If You Need Inspiring Words, Don’t Do It

Photo by Amanda Saunders

“If you need inspiring words, don’t do it.” — Elon Musk

Inspiration precedes creation. It is the thread that marries idea to action. It’s the force that moves us to build something from nothing. It keeps us up at night. It lives within all of us, rearing its head at often inopportune times, urging us to express ourselves for no other reason than because we have to.

Until it doesn’t.

There’s nothing worse than wanting to create but being unable to find the inspiration to do so. Undoubtedly, the worst kind of existence for an artist is an uninspired one.

When inspiration dissipates, where does it go? How do we revive it?

Though inspiration precedes creation, it doesn’t precede action. Rather, it comes as a byproduct of doing both: creating and action. When we get our creative wheels turning, more ideas come as a result.

Tim Ferriss explains this order in The 4-Hour Workweek as action, inspiration, and motivation. He explains the order beginning with action because you can’t do something passive unless you start with an active force. Basically, he argues that we find inspiration through doing, not by thinking.

Inspiration comes when we have done/experienced something enough that we form ideas of a new way to do/experience it. Motivation follows as a way to express ourselves creatively in innovative ways.

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” — Dale Carnegie

Here’s an example of what Ferriss and Carnegie mean, shaped through my experience as a cocktail bartender:

If I opened a cocktail book and found a recipe I wanted to try, I’d pull the ingredients from my liquor cabinet and reconstruct the drink from the provided specs. I’d be learning without attempting to create something for myself. When I tasted the cocktail, if one (or a combination) of the ingredients stuck out to me as particularly interesting or tasteful, I’d wonder how it would work in another cocktail with a different base spirit or combination of flavors.

Through doing an action (reconstructing a drink from a recipe), I’m struck with inspiration. It leads me to study the source of inspiration (the ingredient) and figure out potential possibilities (drinks) where it can work. Then, I go from there.

By taking action and making a drink, even from a recipe, I’m able to become inspired enough to create my own. If I’d sat around waiting for inspiration to strike me, I might not have come up with anything. If I’d tried to pull ideas from the ether, rather than from inspired action, I wouldn’t have advanced my skill through real, hands-on experience.

Even if I had had the notion to combine certain ingredients, I’d have no real experience with how the flavors would work together— something I’ve already discovered by doing it.

My point?

Waiting for a “good idea” is often counterproductive because we don’t produce anything by waiting. Rather, we increase the pressure to “make something good” from an abstract idea.

When we act, we improve our ability to be inspired. Action leads to everything.

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