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I was explaining to a non-native speaker the difference between inspiration and motivation.

Inspiration - the reason for doing something comes from somewhere inside you.
Motivation - the reason for doing something comes from something outside you.

Then I was asked, "What if the reason is fear?"

So I explained, inspiration and motivation have a positive association. If the reason is because of anything negative or bad, better use motive

To which she replied, "What if there is no reason?"

I was a bit stuck. So I said, "Everything happens for a reason." I gave 2 examples:

Preservation - do it to keep what you have
Desperation - do it because of lack of other options

To which she followed up (paraphrasing here): "What if you do it because that's what you did before, even if the initial reason is now gone?"

I was stuck again. I thought maybe perseverance or persistence, but I was hoping for another -tion word ;)

So I'm here looking for thoughts on how to respond, other examples I can give, and corrections to what I've already said.

  • Tradition-established somehow by Someone, then followed by others – Conrado Apr 23 at 2:16
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    Yes, what @Conrado said. That is the setup for the song Tradition in Fiddler on the Roof. Another option is “inertia.” – Damila Apr 23 at 2:31
  • Regarding corrections to what you had already said, I wonder about some of your definitions. For example, inspiration could from outside oneself; the source could be a person (an inspiring leader, say) or-nonperson (a stunning nature scene, say). Motivation need not have a positive association. Fear (fear of failure, say) could be a powerful source of motivation. With regard to "What if you do it because that's what you did before, even if the initial reason is now gone?": @Damila's suggestion of tradition seems a good fit, and it's a -tion word. – Richard Kayser Apr 23 at 3:18
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    @Damila, In 'Fiddler on the Roof', the protagonist says, "Let me tell you how it all (tradition) began - 'I don't know' " :) – Ram Pillai Apr 23 at 5:34
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Your definitions are colorful but I don't think exclusive or necessarily correct.

If you cannot think of a real reason you would say that the reason remains elusive. I think fear is a motivation that comes from within, not without. The situation may threaten but it is up to you to be suitably inspired.

Reasons for doing things corresponding to Nothing are usually Habit, Tradition (via Damila) and not making waves. You can go with Habituation if you really need a tion in it.

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What if you do it because that's what you did before, even if the initial reason is now gone?

That could be explained by the word conditioning:

[Merriam-Webster]
2 : a simple form of learning involving the formation, strengthening, or weakening of an association between a stimulus and a response

Ivan Pavlov became famous for his study of classical conditioning, where he trained a dog to salivate whenever a bell was rung at the same time it was given food. Eventually, the sound of the bell alone would cause the dog to salivate—even when there was no food.

It's also called a conditioned response.


Although conditioning doesn't end in tion, it does contain it, so it's at least similar in terms of structure. You might be able to use condition in a certain sentence, but it wouldn't quite fit into the simple one-word list used in the question.

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