Motivation vs. Inspiration

By Chelsea Tanner

As a mindset coach I get asked very often, “How can I stay motivated?” Motivation is tricky and it is something I’ve been thinking a lot about. It is literally coming up with motives or reasons we believe in and are compelling enough to take action.

Now, this can be positive OR negative. You can tell yourself “I’m really not good enough, I need to practice.” This will motivate you, but will it sustain you? Is that a sustaining thought? What I mean by that is, if you tell yourself you’re not good enough in order to be motivated to take action or practice, when will you actually believe you’re good enough? Will it magically happen when you’re on stage? (Spoilers: No, it will not.) 

As flutists we love to achieve things, and so much of the time we deprive ourselves of good feelings in order to motivate ourselves. Then, we lack confidence and wonder why. Another question I get (usually from the same people), “How can I feel confident?” 

Now, let’s talk about why negative motivation and confidence can’t coexist.

The dictionary defines confidence as: a feeling of self-assurance arising from one’s appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities.

Let’s look at that thought once again that motivates so many of us to practice, “I’m not good enough.” If you use this to motivate yourself, you believe this thought. That means you believe it so much that it compels you to take action. When you believe “I’m not good enough” you can’t also have self-assurance from appreciating your abilities (a.k.a. confidence). Those are conflicting.

So many of us give up any chance of truly feeling confident when we motivate our practice with negative emotions. When we practice a thought enough, it becomes a belief, just like anything we practice. When I say motivation through negative emotions, I mean “practice guilt” or maybe you feel shame for not being “good enough” yet. Those are negative fuel, and will not yield positive results.

Many people fear that they will have absolutely no motivation if they think they’re too good. But let’s think about that in practical terms. Think of your idol, whether it be Beyoncé, Michael Jordan, or Emmanuel Pahud. Also how much more excited are you going to be to perform if you think it is going to be an incredible experience? So much more! Do you think your idols motivate themselves by thinking they’re not good enough? No, because they perform with confidence that is palpable. 

What we focus on, we create more of. This is true even if we keep thinking of ourselves being “not enough.” If we use this belief as motivation, we just make it stronger. Well if we need to let go of shaming and guilting ourselves into practicing, how do we stay motivated?

That’s a really good question. I like the feeling of being motivated, but I think a better word would be inspired. Ask yourself, how can I spark inspiration today? Inspiration is inherently positive. Inspiration is beautiful and usually leads to creativity and enthusiasm. So instead of the question, “how do I stay motivated?” maybe just shift it to, “How can I feel inspired?”

Oh, and answer your own question. If you say “I don’t know.” Ask yourself, “What if I did know what inspires me? What would I write down?” Then write that down and try it! There’s literally no downside here. What inspires you? Is it visualizing you feeling so comfortable giving your next performance? 

We are all inspired in different ways, and taking responsibility for our own inspiration and willingness to show up, not because someone told you to, but because you’ve reflected on how you best show up, is really powerful. You know more than you think you do, you just have to ask yourself (and answer).

When we learn to motivate ourselves, or inspire ourselves in a positive way, we can build that confidence everyone wants. Confidence is a feeling/emotion that is a reflection of how we think. If we think, “I love how I play this, and I can’t wait to share it with people!” that will elicit an emotion. If you think, “Ugh, they’re probably not going to like it, I didn’t have time to practice, I hope it goes okay,” That elicits a different emotional response.

Since our thoughts create our emotions and our emotions drive our actions, the quality of our actions truly depend on the emotions we feel. If you fuel your action with stress, overwhelm, and anxiety (because you had thoughts that were creating some mental drama) you bring that into your practice and your playing. This is one of the quickest ways musicians can burn out as well. If we fuel our practicing with guilt or shame, we bring that into the practice room, and we tend to run out of steam a bit quicker. This is especially if you are thinking “it’s not good enough.”

We get to decide for ourselves what “good enough” is. It is entirely made up. Our opinion of ourselves, our playing, and our potential will shape the quality of our lives. You can believe you’re good enough and still not win that competition. Were you still good enough to win? Of course! They just didn’t choose you that day. We make rejections and hardship mean that we can’t do it. It isn’t an easy process to shift this mindset, but if you do, it can be one of the most life-changing experiences. 

What would it feel like if you built yourself up in the practice room instead of tearing yourself down? Would you maybe feel like practicing a little bit more? Let’s practice for our future selves on that stage. We want that person to be comfortable, to be in control, and in command. Practicing from a place of love for your future self is another way to fuel your practice. It is all in the way we frame it in our mind. 

If you’re interested in gaining confidence in the practice room and on stage, check out my course the Winning Mindset Academy. This is not a fake-it-till-you-make-it short cut, it gives you tangible tools and perspectives to help you build the confidence you’ve always wanted in your playing and career. More information at

Winning Mindset Academy:

Chelsea Tanner is a flutist, educator, and mindset coach for musicians. She most recently held positions on the faculty of SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music and Penn State University. Chelsea completed her DMA from The University of Texas at Austin in the Spring of 2020. She is the creator of the Winning Mindset Academy and Flute Boot Camp, two online courses created to help musicians thrive in their careers. Chelsea has just launched a podcast called Align Your Mind where she teaches the power of thought work to anyone who wants to shift their mindset and achieve their goals. Chelsea’s former teachers include Marianne Gedigian, Jeanne Baxtresser, and Katherine Borst Jones.