Overcoming Inertia

There’s a time in a transition—after the initial euphoria of deciding to change but before any real change takes hold—that one’s enthusiasm can dampen. Life feels suddenly dull. 

Sure, you know well the work involved to make the change. You may have carefully charted all the steps to get there. The act of making to-do lists and setting goals have kept me riveted for hours at a time, and eventually the day to act dawns. And that day follows another, and days string into weeks. Progress can seem achingly slow, so slow that sometimes you question the point of the change. Sometimes you can’t bring yourself to the work of moving forward.

Inertia is real. Physicists have defined inertia as this property: matter continues to exist in its current state—rest or motion—until that state is changed by an external force. Inertia is also defined as resistance to change. 

We are by nature averse to changing our current state. Inertia comes with living on this earth, like gravity. How do you work with gravity? Well, you don’t perch perilously close to the edge of cliffs without safety precautions. And when it comes to inertia, you don’t enter transitions without a plan for resistance.

The property of inertia applies to every living thing, including you and me.

And so I want to remind us—consider this a public service announcement—that in the process of transition, resistance is built into the equation. We are by nature averse to changing our current state. Inertia comes with living on this earth, like gravity. How do you work with gravity? Well, you don’t perch perilously close to the edge of cliffs without safety precautions. And when it comes to inertia, you don’t enter transitions without a plan for resistance. 

Transitions are seldom best handled in one fell swoop. Even when we’re confronted with an immediate change of life—death of a loved one, getting laid off from a job, an accident or illness that alters our health in some way—the transition, or the period of healing afterward, takes time. Overnight transformation in consciousness is miraculous and rare. 

The “external force” that alters one’s direction is typically a series of tiny and deliberate changes. Tiny because summoning the willpower for larger changes, and sustaining this effort day after day defies physics. Let me restate this again: expecting yourself to get through a transition without resistance would mean defying a key property of science.

I hope that last sentence will help you to put away the guilt, fear, or urge to quit.

Expecting yourself to get through a transition without resistance would be defying the a key property of science.

Author Martha Beck often talks about how turning a large ship one degree is largely imperceptible to passengers, but one degree turns made repeatedly over time will chart a completely different course. Turning too quickly might cause a ship to list and possibly capsize. Consider the tiny changes you make in a transition like a one-degree turns.

When you feel inertia settle in, look back over your carefully crafted plans and break down those tasks into tinier sub-tasks, especially if you’re feeling stuck. Start again small. This is how change happens. You can do this. 

Lisa Groen is a writer and listener for people in transition. Her course, Figuring Out What’s Next, helps women identify the first step to take in a life transition.

Published by Lisa

Instructor, author, and part-time mountain monk.

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