Welcome to Joy Lab!: Welcome to the Joy Lab podcast, where we help you uncover and foster your most joyful self. Your hosts, Dr. Henry Emmons and Dr. Aimee Prasek, bring you the ideal mix of soulful and scientifically sound tools to spark your joy, even when it feels dark. When you're ready to experiment with more joy, combine this podcast with the full Joy Lab program over at JoyLab.coach
Aimee (2): Well, hi everyone. So I'm popping in here real quick to introduce the special replay episode. So Henry and myself will be joining you in a moment. Just wanted to share this older episode with you because it hits on sort of inspiration 101 in a lot of ways. And, you know, we've talked about resolutions a lot this month, in January, which is our element of inspiration. So I think this is a really nice way to just kind of close it up. And perhaps introduce maybe a little bit of a refreshed or a little reframe on how we can see resolutions or goal setting. And how we might channel a bit more inspiration as well. So, and also next week, there will be a, another replay and that'll be on savoring and it's also kind of a 101 episode. And it really hits on what we like to think of as sort of that missing link when it comes to mental health, which is this practice of savoring. So that'll be next week.
So here it is. Inspiration. Enjoy.
So, the element for this episode is inspiration, as in being awakened to new possibilities or feeling so deeply passionate that you want to do something out of that passion.
It's that sort of ephemeral quality that I think we all know because we've all had it at least once before, and I don't think it really needs much more, description. You kind of know it when you feel it. So, maybe you know someone that seems to sort of live in that state of inspiration most of the time, but I think the majority of us find it to be sort of fleeting.
And it can seem hard to get it back once it's gone. So, Henry, I'm thinking, like, for the rest of this episode, you could just say inspiring things to us. That we can soak
Henry: in. Thanks a lot, Aimee. As you know, it is kind of hard to be inspiring on demand. So, um So here, I'll just toss this out. Here's a quote, probably the most famous quote ever about inspiration from Thomas Edison.
He said, "Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration." Now, I actually don't love that quote, by the way, but what do you think, Aimee? Is it too late to change the topic to perspiration?
Aimee (2): No, let's do it. I would love to see perspiration as one of our elements of joy, actually. We could just do saunas for all the experiments, or saunas, as my husband says, and I think a lot of our Minnesota, Minnesota friends might say.
Yes, but back to that quote, even if it is true, where would we be though without that 1 percent of inspiration? So we'll dig into that. And I actually want to bring inspiration sort of back into the activities of daily life because I imagine folks are like, seriously, inspiration, let's get back into the real world of things that will actually help me feel better and help me get stuff done.
And I agree, and inspiration can actually help you do that. So, here's a, just a bit of evidence that I think helps us to sort of ground inspiration. So, individuals who score higher on something called the Inspiration Scale. And that's a tool that researchers Todd Thrash and Andrew Elliott created. So, folks who score higher on this scale report more absorption in tasks and higher completion rates in tasks versus folks who score lower on that scale.
And folks who score higher also have a stronger drive to complete their work and at the same time are less competitive, which is actually kind of a perfect combo when it comes to doing your own work. Additionally, there's folks who score higher on this scale are more intrinsically motivated and less extrinsically motivated than folks who score lower, meaning they do things because it matters. It matters to them. They have that internal drive and purpose. Folks who score higher on the inspiration scale also report more self esteem and optimism. So, I'll just stop there because I think those few things are really pretty important. Inspiration can act as this powerful fuel for us to take action, not to impress others, which I think is key, right? But action that is meaningful to us and that we engage in because it fills us. And that's the type of meaningful work that produces the best results. And I think that we really all crave.
Henry: Wow, that is, that is really interesting.
So, you know, for me, personally, inspiration has always been a really important theme for me. It's been ever present, really, throughout my life. And it feels kind of like a, a source of new life to me or something that can pull me out of when I get stagnant and it helps drive my creativity. It helps me feel more alive.
It is an engine that kind of propels me forward. So I really love when I can feel inspired by some vision or sense of greater possibility and at various points in my life It's it's gotten to where I yearn for it and I have looked for it in various ways. You know as far back as I can remember. So when I was a young professional, unfortunately, I did not find a lot of inspiration in traditional medicine or psychiatry.
I thought it was, it felt kind of dry or routine, even a little lifeless, at least to me. So, I just always had my eyes open for what I thought were interesting, out of the ordinary types of workshops and trainings. And I found this organization pretty early in my career that was called the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine and they called it for short, they just called it NICABOM, which by the way is not a very inspired name. But for several years NICABOM had this annual conference on Hilton Head Island and they would bring in dozens of these really innovative, creative thinkers and expert clinicians in mind body medicine.
Some people that you've probably heard of, like Jon Kabat Zinn, Deepak Chopra, Tara Brach, but also lots of less well known people that were equally on fire with the work that they were doing. And every year I'd go there for about a week and I would leave just feeling filled up with tons of inspiration and enthusiasm that, that carried me along and propelled me for a while.
But then eventually the inspiration would dry up and it was as if I needed another dose of it. I actually think at that point in my life, I fell into some of the traps, the possible traps of inspiration. The pitfalls, if you will, because I relied too much on other people to get it. And in the end, that's just not a very reliable source of inspiration. And then over time, I think there, there became kind of a grasping quality to it where I just needed it too much. And then if it wasn't there, I started to fear that it would perhaps never come back again.
Aimee (2): I can relate. And I would guess most of us can relate to it. And we'll dig into more of those obstacles a bit in, in the podcast, but more so in the, in the Joy Lab program. But for now, I'm also really connecting, Henry, with your notion that there's something like very fundamental and necessary about inspiration. And so sort of exploring that for a moment. It shows up in Greek mythology, of course, with the muses, and then just thinking of the word itself, the sort of literal use of the word. Inspiration means to sort of, breathe in, to take air into the lungs. And then its Latin root is really the same as the root for spirit.
So we have all of these figurative definitions that describe something like breathing in spirit, breathing in new life. And we see that in the creation stories, in a bunch of wisdom traditions. It's part of so many religious rituals. All of these ideas of that breath being given to us, that we receive what really animates us.
Um, what gives us purpose. So the capacity to be inspired, really seems built into us. We're wired for it, as we often say here, so we must need it, right?
Henry: Yeah, well, I would agree with that totally. So I have a friend who's actually, for me, a really good model of, of inspiration and what it can do for you. So Sandy is a therapist, recently retired, but she's a therapist who I've known for, for more than 30 years.
And she is, all this time that I've known her, she's just always reading, always learning new things. She has a very curious mind. But she also just repeatedly found inspiration through learning new things about her work, new theories of psychology or new techniques that would help her patients. And, you know, she was just so good about that, and she retired a couple years ago at the age of 70.
And her passion for new possibilities, as I observed, it continued all the way up to her retirement. She just never allowed her work to become stagnant or routine for very long. Now, I'm not sure, really, whether It becomes easier or harder to find inspiration as we age, but I think it's probably varies for each person.
But I have so much respect for how Sandy continued to inject New life right up to the end of her career and beyond because now she's spending some of her time writing poetry and she still gets inspired by travel or new strategies for personal growth, and I also felt that she didn't Just dabble in things, maybe she did once in a while, but she would also go deeply, into something that really jazzed her. And I thought that too seemed like a really important aspect of this.
Aimee (2): Yeah, I think in a lot of instances, that depth is so important. So, maybe back to that idea that you mentioned earlier of craving inspiration and it can sometimes lead us into excessive dabbling. Actually, that's really something that can derail true inspiration. And it also is something that I was very, very good at in the past.
Um, but I think what I've come to understand, though, is that inspiration is amplified. When there's depth. Like not a hundred percent of the time, but assuming that inspiration moves us to action, and that's an important aspect of inspiration, then we can, you know, just get caught on the surface if we never stick with something.
You know, it becomes this craving for a quick hit of inspiration to ease some discomfort. Which leads to, you know, a newfound passion for a few months, and then it wears off, and that pause gets interpreted as uncomfortable boredom, fear, or an unreasonable goal, right, hasn't been attained.
Then we start searching for inspiration again. So I think it's really an exhausting cycle that continues to pull us out of our own wisdom, uh, and authenticity.
Henry: Yes, you know, that's very descriptive of my earlier relationship with inspiration. But, you know, I do think I've matured in this relationship to inspiration, and I suspect we both have.
And I still value it tremendously. But I have learned to relate to it a little differently, and I've learned not to rely quite so much on getting it from sources outside of myself, like I could somehow just absorb it by being with great innovators or simply being around people who are inspired. So I really think now, I think that it is something that happens within. I think it's part of our inner life, and it doesn't happen just by chance, just like so many of these, these things we talk about in Joy Lab.
We can do things to make it happen, or at least make it more likely that inspiration will come back to us, or maybe will stay with us longer.
Aimee (2): Yeah, I think that's really important that we can cultivate inspiration or make it more likely. Again, yeah, just like all the other elements of joy that we work with in Joy Lab.
Um, you know, we have this, this image maybe from mythology or religion that inspiration comes only through supernatural or divine channels or that it's limited to just the artists or creative types or the highly spiritual folks. And since it can seem to run dry, it's easy to think that there's not much we can do about it.
We just sort of wait for the muse to return. It's outside of our control. So, yes, absolutely. I want to dig into what we can do, uh, not to force it, but maybe to coax inspiration back into our lives.
Henry: Yeah, I like that way of thinking about it. It's coaxing it or, or staying open to it. It reminds me of the way that Parker Palmer likes to talk about the soul.
He compares it to an animal in the wild. And you are not going to meet an animal in the wild through coercion. You have to be still and allow it to come out when it's good and ready.
Aimee (2): That's such a great image for, um, the inner life. Be still and allow. So, let's dive in. We've come up with five qualities of inspiration, different aspects of it that we can learn from and perhaps, make inspiration a more reliable partner in our lives.
So let's do it. Let's dive in.
Henry: Sounds great. So the first quality is that inspiration is Invitational. We cannot be inspired without our permission. We have to allow it to happen. So, I came across a quote that I think gives a nice perspective on this. It's, it's by the famous philosopher and writer Anaïs Nin.
And she said, "You cannot save people. You can just love them." So I want to paraphrase that and say you cannot inspire people. You can just invite them. So we have to be open in order to receive the invitation to be inspired. We cannot receive it unless we allow new life to be breathed into us.
Now this involves some risk because it means that we might be changed. And as we all know, change can be hard even if it's for the better. Now, there's a flip side to that too, that we also have to let go of the idea that we cannot change. This notion that we are who we are. We've settled into this comfortable homeostasis for better or worse, and that's just how it is.
Yet, inspiration can bypass that sort of stagnancy and it can speed things up if we're looking to change or grow. Now the research on this I believe it's by the same researchers that you referred to Aimee that it shows very clearly that people with higher levels of inspiration share a particular trait and that is they are more open to new experiences.
No one can give us that trait except ourselves. And with that openness and the inspired action that can come from it, change can actually happen fairly quickly. We can create a new normal.
Aimee (2): Um, yeah, those little steps, little shifts. So, the next quality is that Inspiration has to be internalized. So meaning we take it in and it becomes part of our nature, our framework, our motivation for action. This quality has a lot to do with sort of keeping us out of that permanent cycle, I think, of inspiration chasing.
And I, I get it, that on its face, this quality then of inspiration doesn't really sound like much fun, it just sounds like having less inspiring moments, but actually there's some, there's some interesting research here. So, when researchers look for factors that increase the likelihood of folks experiencing inspiration, there are three common ones that show up.
Uh, two of these make total sense. I think. The first openness to experience, which Henry just noted. Another is positive affect, uh, which we work on here at the podcast a lot and more so in the Joy Lab program. You know, being open to positive emotions, practicing them and making them more part of our daily lives.
But the third one that increases your likelihood of experiencing inspiration, it's pretty boring. It's preparation. So, I mean, kind of, uh, referencing back to our note of perspiration from earlier, this factor can also be called "work mastery" and sort of other seemingly sweaty terms for, um, you know, sticking with something.
And so along that road of preparation, acknowledging small wins is also something that can boost inspiration. Which again, I think is great as it sort of busts that myth that inspiration is only tied to the lofty stuff. So the idea here then with internalizing inspiration is that you apply that energy into a depth of practice. And you then gain a sense of accomplishment. An evolving mastery along the way.
And that can anchor some intrinsic motivation within you. It's powerful fuel that can sustain you during some of those dry spells. And that it also puts you into the path of receiving more inspiration. Pretty surprising.
Henry: Yeah, Yeah. Well, the third quality of inspiration,is different again, and it's that inspiration is unrestrained.
There is a sense of freedom that comes with it, of being unfettered or uninhibited. It's kind of like you know, if you fill up a hot air balloon and then you loosen its moorings, it just rises up on its own without much effort. And the same can happen to you, you know, when you feel inspired, you simply feel expansive, open hearted, and you just, you feel lifted up without any particular effort on your part.
I actually think this dovetails very nicely with that first quality of permission. Because there's not much you need to do here once you're struck with inspiration, other than to allow it to move in you and through you. Now this also helps to counter one of the other roadblocks to inspiration, which is the tendency to have these overly high expectations.
Maybe even perfectionism. Now, you know that the perfect is the enemy of the good. Well, I think the perfect is also the enemy of inspiration. There's nothing here that you really have to figure out. You don't have to get it just right. You can release whatever you feel is holding you back, release your expectations of how things have to go and allow inspiration to kind of work its magic on you.
Aimee (2): Oh, that is magic. I love that. It's, it's so enlivening to be freed up from those, those constraints and be transported. For things to come together just right so that you somehow rise above yourself and create or accomplish something that you never thought was in you. And I think that happens more often than we realize, actually.
Uh, and it really describes a fourth of our qualities of inspiration, which is transcendent. So Elizabeth Gilbert has this beautiful TED talk called Your Elusive Creative Genius. And she describes the pressure she felt after sort of nailing it with her bestseller, "Eat, Pray, Love" and the fear that she'd never be able to equal that.
But she really found comfort in the idea that inspiration doesn't come from us, it's something that happens to us. And so, um, you know, we might be struck by a moment of clarity or creativity or skill that seems to come from beyond us. That's transcendence. And so maybe our genius, right, is on loan to us, not from us.
And I think so often we discount that transcendence or that interconnectedness and either take all all the blame when something doesn't work out or take all the praise when it does. Either way, we're sort of setting ourselves up for things to be so much more difficult next time around. It's too much to hold, uh, too much responsibility and it's not how the universe sort of functions, right?
We're not in a vacuum. Actually, and on that, I had a mentor that would tell me your work is of the utmost consequence and completely inconsequential. So I, I had to sit with that for a while, um, after first being deflated by it, but to really sit with it and get it and not dismiss it also as something sort of woo woo, but it's true and it's freeing, or it was for me, it was a reminder, like, I am not the center of the universe, like not even close.
So my individual successes or failures will not fix or break our universe. That would be terrible if it were true. But nonetheless, I can do some universe-shifting things, particularly when I acknowledge my connectedness with everything around me. I like how Elizabeth Gilbert also describes it. She says,
"That doesn't mean that you play no part in it, but you can't force it. Just continue to show up for your piece of it. Do your job, whatever that is. Do your dance anyhow. Keep showing up."
Henry: I love the honesty that Elizabeth Gilbert had in that talk. And you know, it, it can be hard to accept that the magic doesn't last, which is the final quality of inspiration. It is cyclical. It is impermanent. You don't get to live in an inspired state all of the time. But when it leaves you, that does not mean that it's gone forever, even though it might really feel like it is.
I used to really struggle with this. I just hate feeling stagnant. I think it might be my least favorite internal state to be in. So, I would get really impatient with this and feel almost desperate for that inspiration to return. That is grasping. But I'm a lot more accepting of it these days when it goes away.
I try to take more lessons from what I see in nature. Right now where we live, it is winter and nature has receded. It's gone underground. Clearly, this is a fallow time. And I understand now that a lot can actually happen in the fallow times. You can rest, for example. You can restore yourself. It's as if you can prepare yourself for this next cycle of activity and creativity that might get started with that inspiration.
So, there's this haiku poem that I have just always loved. It's very short, and I don't actually know who wrote it. I tried to find out, but couldn't. I'll just read it to you.
" Spring comes, and the grass grows by itself." " Spring comes, and the grass grows by itself." Now I have always associated that image with resilience, that it's really your nature to be resilient, and if you lose your resilience, it will come back to you, if you can simply let it.
It will come back on its own, but I also think that this image speaks to inspiration. When you're in a dry spell, when you cycle into an inner winter, so to speak, try to remember that inspiration and the inspired, meaningful action that can follow it will come again as surely as the spring.
Aimee (2): It's sort of coming to the, that quality of, internalized thinking about this fallow time as being a time for storing and resting. And I'm just picturing like tulips coming up in the spring, but they needed that time. So, what a sacred period. Those fallow times.
So thank you so much everyone for listening and for diving into these qualities of inspiration with us.
We hope you'll also join us for the Joy Lab program where we guide you week by week to develop the skills, you need to live the elements of joy. And to do your part in preparing for that spring that is surely coming so that whatever it is that is within you can grow by itself.
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