Inspiration Part 3: How to find inspiration, and what to do when you feel inspired

It may come as a surprise to you, but I hate reading about inspiration.  In fact, I’m put off by the whole subject of inspiration.  I’ll explain why in a moment, but first, a quick recap.

In the first article in this series, I told you about Jiro Ono, the world’s greatest sushi chef, who was profiled in the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi.  I was blown away not only by Jiro’s dedication to being the world’s greatest sushi chef, but the way he surrounds himself with equally dedicated people.

In the second, I talked about Henry Rollins, the greatest storyteller I’ve ever seen and the former frontman of hardcore punk band Black Flag.  Henry could easily have spent his whole life working in retail and fast food jobs, but instead he’s become a successful polymath who has changed thousands of lives.

Most articles on inspiration are sort of like those two articles, except the authors don’t spell out what they learned the way I did.  The articles are not meant to teach the reader anything; they’re meant to entertain, not educate.

There’s a certain breed of people who I call inspiration junkies- people who habitually read articles about inspiration and watch “inspiring” videos in the hope that something will strike them like a psychic lightning bolt, shocking them out of their stupor and compelling them to do something remarkable with their lives.

Hell, there’s a whole fitness niche called fitspiration (fitspo) that consists entirely of photos of fit people combined with motivational quotes.  If you haven’t guess, I hate fitspo with the kind of fiery rage normally reserved for racists and people who talk during movies.

Inspiration is only useful when coupled with action.

So back to my writing.  Those first two articles were about specific things and people that have inspired me.  And articles like that are fun to read, but if you actually want to take action and not just passively wait to be inspired, they beg the questions- how can I find inspiration?  And what do I do with it when I find it? 

So today I want to pull back to the high-level view and give you a process for finding inspiration and capitalizing on it in a way that can truly change your life.  What follows is my three-step inspiration process. 

Note: Step one is about finding inspiration, while steps two and three are about acting on it.  You don’t necessarily have to seek out inspiration; sometimes it just strikes you, and when it does, you can still use steps two and three.

1.  Listen to the life stories of highly successful people

Both of the sources of inspiration I’ve shared with you- watching Jiro Dreams of Sushi and seeing Henry Rollins tell stories about his life- involved hearing the life stories of people who have become extremely successful in their careers and reaching their personal life goals.  In my opinion, hearing the stories of highly successful people is the most effective and reliable source of inspiration.

Of course there are other possible sources of inspiration- reading a novel, listening to a really good song, being awestruck by a thunderstorm.  Maybe inspiration will come to you in a dream.  Stranger things have happened- Gertrude Stein watched cows graze because she found them inspiring.  People get inspired by all kinds of stuff.

So why do I specifically focus on people’s life stories as a source of inspiration?  Because it’s reliable.  Everything is inspiring to someone, but most things aren’t inspiring to most people.  You can listen to music all week, and the odds are it won’t inspire you.

However, if you read or listen to the life stories (or at least the high points of the life stories) of three different highly successful people, and those stories are well-told, the odds are that at least one of them will inspire you.  This is a method that works consistently, but note the caveat: the stories must be interesting and well-told.  Many stories about successful people are boring; in my experience, it’s usually best if the person is telling their own story, rather than it being told by someone else.

If you can reliably get inspired by something else, go ahead and do that.  If you know for a fact that staring at cows works for you, more power to you.  The rest of us should stick with hearing famous people tell their stories.

So should you start reading an autobiography a week?  You could, but I don’t recommend it.  Far better to let other successful people curate content for you.

I watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi because it was recommended by several people who I follow and admire.  In particular, Tim Ferriss and Ramit Sethi had both said that it was one of their favorite movies of all time.

Henry Rollins wasn’t recommended by anyone in particular as far as I can recall; I had just heard his name tossed around a lot, seen a few of his videos on YouTube, and knew he was a great storyteller.  Plus he was performing at 2 PM on Friday at a weekend-long music festival, so it was either watch him, show up later, or watch some shitty band I would never have even remembered.  I’m glad I went with him.

There are two ways of letting other people curate content for you: recommendations and interviews.  I mentioned Tim Ferriss and Ramit Sethi; if you subscribe to their mailing lists, they’ll often mention books and videos that they loved.  Tim gives at least one book or movie recommendation a week with his Friday emails, while Ramit is more sporadic about recommendations. 

Ryan Holiday is another great source for good books to read; he has a mailing list devoted to the topic, and regularly publishes articles like this one that list some of his favorites.

The other method is interviews- find a good interview series and follow it.  Two that I really like are Tim Ferriss’s podcast, and The Joe Rogan Experience.  You can easily fit these into your day by listening to them in the car or at the gym- well, unless the audio on your phone is broken, as mine seems to be. 

2.  When you feel inspired, immediately write down what you learned or thought of, and what you plan to do

I nee to pause here for a moment to explain something about what inspiration is and how it works.  Inspiration is a feeling.  Feelings, by their very nature, are temporary.  And that means no matter how amazing it may feel, inspiration doesn’t last.

Think about the last time you were so angry at someone you wanted to punch them.  You probably didn’t punch them, and after a while- a day, a few hours, or even a few minutes- you didn’t want to anymore.  So it is with inspiration- if you don’t act on it quickly, it will be gone.

The first thing you should do when you get inspired is write down whatever it is that you learned or got an idea for, as well as what specifically you feel inspired to do.  For instance, here are my notes from Jiro and Rollins:

Lessons from Jiro Dreams of Sushi:

  • Work long hours at your chosen profession.  Become obsessed with it.
  • Fine-tune the small details more than any of your competitors.
  • Refuse to do less than your best work.
  • Surround yourself with others who meet this same standard of dedication.

Action steps after being inspired by Jiro:

  • Commit to writing at least 5000 words a week.
  • Do more networking to surround myself with driven, hardcore people.
  • Retire my fat loss course to focus on high-quality coaching.
  • Do more to individualize coaching plans based on lifestyle, muscle fiber type mix, training response, and level of development of specific body parts

Lessons from Henry Rollins:

  • Don’t be picky about what work you accept- do what it takes to make a living.
  • Be willing to make a big move if it will give you more opportunities.
  • Get really, really good at storytelling.
  • Remember what you’re running away from.

Action steps after being inspired by Henry Rollins:

  • Start accepting freelance writing work.
  • Start laying groundwork to do in-person training.
  • Attend storytelling events.  Start participating after a while.
  • Think about my old job and look at job listings to remind myself how important being successful at running a business is to me.

When you first start to feel inspired, it’s little more than a vague feeling.  This exercise transforms inspiration from a feeling to a specific set of lessons that have been learned and intentions that have been formed. 

This is a vital first start, but it still doesn’t change the fact that your inspiration won’t last.  If you stop here, all you’ll have is a page of notes and a to-do list that is unlikely to ever get done.  That’s why the next step is to take immediate, massive action.

3.  Immediately take one big action

After writing down your lessons and intentions, the very next step is to take some kind of major action that will have a huge impact on your life.

There are two kinds of actions that can have a big impact on your life.  The first is something that improves your life in and of itself.  Getting a new job or leaving a bad relationship would fall under this category.

As an example, after seeing Henry Rollins speak, I made the decision to immediately start accepting some freelance writing work.  This isn’t my ideal kind of work, but it brings in enough money that my lifestyle immediately went up a notch.  Plus, it hones my writing skills.

The second kind of action you can take is one that commits you to doing other things that will improve your life.  Quitting a job you hate falls under this category; it forces you to move forward.

Here’s an example of the second kind of action: After watching Jiro, I made the decision to retire my fat loss course and focus on coaching.  This didn’t have a major immediate impact on me, but what it did do was force me to abandon any thought that I might make a living off of “passive income” any time soon. 

It also means that, I’ll spend less time in the future writing sales copy for products, and more time writing articles, and honing my skills by coaching people.  That will do more to build both my skills and my following in the long run.

Another decision I made was to challenge myself to write at least 20,000 words in eight days- a challenge I passed with flying colors.  I got a few long articles done, which was great, but the real impact of this was that it increases my productivity moving forward.  After several days of writing two or three thousand words, and one day in which I wrote over then thousand words, my baseline level of writing productivity has shot way up.  After completing that challenge, my average weekly word count has doubled.

Get Inspired- And Use It

Like I said at the beginning of this article, inspiration is usually bullshit.  95% of articles and videos that have words like “inspiring” or “motivational” in their titles are just pablum designed to entertain people who don’t take action with their lives. 

This article is different, which is why it includes a process to follow.

If you want to get inspired and use that inspiration to upgrade your life, follow the process laid out here- watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi, watch Henry Rollins live, read some of the books Ryan Holiday recommends, or listen to Tim Ferriss or Joe Rogan’s podcasts.

On the other hand, sometimes inspiration does strike when you’re not looking for it.  If so, great!  When it does, you can follow steps 2 and 3 of this process. 

Always remember though, inspiration is just a feeling, and feelings fade with time.  If you don’t act on your inspiration, it will end up being just another time in your life when you were in a good mood for a while.  Inspiration is only useful when coupled with action.

Don’t be an inspiration junkie.  Be one of the 5% of people who take life-changing action when the inspiration strikes you.