The Two Types of Inspiration (Are You Using Both in Your Work and Life?)

It’s easy to spend all day searching for inspiration. You can find incredible videos, articles, and news stories, and email them out to all of your friends. But the best (and longest lasting) type of inspiration comes from applying those outside bits of motivation to your own goals.

Make no mistake: it’s important to be a learner. Successful people in all fields soak up new information. They find inspiration and motivation in the work and success of others.

But here’s the problem: consuming the success and ideas of others is passive inspiration. Every time you watch a video, read an article, or listen to an interview, you’re practicing passive inspiration. You might learn something, but you don’t actually have to do anything. Hearing about other people’s success isn’t the same thing as creating your own.

Instead, it is through the process of active inspiration — the act of creating things, applying new ideas to our goals, and making mistakes — that we discover who we are and what is important to us. Furthermore, active inspiration is what results in long—term passion and enthusiasm. Watching someone else’s success might leave you feeling excited for a few minutes, but taking action and applying a new idea to your life will inspire you more than anything someone else could say.

Learning and listening can help you think about things in a different way, but creating, producing, and experimenting is what propels you forward. Passive inspiration can give you ideas, but active inspiration will give you momentum.

The Best Inspiration is Application

The inspiration is not the receiving of information. The inspiration is applying what you’ve received.
—Derek Sivers

If you come across a good idea, use it. We spend so much time trying to find more inspirational things to consume that it can be easy for us to forget that the best form of inspiration comes from what we create.

It’s about stumbling across a brilliant idea and bringing it to life in your work. It’s about finding a new strategy and applying it your own goals. It’s about learning a new exercise and adding it to your workout. The application of ideas will always be more powerful than the ideas themselves.

Too often we spend our lives consuming the world around us instead of creating it. Sure, there is some motivation in other people’s ideas, but don’t forget about the power your actions have to inspire you. The best inspiration comes from the application of ideas, not the consumption of them.

For more ideas on inspiration, check out these articles: how to get motivated, the difference between professionals and amateurs, how to get started, and the habits of successful people.

1. Derek Sivers wrote about inspiration and inspired me to write this post. Thanks Derek!


  1. We sometimes can get obsessed with the acquirement of knowledge in order to finally have permission to become an authority on something, but we must start somewhere! Great post.

    • I actually struggled with this a lot when I was beginning as an entrepreneur. Eventually, I learned that you become an authority by overcoming mistakes, not by avoiding them.

      Thanks for reading, Galo!

  2. Consuming v.s. creating: no contest. It is perhaps a 90/10 split for me with the creating getting the lions’ share. Of course, I must read fascinating posts like yours to help fuel my own endeavors!! Have a fun day, James!!

    • Thanks CJ. And you’re right — we all need external sources of inspiration. It’s just important to realize that those sources only lead to change when we apply them.

      Glad you enjoyed the post!

  3. Absolutely!

    Another drawback of passive inspiration is that we are limiting ourselves to the extent of success/knowledge of the source we are consuming. That is, we will be following someone’s else tracks instead of looking for our own path.

    Only through active inspiration are innovations made and new paths paved.

    • Great point, Darius. I’d say that innovations are often a combination of passive and active inspiration as well. (i.e. Get inspiration and ideas from one source and then apply them to a new area or in a new way.)

      Thanks for reading!

  4. Great post! I find that I am inspired by others, even out of my area of expertise, but the cool thing is what happens when you take that inspiration energy and think outside the box and create your own way of doing something, or creating something. Everything seems like it has been done before, but if we believe that each unique person has their own way of seeing the world, the possibilities are endless!

  5. Great dichotomy–never thought about things that way. I suppose that in a sense, passive inspiration often spurs us to active inspiration.

    • Yes — you definitely need both. The trick is to not get caught in the trap of always seeking passive inspiration.

  6. Thank you, James. Very moving. Crucial advice. I will try to keep it in mind. Internet makes it increasingly difficult for me to act more and read and share less. I´ll keep trying.

    • Glad you enjoyed it, Gregario. It’s something we all struggle with from time to time, I think. Thanks for reading!

  7. Hi James

    What a great post!

    Indeed passive inspiration is a huge part of our lives, for this often is the seeds for greater things. However, on its own, seeds just stay what they are … seeds. Creation only starts when we put the seeds in good soil, water them, nourish them and attend to them conscientiously that we reap the harvest.

    Inspiration, vibration, creation! Just love it!

    • Helen — that’s a great analogy. I like the idea of cultivating and fostering the growth of the seeds of inspiration in our lives.

      Thanks for reading!

  8. Thanks for the post. After I read your article I wanted to find a great quote I heard a while ago, but found another great one instead:

    “The great end of life is not knowledge but action.” -Thomas H. Huxley

    (I kinda like quotes, they are so short but so full of wisdom.)

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