Your Life is Full of Unwanted Inertia
When someone mentions inertia, what comes to mind?
Most people jump straight to Newton’s 1st Law of Motion and memories of middle-school science classes.
Britannica defines Newton’s 1st Law as follows:
“If a body is at rest or moving at a constant speed in a straight line, it will remain at rest or keep moving in a straight line at constant speed unless it is acted upon by a force.”
Inertia: Your Life on Autopilot
Me? I have other thoughts about inertia. I find that the Oxford Languages definition hits much closer to home:
“a tendency to do nothing or to remain unchanged.”
Inertia isn’t limited to physics and the laws of motion, but rather it applies to all aspects of life.
In an interview on one of my favorite podcasts (the Fizzle Show), something the guest and former co-host Chase Reeves said made me hit that 15 second back button a few times.
Honestly, he blew my mind with a quote from Ursula K. Le Guin (The Farthest Shore):
“But each deed you do, each act, binds you to itself and to its consequences, and makes you act again and yet again.”
Essentially, what we do perpetuates what we do. Inertia. So much of life happens on autopilot. The grooves we’ve worn into our own paths continue to get cut deeper and deeper.
What you do creates momentum, inertia to keep you doing it.
If you lash out in anger at your 4 year old son, because you haven’t practiced your patience muscles, you develop a hostile relationship between you and your child. In turn, he resents you, which drives him to do things that cause you to lash out.
Lashing out causes lashing out. Anger drives anger.
But of course, this doesn’t only happen in our personal lives. This inertia affects our work work as well.
Imagine that you hold a challenging day job. You go to work and work hard, each day giving it your all. Eventually you notice you’re never quite building any leverage. You can never quite feel ahead.
Working like this becomes a self-perpetuating exercise. More inertia.
You work hard and that hard work causes you to continue to work hard. You create a habit where you constantly grind yourself to the bone.
But you can’t stop the cycle. Breaking the habit seems impossible. You have to go to work and work like that because you can’t imagine anything else.
Going to work causes you to go to work.
To close out that snippet of the episode, Reeves goes on to ask:
“So do you like it? Is it the kind of thing you want to be doing?”
We rarely ask that question.
The Power of Habits
If you’ve read Atomic Habits by James Clear, or Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, you’ll know how much of life is based in routines and habits. So much of what we do is done only semi-consciously, which is generally a good thing. Consciously thinking about every single action or choice would be overwhelming.
But of course there is a downside. We often forget to ask ourselves some important questions.
Think about how you spend your time. Are the things you do worth your time?
Do you like what you’re doing?
Hard Questions Make for Difficult Conversations
Lately I’ve been trying to think more about whether or not I like the path I’m on. Honestly, I’m realizing that I’ve spent the past few years trying to talk myself into enjoying my work life.
That realization is probably going to lead to some hard conversations that I’ve been putting off for a long time. Because we only get one life, and when it’s over it’s over. Working for the weekend and praying for vacations, that’s no way to live.
You deserve better, and the people around you deserve better. Even if it’s not easy at first.
It’s only after identifying the hidden inertia in your life, the habits that no longer serve you, that you can start to make change.
So go make some change.