Books Can Give You Inspiration, Not Motivation – And Why the Difference Matters

If I were to read a quote, book, or attend a seminar in hopes to get motivation, I would be fooling myself. Inspiration, maybe. Motivation, no. There’s a difference between the two and it does matter. I used to use those words interchangeably until I noticed a distinct difference. The most noteworthy differences are these:

Motivation is purpose. Motivation requires actions. 

About a decade ago, I bought a train ticket and had $2.12 in my wallet. I had almost nothing, but I traveled 900 miles to ‘go see about a guy’. It was more than that, though. I wanted a new start to my life and I didn’t want to wait one more minute. That is motivation. It has a clear motive fueling the actions to support that motive. 

People with motivation MOVE. Plain and simple. If I’m not moving, I’m not genuinely motivated. Anything else is pseudo-motivation. That doesn’t mean motivation guarantees success, but at the very least — it guarantees that you’ll take some actions and give it an honest effort. The word motivation comes from the Latin word movere which means “move, stir, agitate”. So, motivation is where the action is. It’s anyone with a motive and body movement orchestrating their intent.

Inspiration is ideas. Inspiration does not require action.

There’s a bible scripture that says “All scripture is inspired by God”. In that context, you can see that inspiration represents ideas (God’s) transferred over to people (the writers). This isn’t a bible lesson, by the way. This an English lesson. Technically, a writer — no matter how inspired by external ideas — does not have to do anything with them. I currently have a VAST number of inspired ideas that could turn into an essay, a book, or a short story… doesn’t mean they will.

Inspiration is a feeling, a thought, or idea. That’s it.

If you want to be inspired for the rest of your life without working, you totally can. The word inspiration comes from the Latin word inspiratio which simply means “act of breathing in” or “breath of life”, which is fitting since breathing also does not require working. You could say that inspiration is breathing in whatever seems to personally speak to you.

Motivational products are misleading.

Books, seminars, blogs, and cds are products of consumption. The act of taking in information. Consuming ideas sounds a lot like the definition for inspiration, not motivation. So, those products are misleading. Motivation is greatly influenced by a PERSONAL motive. My motive isn’t your motive and vice versa. So, to market something as motivation is to imply that a stranger is going to somehow telepathically tell you what your motive is without ever engaging in a single dialogue with you. I’m not buying that since so many factors influence motive depending on your life experience, personal needs, values, interests, and what makes you tick. I’m not saying those products are useless, I’m saying I like to call them what they are — potentially inspiring.

What real motivation involves
and why it’s impossible to get it from a book

Many people want motivation badly, so they’re willing to hand over their time and money to those who promise to give it to them. But, the full experience of motivation isn’t something you can extract from a book or download for free. Most of the factors that contribute to real motivation is either in YOU and supported by people who can actually address you personally. My theory is based on life experience, but there’s also been research on what really motivates people and the results are closely aligned with my theory and experiences. The results indicated that “meaning in work and being able to see progress” are “extremely important” in motivation. In addition, “acknowledgment is essential, and even the briefest notice and attention makes a huge difference.” had an article on this topic as well and this piece is worth noting:

Psychologists and social scientists have proven time and again that the most powerful motivators of people are achievement and the recognition of that achievement. It is important to note that these two elements cannot be separated. Achievement in the absence of recognition is rarely rewarding, and recognition in absence of achievement is empty.

Can a book give you meaning in work? Achievement? Recognition? Don’t think so.

It’s literally impossible to get that “powerful motivator” described above in a book. Because you get it as a RESULT of work and having a real life experience — preferably, in connection with other people. You do NOT get it before. Also, if “recognition in absence of achievement is empty” that means if you want to stay motivated, it’s critical to receive quality feedback and not just cheerleaders trying to make you feel good about yourself regardless of what you did or didn’t accomplish.

Have you ever received a compliment you know you didn’t deserve? Didn’t exactly feel motivating, did it?

This also further confirms how little a “motivational” book (or speaker) can do for you in terms of motivating you. Since they’re not addressing you personally, they have no idea who you are or what you’re working on — it’s about as useless as cheerleaders. Sure, the audience likes looking at them cheer, it’s inspiring, it makes them feel good, … who cares that the team hasn’t won a game all season?

Can you tell why the difference between 2 words matter yet?

If motive + work + progress + feedback/recognition are the main driving factors in motivation, then giving so much credit to a motivational guru that you’ve never met would be illogical. In reality, what those people and products do is provide some inspiration and ideas for you to consider. The life changing part is actually on YOU because YOU are the one that’s really in charge of your personal motives, actions, & results (a.k.a motivation). Nobody can give that to you. If you don’t take the time to see the difference between inspiration and motivation, you’ll end up giving credit (and thus, your power) to someone who doesn’t deserve it. If you’re someone who buys into motivation as a product, then placing credit appropriately lets you know where your resources (time, energy, money) are being invested in.

And this “product” is everywhere.

Not just books, blogs, or seminars. Motivational quotes and rants of all kinds are in your Facebook news feed, tweets, in conversations with friends, in artwork and plaques hanging on walls in your doctor’s office. If you had an itemized statement that listed every time you gave your attention and resources to something that was marketed as “motivation” would you have an equal return in “actions taken”? If not — if you only have some good feelings, thoughts, or ideas to show for your investment then go back and cross off each item and replace it with the word inspiration. That way you have an accurate statement of what you received.

To be clear, I’m not saying there isn’t value in inspiration. Of course, inspiration has value.

I’m saying that when you understand what these two words really mean and how you get it, then you can decide which you need and when. You can better determine when you’re lacking one or the other. In short, everything suddenly becomes very clear.

If you do need help getting motivated, here’s something better than a book…

  • Mentors — they care, they push you in the right direction, they remind you of your motives in case you forget, they teach, but they also let go because they believe in you.
  • Peers — people who are working towards similar goals, empathize with your motives and want you to succeed, and have your back, I meet them during my evening GED classes, evening classes didn’t work for us and the whole group took online prep courses. All of us are holders of the GED  certificate.

Everything and everyone else is an inspiration, entertainment, a distraction, or best if avoided.