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Inspiring People

Here’s something I’ve always struggled with.



When people you love or care about have lowered their standards to the point where they’re satisfied with their lives, but you know they have so much more potential, what do you do?



Do you leave them alone, or do you try and inspire them to reach higher?



Reaching higher involves risk, the risk that you fail, that now you’re back where you started, only you’re not satisfied anymore, because you ventured out there only to have your ass handed to you.



In the past, I’ve tried by illustrating to people in detail just how their status quo was really nothing to be satisfied with. That, uhm, didn’t work so well. People would get really upset and really defensive, which completely defeated the purpose. And so for a long time, I’d just shut up, for fear of getting into trouble. It’s time to change that now.



I guess a better strategy might be to illustrate to people what’s possible. Draw a picture of a future that could be, and then see if that makes their eyes light up. It’s not fool-proof, though, because sometimes you can clearly see how the risk of failure and the perceived work to get there gets people demotivated before they even begin to get inspired.



It’s not easy, I don’t have any solutions here, but it’s something I’d really like to get better at.

11 comments

I think the first thing to do is ask yourself: Is the person happy with his or her life? Because if that is the case, it's really not important how much more you think they could do with their lives. If they're in a place they want to be, let them stay there until they are ready to move on. If the happiness isn't there, by all means, do something. I would probably seek to inspire the person by introducing new things to them that might kick something into gear: give them a book that inspired you, go on a short trip somewhere, attend an interesting lecture - whatever you think might inspire. I would choose that route over direct confrontation any day, since as you say, most people react negatively to that approach.
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Hi Lars - I totally understand where you are coming from. I recently went through a similar situation with a family member. She is so talented I shudder at what her future could be. But her choices took her in a different direction and for a while, I felt guilty feeling that perhaps I could have "done more". I realized that in the end, the only motivation that truly matters is whatever it is that comes from within each of us that drives us to do what we desire. While I tried everything you mention and more, in the end I found that the best thing I could do was support her in her decisions and respect that. I also learned that what we may project about someones possibilities may be out of touch with the persons deep feelings and desires. It's complex and this is why true "motivation" is so difficult, but like you, I feel it is something worth getting better at. --Randy Ferrer
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This is all true, yet I feel like there's something more. There's got to be a way to inspire people to have the courage to look up from where they are, dream of new horizons, and even reach for them. Something a Kennedy might do for a nation, only on a more personal scale. Or even a national or global one, that's okay, too. I just have a feeling there is a way, somewhere, it's just waiting to be found.
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I see it kind of like helping someone to quit smoking. It's impossible to persuade someone to quit and make them successfully do so, unless they themselves really want it. You can point them in the direction of different ways of going about it, you can offer all moral to financial support and even show your displeasure when your friend lights up. But in the end, you cannot force it.
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Lars wrote: *people you love or care about* This is the key bit, as one really wants the person/people concerned to *see* that they are capable of more and that they would be better off realising this. That is not to say that one should force anything, but help them to realise. In the case of somebody who smokes, it may simply be asking them to not smoke around you because everybody knows it's an unhealthy and disgusting habit. If all their friends did that then they might have some reasons to question the path they've chosen. Recently somebody (Danish) criticised me for being "successful" and "confident". I was - in their eyes - somehow embarassing them because of who I was. In some way they saw this as something directed at them (how, I don't think I'll ever really understand, as I don't think this way and find it hard to imagine) wheres it isn't the case at all. Yes, they say, but you are doing it subconsciously! Oh, ok. Whatever. @Rasmus: This is the old Danish saw - can't force anybody to do anything. Sure, of course we can agree on this point, but who is talking about forcing anybody? Some people never get past the place they're in. When they get old, they say "if only if I'd have done (this or that)". If you care about them, wouldn't you at least like to give them a nudge? Surely it's worth the risk? I think so. Qualification: I don't live in a small Danish village.
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@robin : My comment should be read in combination with my first comment. I did, in fact, encourage a whole lotta nudging.
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Chris Obdam

I think inspiring people is all about calling to their dreams. What are your dreams. If there are no boundaries. Problem most of the time is that people see to many problems on the road to their dream. But appealing to their dream you make them relive them, which should be inspiring. At least i hope so ;-)
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@Rasmus: ;O)
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I think the Gandi saying <em>'be the change you want to see in the world'</em> applies on many levels including this personal level too. In our motivation to want to help someone we usually think of what we can say or do to help, but I am sure that 'who we are' speaks far louder and more clearly that either our words or deeds. I agree with Lars and Robin on this - Love is the key. If we come from a perspective of wanting to fix someone then the message that is heard is that they are broken - and this is why our seeming good intents are so often resisted and rejected. But if we come from a perspective of seeing beyond the perception of 'brokenness' to the potential that is already there within them then this, to me, is probably the most loving and helpful thing we can do. And just holding that loving intent is enough. Whatever words or action are needed to supplement that message come of their accord and are heard. 'What comes from the heart speaks to the heart' so to speak.
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Beautifully written Nick. Reminded me of a line I'd read on how it is important for healers (or just people who reach out to help others) to remember that that it is their path to reach out and do their best (especially with loved ones) but not hold themselves responsible for the outcome either way... that way a victory is credited to the person who found the courage within him and you played the role of inspiring or helping along - which you could view as a wonderful gift - to be able to help someone you love. If the person does not aspire to greater things, it's the person's choice and he possibly has his own reasons which we may not not understand. In this respect, we could all learn from the saying, seek first to understand and then to be understood. When viewed in this manner, it may possibly help us to truly act out of love and concern for the person and not push him or her for the wrong reasons - namely the desire to inspire or make them what we think is good for them and so on. However, we're not really answering Lars' question of how best to inspire people! I'm looking for the answer myself and will share if I come across something. One simple aspect is that I believe people are inspired by goodness, in any form, that they may see around them and this gets them to look within and bring forth!
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This is all great stuff...but one thing I am struggling with is, how can I inspire those who are at the bottom? Those who seem like they have no goal to reach or talent to live for. Or even...How do I inspire those who consider me an enemy(enemy because of a slight disagreement or disaproval)
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