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At my high school graduation, the speaker talked about an experiment done with fleas. When you put fleas in a mason jar, they condition themselves to jump as high as the lid. When you take off the lid, that is how high they jump for the rest of their lives. Their offspring will jump to this same level, too. Just think, if they had only been put into a taller jar, they would jump as high as that lid. The message from the speaker was that, ultimately, you control how high your lid is, so keep it elevated. It was a powerful message that stuck with me many years later. 

I like this story because it is empowering and actionable, yet it leaves us to interpret what our actions and thoughts are that create our “lid.” I also find it liberating because it shows that we don’t have to look only to the giants of Albert Einstein, Mother Teresa, or Warren Buffett for inspiration. How refreshing is it that things in nature, such as tiny fleas, can provide an inspired perspective regarding how we view the world?

That’s the encouraging and exciting part of the inspiration. Inspiration is everywhere, and there isn’t one place where it lives. I’m continually inspired by what others have worked to achieve. The possibility of the future and what the future generations (such as my children) will accomplish provides me with a never-ending source of inspiration that I have learned to hone and develop.

The goal with inspiration is to find it, share it, and continually nurture it. Accessing inspiration, maintaining an inspirational perspective, and utilizing discovered inspiration to create meaning is a learned skill that can create some fantastic possibilities. 

4 questions to hone inspiration

Are you “required” to be inspired at work to produce quality and innovative ideas? Are you an entrepreneur always looking for ways to grow your company? It’s a different story when inspiration falls upon us rather than when we need the motivation to complete a task or create an innovation. I have found that, just like the experiments’ fleas, when my lid is lifted, and I ask the right questions, I can find an inspired approach to help me accomplish my goals. I keep these four questions in my back pocket and regularly utilize them to hone my inspiration for a greater purpose. 

What if?

We learn about life by asking questions. From a very young age, think about children who learn about their world by asking the question, “Why?” Inspiration prefers a prepared and active mind rather than a dormant and passive environment. Questioning forms new patterns and activates our brain to receive and respond to the influences around us that might already be there; we just haven’t accessed them yet. The question, “What if,” is about rethinking the past and the present. Why are we doing things this way, and what if we changed the process entirely? It uses your unique experiences, background, and perspective to challenge how you view the world around you. 

What about?

The question, “What about,” follows “What if,” and seems similar but stands for an entirely different purpose in provoking inspiration. Once you question the “why” of the past or present, “What about” prepares you to focus on the future and think about change, possibility, modification, transformation, and diversification; this has me thinking about plastic straws and how they harm the environment. All it took was someone to ask, “What if the straws weren’t made of plastic?” And then, “What about if they were made from paper?” Look beyond existing constraints and norms to find new alternatives to solving a problem or unique ways to reach an objective. When you use this question to broaden your horizons and open your mind, you are more likely to experience inspiration.

Why not?

Inspiration is not solely grounded in thinking. Inspiration would mean nothing without action. Once you’ve considered an alternative or come up with a new idea, it’s time to find inspiration to figure out how to get it done or test if it would even work. “Why not” is about stretching boundaries, transcending ordinary experiences, and ignoring limitations. Be your own antagonist or adversary, and use the question, “Why not” to bring contradictory points of view to the surface. Viewing an idea through an alternate lens can help inspire and bring new aspects to light. This question often falls on how we perceive the capabilities of ourselves and our team. Why couldn’t we accomplish this?

Where to?

Individuals often seek inspiration from other people’s stories, struggles, breakthroughs, and successes. What about where you came from and where you want to go? Sometimes it helps to find inspiration by working backward, thinking about the future, your goal, your ideals, and your mission, and using inspiration to work back to an idea to ignite it all! Sometimes we get stuck in the details, and by looking at the bigger picture, we allow inspiration to find us in a whole new way. Any of these questions aim to change your thought process and look at something from a different angle. If you looked out the same window, from the same height, during the same season, inspiration wouldn’t come to you as often as it would if you turned around and looked out the other window.  

Remember, inspiration is about finding, sharing, and nurturing it. Accessing inspiration is not outside your control, and it’s not a mystical phenomenon that you wait to drop in your lap without any effort (although, when that happens, we’ll take it!). Inspiration is the synergy of what you bring with you and what you receive from the world. While you can’t create inspiration, like you would build a house, you can prepare for it and design an environment where inspiration will likely appear.