When asked who or what inspires us, we typically think of things that evoke positivity and encourage momentous change.
Motivational speakers, uplifting movies, public figures making a difference — culturally, our story about inspiration is ultimately a story of good. We label things as “inspiring” when they help us believe we have the potential to make positive changes and improvements in our lives.
But, really, inspiration is happening all the time, not just when we’re teary-eyed or motivated. That is one form of inspiration. But it’s not the only one.
Inspiration means “to in-spirit,” to transpose or pass along a particular spirit; even more literally, it means “to breathe into.” And even if this word is used in esoteric ways sometimes, its tangible applications are incredibly relevant to us.
Every day we come in contact with particular “spirits”: negativity and positivity, hope and fear, jealousy and greed, as well as responsibility, service, love, and courage. These spirits touch and shape us through the people we listen to, the conversations we take part in, and even the digital and physical spaces that engage us on a daily basis. Our culture has a spirit, as does our family, as does our workplace. This is the hidden reality of impact present behind everything we encounter.
But, just as we “breathe” these in (often unconsciously), we’re also breathing our own spirit for things out to the world. We are always inspiring others, whether we are aware of it or not. As social creatures, we are in a constant exchange of inspiration, where we give and receive, inhale and exhale each others’ values, ideas, and orientations toward the world.
While we are often taught to be conscious of our actions, it is the spirit of our behavior that quietly shapes the environments and people around us.
A grateful person won’t just experience gratitude, they will also pass it on.
A fearful person won’t just experience fear, they will also pass it on.
A hopeful person won’t just experience hope, they will also pass it on.
It’s not just our actions that make ripple effects around us; it’s also the spirit with which we approach our lives and the lives of others.
There are two questions worth asking.
First: What are the spirits I’m passing on to others? In the workplace? To my kids or significant other? In my community? In the various institutions with which I affiliate? Am I passing on a spirit that raises people to a higher potential or a lower them to a state of fear, shame, and isolation?
And second: Who is inspiring me — consciously or unconsciously, positively or negatively?
Take ten minutes in the next week and write down a list of the five people you are closest to. Next to each write down the spirits to which each is likely inspiring you. Are they drawing you to higher things? None of us are perfect, and it is likely that what they bring to your life is a mixture of both good and bad. The point of the exercise is to simply become aware of these hidden inspirations living traversing the relationship. When we become aware of these inspirations, we can better appreciate and foster the good ones, as well as stem or guard ourselves from those which may lead us astray.
You may find that certain people are having a very negative impact on you (and, thus, those around you). Does that mean you need to decrease your engagement with them? Maybe. But it also could mean you need to be conscious in order to counterbalance the effects. Whatever you choose, awareness is always a good first step.
No matter how insignificant we may feel at times, our impact on others is often much greater than we would first expect.
While most of us will never be social media influencers or motivational coaches, we are all “inspiring” others every day of our lives. Our legacy to those closest to us won’t just be our specific actions, or even predominantly our specific actions; it’ll be our spirit that lives on, in and through them, which they will in turn carry and share with others.
Reflect on this question today: What spirits are most prevalent in my life today?
Here is a list of some ideas to get you started
All the best,
“Look for the thing you notice but no one else notices.” - Rick Rubin
How your friends change your habits - for better and worse - BBC
In the past, you may have been told some version of the phrase “tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are” and wondered exactly how accurate that statement is. As William Park explains in this report from BBC, it may be even more true than we’re aware. LINK
What Your Child Learns By Imitating You - Parents.com
People say imitation is the greatest form of flattery, but for most of us it was also once our greatest form of learning. The absorbent mind of a child learns how to be human by watching other the other humans that surround them. LINK
Why Inspiration Matters - Harvard Business Review
While its effects are often concrete and tangible, the act of describing what makes up what we commonly call inspiration can at times feel like trying to understand theoretical physics. Here psychologists Todd M. Thrash and Andrew J. Elliot break down the three main qualities of motivational inspiration. LINK
Featured Art: O Violerio - José Ferraz de Almeida Júnior (1899)