WHAT INSPIRES CHANGE?
What inspires change, and what inspires us to change? What is it that sparks us to want to reach for a dream, try something new, finally fix something that needs our attention, right a social wrong, or even adapt to a new circumstance?
First of all, there’s necessity. The hurricane is approaching and I need to secure my home, and evacuate. Or, I’ve been downsized from my job and I need to find a new one because my family depends upon me. Or, I fell down and broke my leg and I need to use a wheelchair until it heals. With necessity, there’s an absolute urgency in my need to respond to the change that comes, or for me to initiate a new plan and act upon it. A feeling of desperation can also motivate urgency when I can’t wait a moment longer for a change to take place. In that way, unbearable conditions can inspire us to make a change, if we possibly can.
Then, there are the rhythms of nature. Nearly all change that affects us is cued by change in the natural world: night to day; winter to spring; growth to decay. The angle of the sun and the longer days with warmer temperatures signal the trees to sprout leaves, and bloom. Food abundance or scarcity will control animal populations year by year. When a bacteria or virus enters my body, I can experience severe illness. A surge of hormones and my emotions can fly into a rage.
Beauty, in all its forms, inspires change; nature, art, music, and sentiment inspire us to open to the wonder of form, color, tone, and creativity. The way in which art or music, literature, film, or dance can lift me to a heightened state of awareness or expand what I know my world to be can inspire my curiosity as to what is possible for personal expression and human existence.
The stories of others, of their bravery, their boldness, their cleverness, or how they held hope under impossibly dire circumstances provides us with guidance as to how we, too, can overcome our obstacles and achieve our dreams. These people inspire us to reach higher, be better, or in all cases, to find courage in their examples.
But foremost, I find that what inspires change is this—Eros. I’m not just talking about sexual energy, though sexual energy can be quite enlivening. As I define it, Eros is the life force surging through us all: women, men, dogs, cats, fragrant flowers, succulent fruit, and all the other living creatures on earth. Eros is the force of attraction that draws us close to what gives us pleasure and makes us feel more alive. Make no mistake, we are led by pleasure and guided by our pursuit of it. We are energized and inspired by whatever offers us an abundant feeling of life.
“When we feel most alive, surging with Eros and playful possibility, we are much more adaptable to change, more willing and open to take risks, and more resourceful in imagining new solutions to old problems.”
When we pursue pleasure, it makes up happy, it gives us hope, it refreshes us and renews our flagging vitality, and it opens up our imaginations along with our desire for the people, places, and things that lie in closer alignment with our heart’s true nature. We feel at ease: resonant, connected, and whole. When we feel most alive, surging with Eros and playful possibility, we are much more adaptable to change, more willing and open to take risks, and more resourceful in imagining new solutions to old problems. Let’s just say, I’m going to be much more likely to make a change I enjoy than one I don’t.
Inspiration to change arrives with a feeling of what else might be possible. When dreaming, imagining a new future, or peering deeply into the nature of my desire, a lightness of being comes in with even the notion of new possibilities. On its own, inspiration is like a flash of a light bulb, or a helium balloon released into the sky. Inspiration can be light and elevating, but can quickly vanish if action is not taken to somehow sustain it. The etheric quality of dreams and inspirations can be fleeting. And there’s the rub. What inspires change is actually different than what implements change or what sustains it. This is why so many people become discouraged and disappointed when their inspirations don’t become real. Or they simply don’t know how to enact them. Therefore, I find it’s helpful to make those distinctions and understand what’s needed for each.
Before the many voices of self-doubt and resistance come rolling in on the question of “how am I going to do this,” inspiration must be fueled with action. The often-quoted philosopher and teacher, David Orr said, “Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up.” Every social activist, non-profit leader, entrepreneur, or any change innovator knows this all too well. It all begins with inspiration or a great idea, but to transform inspiration into reality requires action, and the right action.
In my book, ChangeAbility, How Artists, Activists, and Awakeners Navigate Change, I spoke with many brilliant change innovators across many different fields. From our discussions about their struggles and successes in meeting change and making change, I arrived at seven principles that are common to all change situations or need to be present in order to have what I’m calling ChangeAbility: the ability to meet change with greater flexibility, effectiveness, and ease. That includes understanding how to move from inspiration to implementation for the changes we feel are needed and desired.
Of the Seven Principles for Change, inspiration and imagination belong to the principle of Have Hope. Hope is what lifts and inspires us to dream into being that which has not yet been realized. However, it’s yet a different principle—Spark Fire—that fuels the idea with enough heat to motivate an action and sustain it. Spark Fire is what fuels my desire to stay the course over the rocky road of convoluted change navigations. Passion, courage, zeal, lust, or attraction: whatever it is that fires me and gets me going—that’s exactly what’s needed to carry me through change. It becomes my compelling reason why this change must be made, and that reason will require constant refueling when I hit obstacles, fears, or general sloth. If fear shuts me down, locks down my body, and clamps down my emotions in a type of paralysis, Spark Fire, or the Eros within Spark Fire provides enough heat to burn through my fears on behalf of what I care about and what I truly love. The heat of my love, or care, or desire will melt the freeze.
Spark Fire is the impulse, the courage, the heat, and the sustained fuel to make change happen; how it happens is through the principle of Proceed Incrementally. Proceed Incrementally is the strategy of how exactly a plan of action or response is best implemented. Whether the strategy is to start small and ripple out from there, or whether it’s to break down larger tasks into smaller, more manageable ones and do a little each day; moving incrementally on behalf of change is the best way to achieve it and to sustain it. Even if the hurricane suddenly drove me from my home, or a car accident suddenly injured my leg, the recovery will best be made, and marked, incrementally.
Deadlines and Rewards
Implementing change, then, is a play between expansiveness, strategic planning, and the improvisation of Eros. It’s a play between the lift of Have Hope, the pleasure of Spark Fire, and the patient, incremental movement of Proceed Incrementally.
As a writer, I know all about the fleeting quality of good ideas, and the hard work that’s required to bring those ideas to the page. Writing is an activity that can be fraught with inertia, procrastination, and resistance. Sometimes writing, for me, is a daily triumph over my resistance to get started until the joy, or the flow, or the craft kicks in to carry me. Truly, the only way I ever get anything written, let alone completed, is through deadlines and rewards.
The deadline provides both the container and the driver for completion. But as I push up against the deadline—always until the last minute—it also becomes the urgent necessity, because I must finish now, “or else.“ I have to create scary consequences for the “or else” or the “or else” won’t have enough power to keep me motivated and moving towards completion. Not to worry, though, because often times, our lives provide a very adequate “or else” with severe consequences. Just know, that if I’m overly stressed about a deadline, it might just be that I’m creating a really scary consequence in order to keep myself motivated through completion. Most deadlines can be renegotiated to take some of the stress away, but then they wouldn’t be that scary motivator, would they? (If you’ve ever remodeled a house, you get it.) Though, if you work in live television or radio, where regardless of your readiness you go on the air, improvisation can produce some amazingly creative, and unexpected results. Deadlines are the pressure cooker approach to motivating change and completion. The pleasure approach to motivating change is through rewards.
The classic set up for rewards is to have a treat waiting for us at the end of the task for a job well done. Action receives reward. But Eros tells us to reward ourselves not just after, but before and during. We don’t have to endure the hardship in order to get the piece of chocolate. We can reward ourselves throughout in order to sustain the pleasurable, uplifted vitality that will actually keep us going. So when I know I must stay in my seat until the story is completely written, or when I’m especially resistant, I bring treats into the room. My current favorite is healthy cheese puffs. I fill a small bowl and eat them one at a time until the bowl is empty. I usually try to find a good stopping place in the writing. Then, I’m allowed to go back to the kitchen and refill the bowl. Incremental rewards.
To sustain myself with pleasant rewards as I’m going through a big change, or writing a story, or cleaning out my garage— to name something truly unpleasant—gives me more vitality, pleasure, and lift. Getting a massage; listening to my favorite music; dancing around; or whatever enlivens and refreshes me while I’m in the middle of making a change or completing a task, will carry me through. The pleasure, now coupled with the task, makes the task more pleasurable. I may not want to clean the garage, but I do want to listen to the fun Bruno Mars music I’ll be playing. I don’t have to endure the pain of completing the task at hand in order to receive the reward; I can ride the pleasure of the reward while I’m in the task. And then, the completion itself can be the biggest and best reward.
Creating a practice or a discipline around the change I’m trying to realize is the best strategy for creating a consistent momentum that will carry me when I’m not feeling as lifted, hopeful, or energized as I might like to be. From the book, ChangeAbility, “Discipline is the incremental, daily strategy for practicing on behalf of what I love or desire in order to reach my goal.” There it is. My compelling reason (Spark Fire) is what I love and desire, and my strategy (Proceed Incrementally) is a daily practice that moves me closer to my love and desire.
We commonly think of discipline as the denial of pleasure rather than being in service to it. Like when, as a child, I had to stay home to practice the piano instead of going outside to play with my friends. It was drudgery, probably because I didn’t enjoy playing the piano, or because I hadn’t yet discovered what I did love about it. It takes practice to master the skills of playing the piano, and it does require a determination to remain consistent with the practice. Bringing inspiration back in can help. Listening to great performances of great music could have inspired me to want to be able to play just like that. Or, bringing my friends inside to sing along with me, might have given me the pleasure I was seeking that I could couple with my task at hand.
Discipline means that I’m in service to what I want to dedicate myself to. Challenges always come up, so do resistances, but reminding myself of why I’m enacting my disciplined practice will return me to my course and dedication, even if it’s hard work. It’s not self-denial; rather it’s prioritizing for what I care about most in the larger picture. When we can bring Eros, enlivenment, and pleasure to our practice, filled with our own special rewards along the way, we can be having the best-kept-secret fun, while achieving what we are most inspired to do.
What if I can’t get inspired? I hear that a lot. How then do we open to receiving the ideas and changes that want to come our way? How do we hear what we can’t yet hear? Get quiet and listen. Place yourself in environments of great beauty that are themselves, inspiring. For me that would be an art museum, or a music concert, or taking a walk by the ocean, or a visit to a lake to take in the last of the fall colors. Where is that place for you? In that quiet, a voice might just speak to you. You might hear it in your own voice, or as if it comes from another. It might actually come from another, in the form of a conversation. Pay attention. Watch for signs. Look for symbols. Look and listen, and take note. And when you catch wind of that inspiration, greet it. Welcome it. Don’t chase it away with self-doubt. Let yourself dream with it, or at the very least, follow it where it might go. And then use the tools of Spark Fire, Proceed Incrementally, and renewed Have Hope to sustain your plans to put it into action.
Offering gratitude for whatever comes our way, from both seen and unseen sources, can continually renew our inspiration, enhance our connections, and help us put into play what whimsy and necessity require. Let inspiration find you, and say thank you.