Why Inspirational Talks Don’t Work

September 7th, 2011

By Dr. Jim Taylor

InspirationHave you ever listened to an inspirational talk, for example, The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch? Have you ever read an inspirational book such as Born to Run? Or watched an inspirational film like Hoosiers? How do you feel after? Well, inspired, right? What a great feeling! You’re fired up and ready to take on the world. You’re brimming with confidence. Your eye is on the prize and, by gosh, that prize is yours!

Then something rather deflating happens. You wake up the next morning and the inspiration is gone. You’re still the same old you. And you may even feel worse about yourself because, after the previous day’s inspiration, your failure to take even one small step towards your goals is all the more glaring.

So what happened? The truth is that you, and millions of other people looking for inspiration to change their lives, have been hoodwinked by the “inspirational-industrial complex,” a multi-billion dollar industry. Why, you ask? Because the inspiration that comes from other people is manufactured from the outside. This “synthetic” inspiration simply can’t last long because when the source of the inspiration (i.e. the talk, film, or book) is gone, its shelf life is very short.

True and lasting inspiration can’t, unfortunately, come from outside. It must arise from a very deep place within us. This life-changing inspiration verily forces its way out of us, demanding that we take action. That is the inspiration that propels people to monumental acts of courage, willpower, perseverance, and, ultimately, change.

Also, the inspiration that comes from talks, movies, or books is designed to provoke maximum inspiration (that’s what sells), but provide minimal follow-through. The reality is that inspiration is a necessary, but not sufficient, contributor to positive change. Yes, inspiration gets you out of bed or off of the sofa, but motivation to change without a clear direction to change has little value. Also, inspiration and direction aren’t even sufficient if you lack the knowledge, skills, or support necessary to catalyze action towards your goals.

Okay, I will give a little and say that it is theoretically possible for inspiration from others to motivate change. A very small segment of the inspiration-deficient population is teetering on the edge of change and just needs the slightest nudge of inspiration which they might get from outside of themselves. Or the inspiration generated from the outside is very immediate, deep, and resonant, such as the courageous efforts of a dying parent to stay alive for their child’s wedding or birth of their grandchild. Or the sports coach who gives a rousing pep talk to their team at half time and the team comes back to the field en fuego (but the inspiration usually fades by the end of the third quarter).

Our culture venerates the inspirational leader, whether a president, CEO, military officer, coach, or teacher. There are some who have the ability to inspire others to new heights. Then-candidate Obama had it during the 2008 presidential elections (please no partisan retorts). General George Patton had it. And the legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden had it. But the “it” that these and others had was not, as most people think, their ability to create that burst of inspiration before, say, an election, a battle, or the big game. Instead, what makes the great inspirations so, well, inspirational is their ability to help others find their own personal inspiration every day. It is that personal inspiration that motivates people to have a vision of what they want to achieve, work hard and prepare well so they have not only a clear direction in sight, but also the actual wherewithal to get where they want to go.

So, next time you want to feel that wonderful rush of inspiration, go ahead and watch an inspirational movie, read an inspirational book, or listen to an inspirational speaker. But if you want real inspiration, the kind that will consume every pore of your body, sustain itself not only through the next morning, but many mornings to come, and drives you to achieve your goals, look deep inside and see if you can find it in you. If you do, then you’ll be able to devote all that time and money that you would have spent on that manufactured inspiration to rewarding yourself for having achieved your goals because you found the real thing right under your nose.

(This article was also posted at Dr. Jim Taylor’s Blog.)

(Visit Dr. Jim Taylor’s YouTube channel to see TV interviews and Prime topic discussions.)

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One Response to “Why Inspirational Talks Don’t Work”

  1. larry ennis |

    Doctor Jim

    I feel that inspiration has in recent years fell prey to modern life. We live in a society where inspiration has to compete with cynicism and despair not to mention any number of other demons.
    A great many American, myself included, feel that we have no real hero’s to inspire us. Many former American heroes have fallen from grace owing to political correctness.
    Artificial inspiration such as the “Covey” method and its day planner routine is unique. Having been exposed to Mr. Covey’s program I can attest to it’s effectiveness. Covey’s teachings require writing down plans for each day. The day planner routine along with exercises for team building tends to keep inspiration alive in an individual. Covey was designed to increase the productive output of workers. The Covey approach worked at least in the short term.

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