The Burning Heart: How To Stay Inspired

There are things we encounter that awake something in us and inspire us: an experience, a revelation, a new insight or piece of information, a connection made, the sight of something beautiful. These things affect us at a heart level so that we desire – in a big way – to do something about it.

Inspiration, by definition, involves is mental stimulation that gets connected to our emotions. It’s a combination of thought and feeling which becomes the impetus to take action. The etymology reveals that inspiration originated as the idea of divine guidance – a prompting from somewhere or someone larger than ourselves.

A secondary definition of inspiration is to draw breath – to inhale – which further alludes to the idea inspiration does not come from within us, but from beyond ourselves, and we receive it into us and assimilate it.

We talk about the spark of inspiration – that first burst of a fire igniting – a match being struck. It’s a mini-explosion that quickly settles into a steady flame which, unless applied to fuel, will fade away and burn out, leaving only a withered, charred stick. Creatives are supposed to be always creating and therefore always inspired. The blank page or screen I face each day is meant to be the start of a great adventure rather than an intimidatingly empty space. In my lifetime of creativity, I’ve come to know that inspiration does not simply show up out of the blue. I must regularly do those things that keep me inspired. I must pursue that prompting and carry it with me until the design is finished.

Inspiration is the antithesis to burnout.
Inspiration can come from anywhere. We can be initially inspired and energized to work on something, but then we need to remain inspired in order to finish the work. This requires some intentional effort. Inspiration invigorates us. We become excited and eager to get going, take action, get it done. If we’re delayed in that effort, or don’t begin at all, the inspiration itself will burn out.

Burnout is the result of working at something with no ongoing inspiration. The fire that first fueled us to act and keep going fizzles out, leaving us to trudge along without vigor or excitement. Inspiration is required to start something. Maintenance is required to keep moving and make something of it.

How to stay inspired.
Using the fire analogy, there are several things we can do to stay inspired over the long haul:

1. Put more fuel on the fire. Revisit the circumstances that first inspired you. Write the vision down when you are initially inspired, so that you can review it regularly and remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing.  I have places that inspire me, and I return to them as often as I can. I look back through old sketchbooks and journals. I hit up museums and exhibits. I go online to look at the work of illustrators and designers who have influenced my work. I read. I go to movies. I draw. I use my social media platforms quite a bit, searching out words and images that stand out to me.

2. Put the right fuel on the fire. What inspires me might not inspire you. Know what does stimulate your thinking and touches your emotions, and run with that. Remember the second definition of breathing in? We can also breathe in things that can harm us, so stay where your oxygen is. Don’t take in what’s not going to keep you going.

3. Keep the fire together. Get together with others and share ideas. Write them down, make voice memos, draw charts and maps, Pin, Instagram or upload to Flickr. Staying inspired involves all the senses. We can use technology and social media to collect images, quotes, prose and clips to review. One thing that’s really useful in sharing ideas is that a group creates motivation for the individuals in it.

4. Share the fire. A single spark can start a massive wildfire. We can remain inspired by inspiring others. When you notice someone else is getting excited about something, encourage and bolster them. Parents to kids, teachers to students, friends to friends and colleagues to colleagues, we keep each other going by sharing and inviting people to share with us.

Inspiration is different for every individual. The key is to know what inspires you – what gets your thinking going and gives you joy in the process  – and then to pursue that regularly until you’ve got the thing accomplished.

What inspires you? How do you stay inspired?

Alvalyn Lundgren

Alvalyn Lundgren is the founder and principal of Alvalyn Creative, an independent consultancy providing brand strategy design and bespoke illustration for more than 30 years. She is the creator of Freelance Road Trip — a business school and podcast for creative freelancers. She teaches design and design practice on the college level with design schools and programs.