The spirit of inspiration…

Written by Deborah Stephenson

“Good actions give strength to ourselves and inspire good actions in others.” - Plato

“I think we should do a hundred laps of the field behind our house,” I announced to the family one evening last week, “… in honour of Captain Sir Tom Moore.”

“Now?” asked my son doubtfully, peering into the freezing darkness outside.

“No,” I sighed patiently (well…maybe I rolled my eyes a tiny bit!), “No… not right now… but soon, yes?!”

I had felt sad when I heard that Captain Sir Tom had passed away, but inexplicably there was now a bright, tingly, slightly jumpy feeling, with a strong urge to DO something… I felt inspired.

You can never quite tell when inspiration will hit, and it is unique to all of us. It’s often described as a spark, a flicker or a flash, but although the feeling is almost instant, it triggers a considerable emotional shift and generates strong motivation. These sudden “Wow!” moments are important and special because they change the way we feel about ourselves. Inspiration excites us, throws open the doors of possibility and opportunity, and propels us from “Can not,” to “Why not?!”.

This, I think, is what makes Captain Sir Tom’s story remarkable. When we see a single person making such a huge and positive difference, we can sense the wider possibilities for ourselves. The war veteran’s effort in doing what he did and raising an incredible 33 million pounds for the NHS was amazing, but the broader impact was the inspiration he sparked across the nation.

It wasn’t just what he did, it was the way he did it. His optimism and positivity, particularly at this tough time, was up-lifting, and his “Tomorrow will be a good day” attitude resonated and brought hope.

As humans, we are inspired by hard work, effort and determination in others, by those who overcome adversity, and by heroism, yes, but we are also inspired by acts of selflessness, kindness, and moments of beauty… this was all of those things.

So what happens in the moment of inspiration? Without getting too technical, studies show that a burst of neurons in the visual area of the brain are triggered, and these cause another burst of neurons to fire on the right hand side of the brain in response. This activity raises the levels of the mood boosting hormones serotonin and dopamine which as we know, make us feel good, but they also make us feel confident which helps us to act on the inspiration.

When we are inspired we also have a greater sense of purpose, gratitude and creativity, which also activate those chemicals, and all this combined makes us feel super energised and positive. Things we have never considered, or that previously felt impossible, now seem achievable and within our grasp.

That’s great, but we can’t just sit around waiting for inspiration to hit us. By its nature, it is hard to generate artificially, and it can feel beyond reach when life is difficult, so how do we make sure we are open to inspiration and receptive when it strikes?

One way is to “disengage our logic!” I love this idea and I think children are very good at this which is probably why they bounce from one imaginative idea to another. My daughter sees a jam jar and whoosh… it’s a decorated pencil pot or a cute reindeer money box. She sees an idea in a book or online and Boom! (as she would say) another spark is ignited. The downside is that there are always bits of paper on the floor, paintbrushes in the sink, and random pots of glue around the house, but her creativity and drive are quite an inspiration to us all, and we wouldn’t have it any other way!

As adults, we tend to plod along following our usual patterns - the same logical way of doing things. We’ve always done it like this, we are used to it and it seems the best way. We are busy and it’s more efficient.… it just makes sense! We don’t have time to explore other options or “wing it”… and it’s also way of feeling in control! But… it doesn’t leave much space to allow inspiration in.

Maybe try changing things around, explore something different and don’t use the same formula each time. Do something out of the ordinary, share some ideas with a friend and watch them grow. Disengage your logic and see what happens … obviously pick your moment and please don’t do it when driving down the motorway or operating machinery etc… but aside from that relax and go for it.

Inspiration doesn’t have to come from famous people or big actions either. Often it can come from those around us, and it’s not about copying their actions, it’s about taking on their spirit, drive or attitude that inspired us and making something different and positive happen in our lives.

We all do things that we may feel are small, but that actually are an inspiration to others, and I can’t think of one of my friends or family who hasn’t inspired me in some way over the years. Take a moment… who has inspired you along the way?

When you start looking you will find, and it is the same in art and music and nature.

The beauty is that no matter who or what gives you that spark, the neural and chemical reaction will be the same and it will feel great!

Look out for it, be open and I wonder what will inspire you this week?

And there’s something else too…

Carpe diem! as they say (well very few people actually say that these days because it’s latin) but it translates beautifully to “Seize the day!”.

When inspiration hits - act. Just as with the lighting of a match, the initial spark is the brightest, inspiration may not last long before worries, self doubt or inertia extinguish the flame, but if  we “actualise” or carry out our inspiration, the warmth from the spark grows and is maintained.

The neurons fire and new pathways are formed as we feel pride, confidence and happiness in our achievement. The reward of course is the release of more feel good chemicals, and so we become more open to inspiration and the cycle begins again.

And now I too have gone full circle… the inspirational Captain Sir Tom inspired me to think and write about inspiration.

Now I’d better start organising our 100 laps of the field challenge - gulp!

Deborah Stephenson, soon to be Ollie Coach

I am an Ollie School trainee and a Director at an Independent Prep School for boys. I am a trained journalist and worked in BBC Local Radio for more than twenty years as a reporter, bulletin reader, news editor and programme maker. It was a great job, but I wanted to do something to support my own children’s wellbeing with a view to taking that on to support others and, in pursuit of a better work life balance, I resigned as the Assistant Editor of BBC Essex last year. Inspired by the Ollie School concept I was excited to be accepted for the training course and it has been a fascinating and enlightening and journey so far. 

To get in contact with Deborah, email