How to Handle Inspiration Overwhelm

This summer has felt a bit like a freight train to me. You, too?  I’m glad I’m not alone. 

Meet Barry.

In equal measure with languid, summer days and time off, the rising temperatures have brought exciting new opportunities and goals at work and a rise in volume of the critical voice in my head. Let’s call that voice Barry; I like to picture a precocious four-year old with coke-bottle glasses and a gimlet eye. Sometimes Barry is helpful, but most of the time he isn’t. Thanks to a deliberate practice of emotional agility and Susan David’s writing, I know that I can’t ignore the critical voice in my head; after all, emotions are data and bottling or brooding are equally maladaptive responses to challenging thoughts or emotions.   

While I feel somewhat competent in David’s process of managing my emotions, it wasn’t until the idea of “getting inspired” left me feeling flat, with Barry muttering about it as if it were another item on a giant to-do list, that I realized I might have to dig a little deeper.  

We define sustainable inspiration as the intersections of possibility, invincibility, and intentional practice: 

  • Possibility: The vision that expands the boundary of “what could be”
  • Invincibility: The confident energy that complements possibility and  translates into action
  • Intentional Practice: unlike a habit, rooted in repetition, intentional practice is steeped in thoughtful design and action

When inspiration feels uninspired.

Inspiration is the opposite of overwhelm; it might contain some “whelm”- David uses this term to describe a feeling of stretch and at your learning edge- but the core of inspiration is feeling hopeful, confident, passionate, excited, and curious. While reviewing my challenging and exciting end-of year goals, a colleague asked me how I was going to super-charge them with inspiration… and I balked inside. In our research, we have found 18 engines of inspiration- that fall within 3 categories -and it’s to that list of engines that my mind immediately went first. Supercharging my goals with inspiration felt like a homework assignment in that moment- which engines are you going to use, how will you activate your signature strengths, and who is going to be your champion on this path?  I’m sure you’ve been in a similar situation- a positive, interesting opportunity lands with you at the wrong time or on the wrong day, which leaves you feeling a bit panicky, tired, or overwhelmed. In essence, it actually leaves you uninspired. 

While that response is important data, my answer to how to respond to it effectively didn’t come until a few days after that conversation with my co-worker.  

My InspireCorps family have often joked that I could be a contestant on Jeopardy;  I don’t agree (I’ll leave that to the next Ken Jennings) but I am a bit of a magpie for random facts I’ve accumulated through my varied media diet of books, podcasts and docuseries. This weekend, I was watching a PBS American Experience on WW1, listening to a podcast on the same subject, and reading some blog pieces by Pema Chödrön (not all at the same time!).  While watching the PBS series, I was struck by how much I didn’t know and how curious I am to learn more (on my list is Harlem Hellfighters and Alice Paul). Pema’s writing centered on noticing the automatic emotional and thought patterns that we filter life through and being present to life without those filters. Standing in the kitchen later in the afternoon, it struck me:  when feeling already full, it’s not the time to add anything to your plate. I had to let that sink in.  

Doing nothing can ignite inspiration.

Reflecting back on my reaction to the request to supercharge my goals with inspiration, I realized that I don’t have to “do” anything to create inspiration, rather simply be present to the moment I am in and know that my curiosity naturally follows. This realization helped me drop the overwhelm around inspiration, and I innately began to feel more of it. This week, I took genuine delight in reading one colleague’s quick note of thanks to another; I had a great coaching conversation with my colleague on the best way to roll out some process improvements this fall; and I got excited about the opportunity to level-up my coaching skills with a new client. As I was more present and curious, the critical voice in my head quieted. As an inspiration strategy firm, we have a lot of methods, tools and perspectives to help you spark and sustain inspiration, but it’s also true that sometimes you don’t have to “do” anything at all.  

The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, try doing nothing and invite presence and curiosity in. Let me know what happens; I’ll be sharing my own stories using the hashtag #inspiredinsights and I’d love to hear from you.


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