Inertia

This afternoon I had a long and rambling conversation with a friend of mine.  One of the subjects we talked about was how difficult it can be to self-motivate when one feels generally down.

Whether the weather is crappy and it affects your mood, or you’re feeling a little (or a lot) depressed, or you’ve let your exercise routine slip away for whatever reason, it can be really hard to get moving again.  And, the older you get, the more difficult it seems to be.

This is also true for intellectual pursuits.  Got a blog you (I!!!) haven’t contributed to for too long?  Feel the urge to meditate, but just never seem to fit it into your day?  Got a list of books you want to read, but somehow just never feel like turning the pages?

All of these things are the results of inertia.

Before sitting down to write this post, I did a quick search on the Internet.  The results were mostly what I expected them to be.  That is, that inertia is almost ALWAYS referred to in relation to physical objects.  The definition I remember from way back when (that’s Old School for “back in the day”) goes something like this: inertia is the tendency of an object in motion to stay in motion, and an object at rest to stay at rest.

But in my conversation with my friend, I pointed out that inertia works on things other than physical objects.  There are mental, psychological, and emotional objects as well.  Things like feelings, ambition, desire, self-esteem.  All are influenced by inertia.  Interestingly, the concept is the same as when speaking of physical objects; ambition in motion (when someone is actively working toward a goal) tends to stay in motion, but ambition at rest (when someone ISN’T actively working toward something, due to feelings of failure, lack of funds or materials, or any other reason) tends to stay at rest.  The same thing applies to something like self-esteem.  If you’re feeling good about yourself, you tend to KEEP feeling good about yourself.  If you’re feeling like a failure, you’ll tend to KEEP feeling that way.

The caveat to the force of inertia is that its effect assumes that no other forces come into play.  For example, inertia will tend to keep a rolling ball rolling.  Until gravity, friction and other physical properties come into play.  In the case of a desire, say… sexual desire, inertia will tend to keep it going until the physical body can’t perform any more.  In this case, killing that desire completely is probably impossible (PLEASE!!!), but maintaining it at peak level IS.  And if someone just isn’t feeling much desire toward something, they’re going to tend to continue to not feel much desire, until some other force comes into play.  For example, you might not have much desire to go to work in the morning, but if your employer suddenly offered to buy you a new Cadillac simply for showing up on time, you’re likely to feel a BIT more desire to crawl out of bed.

But, changing the “direction” of inertia’s existing influence requires work.  In most cases, I think we tend to think of inertia in its role as inhibitor.  Probably because when things are moving along, we don’t give much thought to why.  Instead, we just look forward.  Also, movement tends to be a preferred state over inactivity.

So, let’s consider the idea that inertia is holding us immobile in some way, and our preference would be movement.  Let’s say we’re not feeling like being physically active.  We USED to exercise regularly; even if we weren’t gym rats, at least we got up and went for walks, bike rides or jogs once in a while.  We practiced yoga or tai chi, went bowling or dancing.  But now, maybe we’ve been sick for a few weeks, and the thought of doing the things necessary to prepare for that bike ride (dressing properly, checking air pressure in the tires, filling a water bottle, lubricating the chain, etc.)  just seems like too much.  We have a lack of energy for ANYTHING, and getting up to DO something seems like work.  What to do?

Or, maybe we’re feeling a little depressed because we got passed over for a promotion at work.  We worked hard for it, but some new guy got the nod.  Now, we’re questioning our whole reason for going to the office at all, and the job now feels oppressive.  What to do?

The answer to both scenarios is… ANYTHING!

If you’re feeling physical inertia, as in the first example, do something mentally stimulating.  Read a book, write a letter, bake something, play a game of chess online against someone in China.  Find something to get mentally interested in.  It may take a little time, but it will build internal motivation that you can channel into getting back onto that bike.

If you’re in the throws of psychological inertia, do something physical.  Take a walk.  Go surfing.  Ride a bike.  Go bowling.  The more physically demanding it is, the better.  Doing something physical forces your mind to focus on something other than (in this case) your job issues.  And the more challenging it is, the more you have to focus your mind on what your body is doing.  I promise you that if you go skydiving, you will NOT be thinking about work as you step out of the plane.  Taking a mental vacation is what’s important here.  Your mind needs time to relax and recharge, just as much as your body.  The good news is that a mental recharge can be achieved much more quickly than a physical one.

I’m feeling better just by writing this post!

 

——Tim

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