Updated on 09.02.08

The Inspiration and the Motivation

Trent Hamm

Virtually every time I accomplish something significant in my life, it’s been guided by two separate forces, one pushing from behind and one pulling me ahead. The inspiration and the motivation.

The inspiration is the big vision you see in front of you. What is it that fills your heart with passion? What is that big, beautiful future you see ahead of you? For me, my inspiration is my family – building a bright future for my kids and a lifetime of memories with my wonderful wife. I’m inspired by that vision – a greater place than I’m at today.

The motivation is what kicks you on the behind to get into gear. The memories of the terrible situation you once were in can be a great motivator, as can an intense coach or a “buddy” who helps you along. For me, my best motivator for personal finance success is visions of what it felt like to hit bottom financially.

Let me use an analogy with high school sports. That student athlete standing out there on the court is inspired by visions of greatness, of making that key play and hitting that big shot to win the game. That same student athlete, though, is often motivated by his coach, shouting loudly and being intimidating and demanding more. When those two pieces fall into sync, magic happens.

You don’t need them both, but they certainly make accomplishing things a lot easier. You can get there with just the carrot or just the stick, but having both makes it a lot easier to keep that donkey going until you cross the finish line. Here are some tactics to help you find both in your own life, for any big goal you may want to accomplish.

Five Ways to Find Inspiration

Imagine, in great detail, where you want to be at the end of your journey. I envision a house in the country, large enough that my children and grandchildren can all stay comfortably and also featuring a large kitchen. I want a sizable amount of land, including room for a large garden, grape vines, and some fruit trees. I imagine children who have gone on to whatever career they dream of and have built the families they want in their heart. Each time I think about it, I add a few more details to the picture – and it comes closer and closer to the touch.

Keep constant reminders of that vision. My reminder is a picture of my children that I keep with me. They inspire me in so many ways – they keep me on a good financial path, push me to always try to be a better parent and a better husband, and show me that sometimes it’s good to look at things completely differently.

Reflect on the positives that your goal will bring to the lives of the people you care about the most. When I see the picture, I think of the future I’m trying to build for them – one in which they have the tools to do whatever they dream of, plus the closeness of family that will make them feel safe and relaxed when they visit us (much like my wife and I do when we visit our parents).

Set microgoals – and enjoy the success when you accomplish them. I usually have a set of small goals to accomplish each week, and within them, three to five significant tasks I aim to accomplish each day. Whenever I complete these things, I feel a rush of success – and I also get a sense of another piece put in place for the bigger goals I have.

Read stories of others who have succeeded along similar paths. I tend to enjoy reading biographies of people who accomplished great things starting from very little. These stories resonate deeply with me and inspire me onwards. One great example of this is Titan by Ron Chernow, which inspired me greatly when I was in college.

Five Ways to Find Motivation

Write out, in painful detail, all that you can remember about your worst moment, where you were furthest from your dream. I did this myself about a year ago, writing out what it felt like to hit bottom. Even writing about that experience was painful – it really seared into me the feelings of that time and reinforced my idea that I never want to go back there.

Get a coach. Find someone who will push you to do better with your goal. If it’s a personal finance goal, find a personal finance writer who can serve as your coach – Dave Ramsey and Larry Winget are good choices, or you might even find me to be a worthwhile coach.

Get a “buddy.” Similarly, find someone moving through this same journey and link up with them. The internet makes this easy, but you can also find people in your own life to jog with, talk about money with, or share about any goal you’re both aspiring to.

Immerse yourself in your big goal, so that it becomes a constant presence and reminder. To a degree, that’s how I started The Simple Dollar – I needed a way to really focus in on personal finances. Making myself write a handful of original articles on the topic each day forced me to stay focused on my money – and it really paid off. Now, sensible spending and putting my money in reasonable places feels completely natural to me – an accomplished goal in itself.

Make a step towards that goal a part of your normal routine, likely pushing out a negative action along the way. Let’s say you stop at the coffee shop each day to buy a coffee, and that’s keeping you from saving money or undoing the benefits of exercise. Twist things around and make that place your motivator. Associate that place with all of the negatives you feel about your “bottom.” Take a picture of you at your heaviest and paste a Starbucks logo on it, for example, and put it somewhere where you see it regularly.

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  1. Dave says:

    Good post – I have the inspiration for a new project I’m trying to undergo, but I am really lacking the motivation to move forward with it. You’ve given me some new ideas on what I can use for motivation and how to find new motivators.

  2. "Mo" Money says:

    Very good post! I like the practical ways that you motivate yourself and the ways you seek inspiration. These are rules for everyone to follow.

  3. Another source for helping motivate yourself is Steve Chandlar’s 100 Ways to Motivate Yourself. He wrote another one called 100 Ways to Motivate Others that is a great read as well.

    I usually ask myself two questions to maintain inspiration and motivation:
    –What do I want to accomplish?
    –What’s my next step to make that happen?

  4. Faye says:

    “Without vision, the people perish…”

    Growing up, I always believed in that. When I was in high school, I wrote my goals which are to be my inspiration. I had a clear view of where I was heading for my career. I’m a daydreamer (thank God it doesn’t distract me from my everyday work) and it’s easy for me to see myself where I want to be in the future.

    I studied full time in college, fully financed by my parents. Some people say that it is a bad idea to fully finance a child’s education, but it was my motivation. Watching how my parents worked hard to send me to school pushed towards my goal. I was always one step ahead. During my freshman year, I always thought about graduating. During senior year, I dreamed about passing the licensure exam, and so on and so forth.

    I’ve come along way because of my inspiration and motivation.

    Thanks for the post!

  5. MoneyEnergy says:

    It’s an endless journey and an endless cycle. We always have to keep working at it, there will never be a point where we can just slack off and say we’ve achieved personal success for good. I think that contributes to the ongoing struggle. If we ever stop because we’re satisfied, we’ve stopped growing. This is another reason why it’s good to learn to be pleased with the present, because in each moment you are the perfection of everything you’ve tried to be before that moment.

  6. Shanel Yang says:

    Quotes both inspire and motivate me, such as “200 Work Quotes” at http://shanelyang.com/2008/09/02/200-work-quotes/

  7. Tabs at Levnow says:

    Thanks for the post, I use constant reminders of my goals and knowledge that there is no going back. My inspiration is effective action, not wasting time and knowing by the end of the day that I have done the best I can.

    My motivation is accomplishment, it is quite intoxicating.


  8. Eden says:

    Very inspirational, thanks for sharing that. I really like the part about writing down where you want to be in the future and filling in all of the details. That is something I think about often, but I have never taken the time to write it all out. I think failing to write it down has allowed me to more easily forget where it is I am trying to go in life and made it easier for me to justify stupid things with my money. I really need to correct that behavior.

  9. Johan says:

    It’s a bit hard to find inspiration when you can’t see yourself having much of a future and it’s also hard to be motivated when you don’t really have any good reason to be motivated. You’ve got some interesting ideas though. Thanks.

  10. LJ says:

    Nice job Trent. I needed this article today.

  11. Thanks for this article. I’ve never thought of inspiration and motivation as different in this way before. I suppose I would have categories many of both types as motivation. I’ll need to think through this separation a little more – perhaps it will be useful.

    I just returned from the Olympics in Beijing. Certainly the athletes compete with a variety of both inspiration and motivation. It seems, however that the motivation for the changes to the city of Beijing were primarily motivation.

    I wrote about the changes and China’s motivation here: http://successprofessor.ca/2008/09/01/drastic-changes-in-beijing-%E2%80%93-motivation-results/

  12. newredboots says:

    Thanks for this post. It comes on the right day as I’ve been struggling with writing a book for the last 4.5 years while having a day job and come to the realization that I’ve got to go into ‘graduate student mode’ to get the job finished. I’ve already got a publishing contract. No advance, however, which means lots of time and money have gone into book production and I’m still a LONG ways off. With no absolute deadlines, I’m left to my own. This is really good sometimes, but I have problems staying productive over the long haul – say more than a couple of months at a time. Constant rescheduling and never really getting into a groove. I do try to see what my life looks like when it’s over – a vision to which I often hold tightly to get me through my more lethargic moments. Another problem…negative self talk. Questioning whether I’m the person for the job and whether I’ll ever actually finish. I really have to focus on positive thinking and confidence in my abilities. When I do the words come a lot easier! Thanks for the post, again!

  13. This is a great post.
    Recently I just looked at the percentage growth over the last 5-6 months of my blog being live. I have had some huge growth in the last 6 months.
    My financial/entrepreneur blog has grow 1500% since it began in march this year. That is a fairly decent improvement.
    This is the motivation to go on. Because if it grows like this again in the next 6 months then very soon I will be a full time online entrepreneur.
    Thanks for the post it was very helpful

  14. Having a coach can be huge. I think there’s some research out there that weightlifters lift X% more weight when their coach (or wife/girlfriend) is yelling and screaming at them (in an encouraging way). Something they just can’t do on their own.

  15. Harei says:

    A friend told me a few months ago about this little free online personal budgeting website, I have been using it for over three months now and it is too good to be free. I wish I had this at my disposal earlier in life before I went through my own hard financial lessons.

    For those who want to benefit from a powerful online budgeting utility but do not want to give out access to bank accounts and personal identity, Out Of The Dark (OOTD) is worth a check at:

    Happy budgeting.

  16. Pete says:

    Your article sounded really good when I read it, but then I rememembered my own personal goal which is to be happy – this is everyone’s goal infact. You can be happy without all the nice things you mentioned. Then I thought to myself – well, yes he has a family so he has to think about them. However, when I look back to my childhood we did not mind being poor, but we minded very much about our dad’s bad-tempered nature. The main thing is just to be happy.

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