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Motivation vs. inspiration: The perfect combination for success

August 12, 2022 - 15 min read


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What is motivation?

What is inspiration?

6 key differences

4 similarities

6 examples

4 benefits of combining motivation and inspiration

5 tips to keep your team motivated and inspired

Embracing motivation and inspiration

Your friend just sent you a video of someone giving a speech about achieving your goals. 

You come away feeling full of ideas about how to achieve your goals. You’re starting to make new plans with all of their advice in mind.

But were they more of an inspirational speaker or a motivational speaker? And what exactly is the difference between motivation and inspiration, anyways?

Motivation vs. inspiration is a common point of confusion. Although some use them interchangeably, they aren’t synonyms. It’s important to understand the differences and similarities. Both are key concepts to help you succeed at achieving your goals. 

Let’s start at the beginning by clearly defining both terms.


What is motivation?

Motivation is the driving force that cause us to take action. It gives us the incentive to start behaving in a certain way and provides us with a reason for our actions. It’s what clicks in our brains to desire to act rather than not act. 

You can also learn motivation from others or perhaps pass it on to them. If a team member of yours reaches their goals at work, it could motivate you to reach your own. They could be setting an example for you and showing you how they harness motivation to succeed.

There are many different types of motivation, too. We can feel motivated to do things because of intrinsic motivators like fear or longing, or extrinsic motivators like peer pressure or expectations.

External motivators like rewards can motivate us to act, too. The desire to work hard enough to earn good grades or save enough money to buy a house can serve as meaningful rewards for our efforts.

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What is inspiration?

Inspiration is more of a state of being that provides us with an agent of influence. It’s something that’s based on our values, imagination, and experiences. Inspiration sparks desires in us to pursue something. These pursuits are often creative, but they don’t have to be. Seeing someone’s success on a project might inspire you to take on your own.

But where inspiration is the idea or desire, we still need the motivation to help us act. You might feel inspired to write a song, but will you be motivated enough to do it?

We might find motivation without inspiration, but we’re more likely to move forward if we have a deep desire to do so. Inspiration can provide the willingness that is necessary to spark our drive. External factors can spark our inspiration, but it’s an internal, personal experience.

We can find inspiration everywhere. And because everyone perceives and values things differently, what inspires you might mean nothing to your best friend. Inspiration also requires and also stems from consistent interest. We rarely feel inspired by something one day and then barely feel anything for it the next. 

6 key differences

If you’ve used these two terms interchangeably, it’s OK; you’re not alone. But understanding the differences between motivation and inspiration can help you identify which you have in your life and which one you need more of. And since we need both of these to help us reach our goals, it’s crucial to become familiar with them.

To help you out, here are six main differences to review:

  1. Motivation often happens on a short-term basis, whereas inspiration sticks around for longer
  2. Motivation comes from external sources, whereas inspiration stems from more internal stimulants
  3. Inspiration can be more spontaneous, and we don’t always see it coming, but motivation is predictable
  4. Inspiration comes more naturally to people and makes them feel happy, whereas motivation can be harder to sustain and cause people to go through challenging moments
  5. Sometimes we act on motivation because of feelings of competitiveness, but with inspiration, we’re acting on it because it’ll benefit our own well-being
  6. Inspiration drives us, whereas motivation is a pulling force

Sometimes we struggle to turn our inspiration into the motivation we need to meet our goals. That’s what BetterUp is here to help you with. Learning about our strengths and weaknesses helps us chart a course forward where we know what we need to spend time working on.

4 similarities

Since people often wonder, “Is motivation and inspiration the same thing?” it’s important to also highlight the similarities between the two. 

Read over these four similarities to help you further distinguish between motivation vs. inspiration:

  1. Both make us take action to some degree
  2. They’re necessary for personal developing and finding our purpose
  3. Both cause our lives to change in severe or moderate ways
  4. Both demand us to think creatively and in detail


6 examples

We can all feel like we’re in a funk when it comes to motivation and inspiration. Sometimes we’re exploding with one but not the other. Other times it may feel like we have neither. But really, you might be walking right past it.

Here are a few examples of both motivation and inspiration in action for you to think about:

Examples of motivation

  1. You’re the team member on your hockey team with the least amount of goals. You want to show your teammates and coaches that you’re skillful, so you practice extra hours to become even better. 
  2. You’ve entered a local pie baking contest, and it’s your dream to take home first place. Last year your pie was a disaster, so you’ve been experimenting with your recipe for a few weeks now. You also want to prove to your friends and family that your pie is delicious, so you make an effort to source the best possible ingredients. 
  3. You received another failing grade on a test at school. You’re afraid that you’ll fail the class, and you don’t want to have to repeat it. To prepare for the next test, you study every night and seek extra help from your teacher to ensure you’ll pass.

Examples of inspiration

  1. A friend of yours took you to a new museum. You see all these beautiful paintings and remember how you used to love to paint as a kid. Later that afternoon, you unbox your old brushes and start to paint whatever you’d like, making you smile.
  2. You’ve always tried to help others whenever you can because it’s one of your core values. At the grocery store, the person in front of you was short $5 on their bill. You remember once when a stranger spotted you some money, so you passed it forward and helped out the person in front of you. 
  3. In your backyard, you don’t have many trees or plants. On a hike, you stop to admire how beautiful the landscape is with many trees. When you get home, you feel inspired and start planting flowers. After a successful season tending to your flowers, you plant a big tree in your yard.

How to combine motivation and inspiration to achieve your goals

We know that these two concepts are key to achieving our goals. Learning how to increase our motivation, inspiration, and energy can be tricky. Tricky, but never impossible.

We can combine our motivation and inspiration to stay accountable. On days when we feel like our motivation has run out, holding ourselves accountable and harnessing some inspiration will keep us going. 


Being responsible for our actions also helps when we make mistakes. Failing or stumbling might lead us to consider quitting. But persevering and finding motivation when we aren’t successful is an important part of holding us accountable. 

Setting unrealistic goals can also stunt your inspiration and motivation. Constantly falling short of your goals might make you feel like you’ll never reach your dreams.

Research has shown that we’re more committed to our goals when we understand their importance, value, and attainability. Sometimes our motivation can lead us to take on challenging things, but with inspiration, we’ll see the value in them and continue to progress.

Goals take a lot of commitment and sustained effort. They can be broken down into smaller ones that keep inspiring up to progress forward while still taking action towards a bigger goal. Studies have shown that writing down our goals and continuing to set new ones fuels a cycle of inspiration.

Checking things off our to-do list will keep us working, so larger goals should be broken into steps. We’re more likely to keep our success rolling with a system that shows us how to achieve it. And being mindful of the internal or external forces that motivate us can increase our self-awareness. 

Motivation can be learned or become a practice. If we need the extrinsic motivation that a list provides to stop our inspiration from stalling, so be it. Inspiration is harder to manufacture, but we’ll be even more focused if we can find it.

4 benefits of combining motivation and inspiration


Reaching our goals is one thing, but we can’t forget that the lessons and skills we learn along the way are just as important. 

Here are four benefits that you can experience from combining motivation and inspiration:

  1. You encourage and set an example for others to solve their motivation or inspiration problems
  2. You learn how to be compassionate, sympathetic, and empathetic as other people work towards their goals
  3. You become more creative but still realistic with your goal setting
  4. Your interests grow, and you try new things with confidence

5 tips to keep your team motivated and inspired

Any workplace that lacks motivation and inspiration isn’t on the right track. Their work and productivity won’t be sustainable if they don’t see the value in their tasks. Keeping people inspired takes strong leadership and dedication. Some people might try to resist your keen, motivational and inspirational effort, but that doesn’t mean you should stop trying.

Here are five tips to help you inject all the motivation and inspiration your team needs:

  1. Provide resources on your business’ purpose, both in-person and virtual ones, for people to reference 
  2. Set and outline SMART goals for each team member and department to hit
  3. Celebrate milestones, both big and small
  4. Give your team members creative freedom and opportunities to have their ideas heard
  5. Encourage people to work collaboratively and feed off everyone’s energy


Embracing motivation and inspiration

When we talk about motivation vs. inspiration, we can now understand both are important for achieving success, despite their differences. Combining them is how we can achieve our goals. Neither concept is a bad thing on its own.

Motivation and inspiration are what fuels our personal development. They can be precisely what you, your relationships, or your workplace needs to progress forward. Figuring out what motivates and inspires you can take some time, or it can be right in front of you.

Next time you feel inspired, motivated, or a bit of both, embrace it and let it help you on your way to leveling up.

At BetterUp, we know that motivation is important for coaching. Our coaches can help you develop a healthy balance between motivation and inspiration to achieve your goals.

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Published August 12, 2022

Elizabeth Perry

Content Marketing Manager, ACC

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