Inertia Is a Property That Matters

One of the few important things I remember from junior high school science was actually something I learned when I was sitting home sick watching bad TV. It happened as I watched my first episode of Bill Nye the Science Guy. While most of the his ADD ridden lessons escape me now, his theme song does not. About two-thirds of the way through the intro theme, a woman in a monotone voice states “Inertia is a property of matter”. For some reason, that one line has stuck with me to this day.

In high school, I eventually figured out what inertia was. I was working in a performing arts center and I was in charge of the fly system. (The counterbalance system that uses weights and ropes to raise and lower equipment, props and set pieces on and off the stage.) In a nutshell, the system works by allowing the stage crew to put an equal amount of weight on the offstage portion as that on the onstage portion. In theory, this should allow a highschooler like me to move objects that weigh ten times my weight without any effort.

The dividing factor between this theory and reality is inertia.

Sir Issac Newton first defined inertia as:

The innate force of matter, is a power of resisting by which every body, as much as in it lies, endeavors to preserve its present state

The force that held me back in high school is the exact same force that holds me and you back from attaining our goals today. Before the rope moved in that theatre, I first had to overcome inertia in order to get it moving. Depending on the mass of the object, this could be extremely difficult.

In theory, finances are simple. You just need to spend less than you earn. Likewise, to lose weight you just need to burn more calories than you take in. The idea that either of these changes are indeed easy is powered by a similar misconception to the theoretical ease of use of a perfectly balanced fly system. Both theories fail to take into account inertia.

My definition of happiness is knowing that you will be happy in the next moment. Simplified, this is essentially the same thing as security. It is easy to be happy when you know tomorrow will be exactly like today. I think it is for this reason that people (myself included!) find it so difficult to do tasks that are in theory simple. While they consciously want to change their behavior, they subconsciously act in much the same way inertia does and “endeavor to preserve their present state”.

Luckily, there is one other thing I learned from that fly system. Without exception, once I overcame inertia and got the rope moving, it would gain momentum and eventually move all by itself. Regardless of how massive the object on the other end was, once it gained sufficient momentum, it would move in the direction I wanted without any effort from me.

Today I officially started training for a marathon. I also officially started fighting inertia. I have never actually run a race in my life and a previous leg injury is requiring me to wear a minor leg brace on my left ankle that is making it harder to run than I want it to be.

That said, I am not worried. I know the power of momentum.

I did pre-training short jogs in Seattle last week when the temperatures were about 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Today, in Newport Beach, CA (my new although temporary home), the temperature was 80 degrees. Despite the higher temperature, I started to win the fight against inertia and I was able to decrease my average pace by a full 40 seconds. (Although to be fair, I think the Californian girls running the same route had an impact :-p 40 seconds is a lot!) I have started to gain momentum and the inertia that held me back during my pre-training is now having less of an impact.

The same principle will work for you. It is much easier to power through hard forces when you know the beginning is the hardest part. Be it saving money, losing weight or simply loving more, once you overcome the initial difficulties presented by inertia, momentum will eventually take over. This is the reason that inertia is a property that matters. This is also be the single most important secret to long term success with self improvement.

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