Inertia and the art of moving forward…

Today I found myself expounding a plan of something I want to achieve to a dear friend and realised to myself that I had said these words a few times before. How many times? Dunno but enough to be inwardly embarrassed by my ‘all talk and no action’ state. Similarly, I once heard myself say to another person when they were expounding their plans, ‘don’t think because you’ve talked about it you’ve actually done something about it!’ Harsh but oh so true. A slap around the chops for me, a taste of the bitter practise-what-you-preach fruit…


…what am I going to do about it? How am I going to realise these plans; how am I going to break this all talk and no action cycle; how am I going to move forward…?

I muttered about this in a previous post about motivation but it’s always a topic worth revisiting methinks. If we agree that motivation is the psychological process that initiates, guides and maintains our achievement of our goals and we clock that no matter how much we say we want to do something we never seem to move any closer to doing that thing…then what’s stopping us? One possible barrier is inertia.

I’m going to approach this in a CBT kinda way by not tackling how I got to this state in the first place, what past actions and happenings created this – but rather what am I going to do in the present to get out of this state and stay out of it. I suppose the first step is realising isn’t it? As with all these things self awareness is key and recognition and acceptance that this is in fact the state of things. So, stand up and admit it. Hello my name is Mathew and I’m an inert.

The principle of inertia is Newton’s first law of motion and it states that inertia is the resistance any physical body has to change in its current state of motion. So, an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion both with the same speed and the same motion unless (and this is the key part) acted upon by ‘an unbalanced force’. Physics was never my strong point so I now realise that I have always remembered this wrongly; I mean to say that I’ve only remembered the ‘staying still and motionless’ part of the law. I see that inertia is actually the force that stops things from moving!

Inertia is everywhere. It applies its principles just like all the other laws and principles governing the world around us. The simple way to look at this is to realise that ‘objects keep doing what they are doing’ unless this state is broken by an unbalanced (unbalancing) force. This applies to us physically obviously – as anyone who has tried to carry a full coffee cup in a car passenger seat will know! The car stops due to the application of its brakes (the unbalanced/unbalancing force) but the coffee keeps doing what it was doing and, as it has no force stopping it moving at the same time as the car, it carries on moving forward! As do you in your seat a bit too, right? unless stopped by an unbalanced force – the vital seat belt! This elementary physics is all good and interesting but let’s apply it to our psychology and motivation towards our life goals shall we?

When there is something you want to achieve or a goal you wish to pursue the first thing to overcome is this ‘barrier’ of inertia. Inertia is intrinsic in the routines and habits that we need to break to make the changes. It can be the main hurdle between you and the start of movement in the desired direction. The best news being that once you have started in motion the same principles of inertia will keep you in motion!

SO, how do I leap this hurdle as easy as Jessica Ennis might leap over a poodle?

I suspect the answer either comes from within or without. Sometimes I’m not exactly, honestly sure if it is inertia or actually my subconscious feeling fearful or insecure about the task. I suppose these are times when it’s best to face that fear and do it anyway as they say. Within us there is the power to do many things we may never believe we can do SO simply harnessing self belief, and aligning things to our core beliefs as incentive, should push us on to achieve the goals we desire. Hmmm…I also suspect that if I were blessed with such inner strength I’d not be feeling the freeze of inertia…so that leaves the external influences.

I asked some of the most (seemingly) together and achieving people I know for any tips – here is what they suggested:

  • Set achievable short term goals. Break the bigger goal down into manageable, bite-size pieces. This way you’ll be encouraged by your mini successes and spurred on to continue to complete the entire task. Life style changes for life long benefit must be taken in small gradual steps – after all you may have taken quite a while to create the issue/barrier in the first place!
  • Incentivise yourself. Reward or treat yourself for completing the task you set yourself. (A carrot, if you like)
  • A ‘shock’ from outside forces might well do the trick. If you are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes then you know it is vital that you follow the recommended changes to your lifestyle otherwise you will die. That should be incentive enough, right?! (A stick, if you like)
  • Try these types of ‘delayed gratification’ – if you like a certain TV program reward yourself with it after you have gone for that walk/run you always promise yourself you will go on. OR make a list of the things you need to do that day. Prioritise them and do the most important first – the relief of that getting finished will spur you on to complete the others! OR similarly do the worst tasks you need to do in a day first and the things you’d like to do after them – that way the day can only get better!
  • I am self-employed and keeping the motivation and momentum going can be tricky. Whenever I get stuck in a vortex of inertia I schedule my day like a school day! Two hours of one thing then a break. Then two hours of another thing and then lunch and so on…!
  • A tidy house means a tidy mind. A tidy desk means a tidy mind which in turn means progress and achievement.
  • Pre-set the scene to limit the chances of failure to complete the desired task. For example if you are wanting to go for a run first thing in the morning then set out all the running gear ready to just jump into and set off. Set the alarm clock to not only wake you up at an appropriate time but place it across the room so you have to get up to silence it! And look right there next to the clock is your running stuff…might as well go run then eh?
  • Spend a pre-allocated amount of time on the hardest goal – the one you are struggling the most to move forward. Try to do this every day but only spend a maximum of 120 minutes on it – maybe more like 90 minutes actually. Some people say no more than 45 minutes of full uninterrupted concentration is truly useful but judge that for yourself. If you have to return to the same task then make sure to take a short break in-between and do something completely different.
  • Keep distractions and interruptions to a minimum. Place phone away from the area you are working in, no social media (!) and prevent emails pinging up.
  • Use a holistic approach and factor that in to achieve the things you want – you need to be well rested, eating as healthily as possible and with the least amount of stress affecting you as you can.
  • Remember you are in charge of yourself. You make the rules. Your personal world around you is there for you to create as you wish. Dream big!
  • I always say to myself when I’m feeling a little unmotivated that ‘this too shall pass…’. I do something I fancy doing for a while, a kind of ‘regrouping break’ and the focus returns and I’m back in the room!
  • I dunno if it’s true but I read somewhere that it takes 21 days to set a habit so I just mark off the days in my diary and I actually never finish marking the full 21 days as I’m usually into the new habit or routine by then and don’t need to!

I’m not certain about 21 day habits and I think from all these answers that some folk have a propensity for being proactive and have a good dose of self confidence (entitlement?) which propels them forwards.

Hmmm…whatever the truth is I think I’ll start by changing that mindset that a world free of mental inertia is for others and draw it into my life as a new place for me to operate from…then I’ll wrangle ‘carrots’ and ‘sticks’ and schedules and so on…wish me luck!

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