Article by Michael Pietrzak
The entrepreneurs I know are well acquainted with “The Dark Side.” The setbacks that come with the lifestyle can lead to financial crisis, destructive habits, and despair. A phone call that undoes months of hard work can send you into a rage, or you might wake up one day unable to get out of bed.
Thankfully, the struggle is balanced by the reward of the occasional astronomical high: being visited by a genius idea or the feeling that you’re changing the world. The call of incredible wealth isn’t so bad, either. These inspirational highs have kept entrepreneurs working for days on end into the small hours of night.
To be human is to accept that the ups and downs of life often follow no discernible pattern. But I’ve uncovered a secret: We can create the conditions under which inspiration is likely to strike.
What Is Inspiration?
We all know inspiration when we feel it. Vladimir Nabokov described it as “a prefatory glow” and a “feeling of tickly well-being” that spreads through you. After a few days, the lightning bolt hits. The idea grips you, and furious napkin writing ensues. You forget to eat. You build a prototype. This kernel starts a chain reaction that fuels a lifelong undertaking.
Okay – inspiration is not always that profound. Sometimes, it only takes you as far as, “I think I’ll have another coffee.”
Like its cousin motivation, inspiration seldom bowls you over. In its most common form, it’s a gentle hand on your shoulder – but it always moves you forward.
Inspiration’s Evil Twin, Resistance
Inspiration can be created, but it can also be destroyed.
In his book, Do the Work, Steven Pressfield talks at length about resistance, a central antagonist for many of us. Resistance is the force inside all of us that leads to procrastination. It is indifferent, but evil; a powerful anti-inspiration that keeps us from doing what’s important, especially when the goal is big.
We all know resistance: the desire to check Facebook, the seeming need to clean the office before you work. Resistance is that nagging urge to do anything but work on your goal. It corners you when you feel like you can’t do one more damn thing that day – like, say, at 3 P.M. on Thursday afternoon.
Resistance looks fierce, but it’s a flimsy enemy. When your inspiration is greater than your resistance, you win.
If you want to fill your inspiration bucket and overcome resistance, take these three steps:
1. Patch the Holes
No matter how much inspiration you generate, you’ll feel drained if you keep killing it. Find out what’s sapping your inspiration’s life force and remove it.
To find the leaks in your inspiration bucket, you need to consciously observe your mood and its causes. Here are some likely sources of inspiration drain to consider:
- Being in the Wrong Role: For three months, I sold credit card machines to Main Street businesses. I was terrible at door-to-door sales. Terrible. After hundreds of rejections, I had zero drive to continue.
When you’re lacking motivation, wellness expert Dr. Susan Biali recommends that you step back and look at the goal itself.
“Does the idea thrill you? If so, you’ve passed the first test,” Dr. Biali says. If it doesn’t, you might not be in the right role.
- A Lack of Encouragement From Those Around You: Research shows that people enjoy increased motivation when they receive positive feedback on their efforts from a boss, their peers, or their customers.
In Drive, Daniel Pink explores how intangible rewards such as praise can inspire us to turn out high-quality work: “It sounds small and simple, but it can have an enormous effect,” he writes. Surround yourself with cheerleaders.
- Working in a Drab Environment: Stephen King started his writing career with a tiny desk jammed into his laundry room. We’re all happy about how that turned out, but for most people, a cluttered, claustrophobic, drab workspace is the No. 1 enemy of inspiration.
Not everyone has the luxury of a glass-walled penthouse with a view of the mountains, but do what you can to create inspiring surroundings.
2. Find Your ‘Juice’
Tony Robbins likes to talk about getting more “juice” out of life. Of course, he’s not talking about literal juice; rather, it’s a metaphor for getting the most out of life according to what sets your spirit on fire. Your favorite flavor of “juice” might not be mine, which is why it’s up to you to discover which parts of life give you goosebumps – and then chase those things.
For example, I’m fired up by 5 A.M. walks and loud music. When I feel my energy waning, I’ll take 30 minutes to throw on my headphones and turn up the noise. When I’m done, I’ll come back to work inspired and ready to continue.
Find your “thing,” whether it’s stand-up comedy, time with your kids, or a great novel. For the next three weeks, keep a journal of every time you feel inspired. You will see patterns emerge, and you’ll end up with a list of activities guaranteed to boost your inspiration.
3. Do the Work
The best way to kill inspiration is to wait for it to strike. Loaf around, and it’s unlikely the muse will visit. The painter Chuck Close was right when he said, “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.”
When you open your laptop, two things happen. The first is movement: Nature abhors a vacuum, and the act of staring at that blank document generates ideas. The second is positive feedback: When you sit down to work and actually accomplish something, you are inspired to do more.
Humans are happiest when they are productive. If you don’t believe that, track how you feel after a day of accomplishments versus one of spinning your wheels. Productivity will feel better every time.
Newton’s first law of motion applies not only to physical objects, but also to your own inspiration: An object in motion stays in motion. The best way I’ve found to create momentum is to apply “persistent starting.” Instead of focusing on a task in its entirety, just start. If you run out of steam, that’s okay. Start again in five minutes, or an hour, or a day. The key is to keep starting. If you do, finishing will take care of itself.
A version of this article originally appeared on SUCCESS.com.
Michael Pietrzak is the founder of Rogue Refined Goods Co., which helps ambitious men upgrade their lives with uncommon goods and useful lifehacks. He’s passionate about personal development, CrossFit, and playing guitar.