From Evaluation to Inspiration

In our data-conscious society, we do hella evaluation. Maybe it’s time for some inspiration instead?

(Hey, we kept a straight face through those two sentences. Awesome, huh? Oh, wait…)

inspiratonby Scott Barry Kaufman, Pd.D.

We live in a culture saturated with evaluation.

In school, we learn to take tests. We take the tests, and depending on the outcome, either feel really smart or really stupid.

We then prepare for college entrance exams. And then graduate entrance exams. And then occupational entrance exams. Then on the job, we are constantly being evaluated, evaluated, evaluated.

With all this evaluating, we have little time left for inspiration. We have little time left to explore the full range of possible roles in life, and see which really activates us.

This matters.

In a culture obsessed with measuring talent, ability, and potential, we often overlook the important role of inspiration in enabling potential.

Inspiration awakens us to new possibilities by allowing us to transcend our ordinary experiences and limitations. Inspiration propels a person from apathy to possibility, and transforms the way we perceive our own capabilities. Inspiration may sometimes be overlooked because of its elusive nature. Its history of being treated as supernatural or divine hasn’t helped the situation. But as recent research shows, inspiration can be activated, captured, and manipulated, and it has a major effect on important life outcomes.

Inspiration has three main qualities. Pyschologists Todd M. Thrash and Andrew J. Elliot have noted these core aspects of inspiration: evocation, transcendence, and approach motivation.

  1. Inspiration is evoked spontaneously without intention. People are usually inspired by something, whether it’s an inspiring role model, teacher, or subject matter. Which is all the more reason why we ought to create the conditions for inspiration.
  2. Inspiration is transcendent of our more animalistic and self-serving concerns and limitations. Such transcendence often involves a moment of clarity and awareness of new possibilities for oneself as well as others. As Thrash and Elliot note, “The heights of human motivation spring from the beauty and goodness that precede us and awaken us to better possibilities.” This moment of clarity is often vivid, and can take the form of a grand vision, or a “seeing” of something one has not seen before (but that was probably always there).
  3. Inspiration involves approach motivation, in which the individual strives to transmit, express, or actualize a new idea or vision. According to Thrash and Elliot, inspiration involves both being inspired by somethingand acting on that inspiration.

Inspired people share certain characteristics.

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