We so often think we need to something amazing, fantastical, and over-the-top to be an inspiration to others. Climb a mountain, travel the world, invent a new medical device, write a best-selling book. I recently read of yet another woman who started a company that enables impoverished women in regions of Africa to use their skill sets to make a profitable living. Wow. Don’t we all dream of doing something big? Something where others are awed by our efforts and are motivated to do the same?
But dreaming and doing are often two different things, and though we may have high hopes for living large, the reality of our day-to-day existence can sometimes prevent us from getting there. And while those who accomplish these far-reaching feats are truly inspiring — being an inspiration to others can be much simpler than you may think. I’m not saying don’t pursue your dreams — please do — but in the meantime of getting there, don’t negate that your current, seemingly mundane existence can be an inspiration to others.
Inspiration is simply the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something — usually something new or creative or challenging. Leading with inspiration is a competency of emotional intelligence, but it’s not a quality resigned for those in a well-defined leadership role. Each of us is capable of inspiring others by living by these two mantras: 1-Doing what you love and 2-Living the best version of yourself.
Let’s start with the first. A dear friend recently told me she doesn’t even know what she enjoys doing any more — work and raising kids has been her go-to for years now and she’s lost touch with things that make her spirit soar. It’s easy to do. Life is full of demands and in the struggle to keep up, we often let our beloved pastimes slip and slide away.
So, what is it you love to do? Chances are you already know. Think back on a time when you felt excited, filled with joy, when you did something that “made your heart sing”. The activities and experiences that are tied closely with our passions are the things that we love. Maybe it was time spent at a family reunion this summer with your favorite people in the world. Maybe it was seeing a beautiful waterfall on a challenging hike. Maybe it was crooning at the top of your lungs in the car, or laughing with friends, or reading a good book in cozy chair. Maybe it was working hard and completing a project at work or running your first 5k. Write down the things that bring you joy. Note how you felt and list out the emotions that surrounded the event. Journal about why you felt the way you did and why you think that particular activity aroused such a strong emotional reaction.
It’s easy to think we’re too busy to do the things we love — and maybe we are — which means it’s time to make some adjustments. Start with small steps. Carve out a little time each day/week to do something you love…even if it’s just for a few moments. I enjoy being in the outdoors and when I spend time in nature, I sense a healing of my soul. But I haven’t yet figured out how to take large chunks of time each day to be outdoors. In the meantime, I sit outside for five minutes in the mornings as I sip my coffee. It’s just a tiny dose of the outdoors each day, but it does wonders for my well-being. We all have a few minutes here and there to spare if we prioritize a bit. Remember, it may take saying no to something to create space for another.
When we do the things we love, our joy is spontaneous — and spontaneous joy is hard to hide. Those who live a life they love have a twinkle in their eyes, a curve of a smile on their lips, and excitement in their voice. You’ve heard the phrase, “She had a face that launched a thousand ships.” The reference is to Helen of Troy, whose face was said to be so lovely that, after she was abducted, a 1000-strong fleet of ships was sent to win her back. I think the joy that others see in our faces can launch a thousand ships. Try it. It’s hard not to smile back at someone who flashes a toothy grin your way. It’s difficult to not feel excitement when someone shares their fervor about a new endeavor. It’s next to impossible to not be motivated by another’s enthusiasm around a recent accomplishment. Studies around the ‘mirror effect’ show that the same neural activity that’s stimulated when we are performing an action is engaged when we see someone else perform an action. (Gallese and Goldman, 1998). Passionate people breed passionate people. The joy from doing the things you love will spill over into your relationships and serve as an inspiration to those you interact with.
Secondly, to inspire others, we want to be living out the best version of ourselves. What is the best version of yourself? Just like discovering what you love, you probably have a good idea of what your best self looks like. Remember the times when you felt a great sense of accomplishment…when you were proud of yourself…when you felt whole, well, and healthy, both physically and mentally? These times may be fleeting but they are good indicators of our best selves. Again, journal or talk to someone about the times you felt that sense of wholeness. What triggered those feelings? Describe the lifestyle that embraced those emotions and list out the way you were spending your time. Again, adjustments may need to be made to get back to that sort of oneness with self. A change of diet maybe, or being more discerning about who you spend your time with, or adjusting the input you allow into your head each day. Living the best version of yourself may mean revisiting your values and making sure you are practicing them…and if not, making shifts to get back there again. Many studies have been done on correlations between our lifestyle and its impact on our happiness levels (to see a few, click this link: https://ourworldindata.org/happiness-and-life-satisfaction. Sometimes our lifestyle needs a face lift to help us get back to who we really are.
When others see you living out the best version of yourself, just like living the life you love, they will be motivated to do the same. You’ll find others will start asking about your ‘secret’. A friend recently told me, “You look happy. What is it?” People notice the joy that results and want a piece of it.
“Your soul is attracted to people the same way flowers are attracted to the sun, surround yourself only with those who want to see you grow.” — Pavana Reddy
Please note that none of this is about having a perfect life. We all go through trying times, difficult circumstances, and situations that are nothing short of stressful and ugly. It’s part of being human to experience suffering. However, our reactions to these negative life events — how we manage our emotions and relationships in the midst of them — can serve as an inspiration to others as well. In an article on the Mental Health America site, researchers found these benefits of staying positive through difficult times:
- People who were pessimistic had a nearly 20 percent higher risk of dying over a 30-year period than those who were optimistic
- People who kept track of their gratitude once a week were more upbeat and had fewer physical complaints than others
- People who obsessively repeated negative thoughts and behaviors were able to change their unhealthy patterns—and their brain activity actually changed too. (https://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/stay-positive).
“It’s your reaction to adversity, not adversity itself that determines how your life’s story will develop.” — Nelson Mandela
How we choose to react to difficulties is vital to being our best selves. How do you respond to trying times? If you find you tend to go down a negative path, consider teaming up with a social + emotional intelligence coach to help you make some shifts.
Pursuing a life of doing what we love and being our best selves may not sound glamorous. We may not have a biography written about us, or be interviewed on a talk show, or get thousands of followers on our social media pages. But others will notice and be prompted to pursue a life they love and be their best selves…which will in turn motivate others to do the same…and thus begins the cycle of inspiration. Why not start today?
“It only takes one person to mobilize a community and inspire change. Even if you don’t feel like you have it in you, it’s in you. You have to believe in yourself. People will see your vision and passion and follow you.” — Teyonah Parris