  • a sense of effortlessness
  • an organic, natural “calling” towards it 
  • a sense of it feeling right and that “wild horses could not drag us away”
  • nice-flowing, nicely unfolding circumstances
  • an absence of resistance
  • spontaneous impulses to take action

When we genuinely want something with a sense of pure desire we always find a way, we make time to do it, we prioritise it. It doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. Everything aligns to allow us to do it. We do not feel a sense of effort, we just do it. We do not need to try. Commitment comes organically because we know the value and benefit in doing it.

Self Application

Consider the above for a moment and apply it to the following examples. When you want a piece of chocolate cake, do you need motivation to eat it? When you want a pretty necklace do you need motivation to buy it? How about that new fishing rod? Do you reward yourself with a piece of cake or a pretty necklace or a fishing rod if you take action? Of course not, because the cake or the necklace, or the fishing rods ARE the reward. When you truly want something, the having of it is the reward in itself.

In contrast, when you are doing something because you should, you are often trying to stimulate yourself towards action. Doing something because you should often generates resistance in the form of procrastination, delay or avoidance tactics. Sometimes the obstacles are real and sometimes they are perceived. When we are motivated by something we feel we should do we try to create a sense of personal commitment and we often employ tactics such as writing checklists, charts, invoking rewards or penalties, enlisting support groups and basically doing everything we can to push ourselves, remind ourselves and keep ourselves “on track”.

Each of these approaches can be effective. In fact it is likely to be a common reason why people enlist the help of a life coach in the first place. However it could be argued that such interventions rarely result in sustainable, “global” personal change because they are relying on an external stimulant to stay on track rather than pure desire.

Coaching Application

As coaches it is important to seek holistic long-term change for the client. This means facilitating shifts in attitudes, behaviors and thought processes to equip clients with the ability to view their circumstances more favorably no matter what the specifics of the situation.

So what can we do to help our clients make this shift? Do we encourage them to do only the things they want to do and exclude all else? This sounds good in theory but it’s not realistic. If the world worked like that then who would clean the toilets? Who would scrub the floors? Who would collect the rubbish? There are some tasks that just have to be done. So how do we as coaches help clients make the shoulds more palatable and help clients get fired up about doing them?

Firstly we can work with the client to explore any underlying beliefs around the issue. What is driving this? Is it a should or a want? If they discover it is really a should, the coach might explore with the client whether it is still something they want to pursue. The client might abandon that goal because they realize they were doing it for the wrong reasons. Or they may decide that even though it is a should motivating them it might still be something that they need to do. In these cases a coach could assist the client make the emotional shift by identifying the benefit and value in completing their should task.

One way to do this might be to introduce the client to the concept of choice. For every situation and action we take we have a choice about how we feel about it. We can decide to find the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?) and bring ourselves to a place of accepting or even wanting to do it. It might take a bit of work, but it is possible to re-frame our perspective and approach it differently.

Let’s take a look at an example:

Michael is a cleaner who works 6 days a week scrubbing toilets and floors. He doesn’t like his job but he is not qualified to do anything else and he needs the money to pay the mortgage and his bills. He dreads getting up in the mornings and wants help from his coach to feel better about his job.

As a first step the coach could introduce the concept of choice. Michael has a choice whether to stay at his job or not. Michael will likely argue that he has no choice because he needs to support his family and pay the bills. If Michael feels that he has no option but to stay at his current job the next step for the coach is to help Michael make going to work a more pleasant experience.

The coach could help Michael re-frame his perspective by proposing a different viewpoint. For example the coach could demonstrate that Michael chooses to get up in the morning to go to work because he wants to earn money, because he wants to keep on top of their house payments because he wants to look after his family. He is consciously making that choice every morning. No-one is physically dragging him there kicking and screaming. Michael could choose not go to work. There might be consequences of choosing not to go to work, but it is still a choice that Michael can make.

So the first step is making Michael aware that he is not at the mercy of the conditions or circumstances. He is then empowered to make his own choices and take more of an internal “Locus of Control” perspective.

It might take some time for this concept to sink in for many clients. Once a client does make this realization it will likely have a profound effect on them.

Creating better-feeling thoughts around the issue

In addition to the choice concept, as a coach you could work with the client to re-frame their position on a subject so that they create better-feeling thoughts around it.

Let’s take a look at an example:

Lisa contacts a coach for motivation and support to lose weight. She says her doctor advised her that she was in an overweight range and her health is consequently at risk.  Lisa tells her coach that she is not happy with the way she looks and wants to wear pretty clothes. Her confidence is really low and her self-esteem is suffering.  Every time Lisa eats something she feels is “naughty” she gets frustrated with herself. She says she feels “hopeless” and “pathetic” and then she tries to distract herself from feeling that way by consuming more food.  And so the spiral continues.

Through powerful questioning the coach explores the subject deeper with Lisa and she reveals that she actually feels comfortable with extra weight as it gives her a sensation of feeling safe and protected. Eating provides her with a sense of comfort and she finds enjoyment from tasting delicious foods and various textures. Eating provides her with a distraction. So by digging deeper the coach has been able to identify that Lisa’s desire to lose weight is not entirely 100% pure as she does derive comfort from eating and losing weight to her implies deprivation.


With this new awareness Lisa and her coach can start to work backwards to identify the triggers for her to take action. It has become evident that whilst Lisa feels she needs to lose weight, she lacks the emotional commitment to see it through.

In this situation a coaching strategy might be to work with the person to re-frame their thinking so that their language becomes positive and inspired, bringing their desire back to a place of pure wanting. As a starting point, the coach and client could assign an overall objective that is positive and realistic such as “I want to be a healthy weight.”

From there, the coach could talk the client through some guided visualization and affirmation exercises to increase the client’s emotional commitment to the goal. Although these techniques are simple they are effective and important for garnering emotional commitment from the client. In Lisa’s case, her objectives could be re-framed as follows:

  • I enjoy eating as I like the textures and tastes. I have noticed that I feel better when I eat healthy delicious food
  • I want to eat healthy food because I want my body to feel good. I want to feel energetic and light and fit
  • I want to exercise because it will feel so good to get my body moving. I will enjoy the feeling of blood moving through my body, my heart pumping and feeling my head clearing. The endorphins will feel really good and when I have finished I will feel really satisfied with what I have done. It will feel good to know that I have done something good for my body and I will be able to sleep well that night knowing I did something good for myself.
  • I want to go to the doctor and hear them say that I am in a healthy weight range. I will feel so pleased when they say that. I will feel so happy within myself to have done something so important for my health. I like to imagine myself having that conversation with my doctor and him/her commending me for doing such a great job. That will feel really good. I will feel very proud of myself.
  • I can’t wait to see myself in that red dress that I love so much. I will prance around looking in the mirror just beaming with pride and confidence. I look forward to that sense of lightness I will feel as I walk down the street, proud and happy.
  • I feel really excited about what I am doing and how much happiness this will bring me. I know I will feel amazing when I achieve this. The more I think about it I can’t wait to get started.

In this example Lisa finds the value and benefit of losing weight and it is not viewed as something she feels required to do. She wants to.

When a client grasps the feeling of wanting something it is satisfying to a coach because it means the client is not relying on the coach to propel them forward.  Empowering a client in this way is the greatest gift a coach can give, even if it means coaching ourselves out of a job.

As the saying goes “give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.”

About the author:

Melanie Kearsey is an S3 Business Solutions Specialist. Melanie works with businesses and individuals to help them to flourish. She enjoys shining a light on people's strengths and helping people get to where they want to be.

Melanie can assist clients to gain clarity around their goals and identify blockages and limiting beliefs that might be holding them back.

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