When we’re inspired, our work hums. We have a sense of purpose, buoyed by the feeling that our talents are being put to good use. We’re doing what we should be doing. And then, just like that, inspiration evaporates. Perhaps a negative comment from your boss deflated you or you’re not excited about a particular assignment. Inspiration can be frustratingly fleeting and difficult to recover when lost. Even if you’re lucky enough to have a job you love, it’s common to go through lengthy periods where you need to dig deep to feel excited about your work.
I’ve coached many executives in the thick of this morass and they often struggle to understand the cause: is it the company? Or a particular set of circumstances? Or is it them?
Psychologists Todd Thrash and Andrew Elliot have been studying inspiration for decades. They’ve identified three elements that occur when we’re inspired: we see new possibilities, we’re receptive to an outside influence, and we feel energized and motivated. Fortunately, inspiration is not a static state of mind but a process that we can cultivate. While we can’t force ourselves to be inspired, we can create an environment that’s conducive to inspiration. Here’s what I’ve seen work for my clients.
Don’t wait for positivity to strike. When you aren’t feeling inspired, it’s normal to feel stuck. But inaction is your enemy in this effort. Inspiration doesn’t just happen while we’re at our desks returning emails. Don’t wait for a flash of insight to strike before making any changes. The field of cognitive behavioral therapy shows that our behavior affects how we think and feel. When we do different things, we feel different feelings.
Waiting to act reinforces stasis. Instead, understand that any move you make will open up new possibilities and reveal emotions that you can’t yet see. And remember that you often have more control over your work environment than you typically think.
Develop an inspiration routine. When you’ve excelled in your field, it’s natural to move out of learning mode. But researchers have found that when people believe that they’re experts they become more close minded, a concept termed earned dogmatism.We’re most likely to get, and stay inspired, when we have fresh experiences and information that can trigger insights.