finding small somethings: a few thoughts on the power of inertia

I just came from coffee with a friend where we talked about the concept of inertia. She lamented that she hasn’t fully come out of the post-Easter slump. I commiserated because we both found ourselves lacking discipline to do some of the things we know we need to do — things like being consistent with workouts and nutrition, getting a handle on the budget, being faithful in spiritual disciplines.

These are all areas we care about and have been working on all year, but once a trip or an unexpected setback interrupts a routine, once things slow down or stop in an area, we tend to remain in a state of inactivity. Indeed, “a tendency to do nothing or remain unchanged” is one of the definitions of inertia.

But there’s another side of inertia, too. The physics definition is a little different: a property of matter by which it continues in its existing state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line, unless that state is changed by an external force.

Or as I learned back in high school, a body at rest will stay at rest or a body in motion will stay in motion, unless acted on by an outside force.

See, inertia is resistance to CHANGE in a state of motion, and that can be a powerful tool in our favor.

Here’s what I mean. Back around the beginning of May, things got so crazy around our house that I stopped cooking and started (mostly) heading through the drive-thru lane or ordering pizza. I have not regrets. It got us through an unusually busy schedule. But now I’m facing inertia as I get our budget and our cooking routine back on track.

And by facing I mean letting the “body at rest” side of inertia have full sway by not doing anything to change. That’s because big ultimatum-sounding things like “Stop spending so much!” and “Make meal plans!” take energy and planning.

Dang it, that just seems exhausting and boring. And I really LIKE cheeseburgers. So yes, inertia.

But that’s when the “body in motion” side of inertia can help so much. After leaving my friend’s house, I decided to do just one small something that’s helped in the past — withdraw a little cash and designate it as “eating out money” and put it in the front pocket of my wallet. I can spend it however I want, but when it’s gone, it’s gone. That motivates me to be mindful of our budget and our nutrition goals.

And just like that, in that one area, bingo, I’m now in motion. The principle of inertia is at work in my favor because I’m likely to continue in that direction unless acted on by an outside force. But the answer to those interruptions, those outside forces, will still be the same:

“Small and something” thinking will beat “all or nothing” thinking any day of the week.

Too often we embrace an “all or nothing” mentality, a “go big or go home” mentality. We get stuck in a state of inactivity because we’re overwhelmed or bored or tired and can’t see how we can possibly make the big changes.

And that sets us up for failure. What I have found is that things get accomplished because of a series of very small things done consistently over time. It’s starting the ball rolling and then letting the “body in motion” side of inertia come into play.

It works with budgets and meal plans and workouts. It works with getting back to attending church or doing a personal devo. It definitely works with writing or any other creative pursuit.

Just find a small something, a pebble to start a ripple, and pretty soon you’ll be in motion.

One response to “finding small somethings: a few thoughts on the power of inertia”

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