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Inspiration is for Amateurs

Would I love for all my writing sessions to take place in quiet offices, overlooking lush green forests or piercing mountains? Of course.

Would it be great if you could watch Rocky prior to your daily gym session, Chariots of Fire in the moments leading up to your long run, or The Firm before heading into the office? Surely.

What about having zen master Thich Nhat Hanh give an hour long talk on the benefits of meditation preceding each one of your sits? Yes please!

Are any of the above scenarios realistic? No. At least not for most of us.

Over time, I’ve learned to think of inspiration like a spark. At first that spark is key—without it, there is no flame. But in order for a flame to grow into a powerful blaze, it needs oxygen. With enough oxygen, the breadth and depth of a fire reaches a critical mass and no longer requires additional sparks. The fire feeds on itself.

Consistent effort is akin to oxygen.

Much like with starting an actual fire, in the endeavors of our lives—be it work, play, fitness, creativity, or love—there is usually a critical period between spark (inspiration) and self-sustaining blaze. During this period, you have to pay close attention to the growing flame. It can be tedious. You aren’t sure if the fire is going to catch on or not. No longer can you rely on setting off more sparks. You’ve got to add sticks and paper, and do what you can to stop wind. It’s hard work.

If you get through this critical period, however—if you can cultivate a robust fire—then it’s a lot easier, and more enjoyable, to keep it going. You hardly need any more sparks. The fire burns on its own.

Inspiration helps to get going. It is wise to welcome and embrace it when it is there. But you can’t become reliant on it. You’ve got to feed the fires of your life with oxygen, with consistent practice. Even, and perhaps especially, if this means showing up when you don’t feel like it. Eventually, you gain enough momentum to keep going without having to rely on inspiration. (Community and belonging help too—your fire receives additional oxygen from like-minded spirits around you.)

As George Leonard, the late aikido master and philosopher of human potential writes, “To practice regularly, even when you seem to be getting nowhere, might at first seem onerous. But the day eventually comes when practice becomes a treasured part of your life. You settle into it as if into your favorite easy chair. It will be there for you tomorrow. It will never go away.”

In summary: Inspiration is like a spark, it gets you going. Consistent practice is like oxygen, it keeps you going. The momentum that comes from showing up every day for a long time is like a powerful blaze, it fuels itself.


(For related reads see: Motivation is Overrated, Love is an Ongoing Practice, The Point of Meditation is Not to Relax, and The Keys to a Consistent Physical Practice.)


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