How Newton’s Law of Inertia Is Getting in the Way of Your Goals
I took a single physics class in my lifetime in high school. Physics 11 in grade 11. I thoroughly enjoyed the topics and the course provided a whole new perspective on viewing the world. What I didn’t realize at the time was that one particular law of physics was going to continually mess around with my life’s goals, throughout my adult life. I’ve finally wised up and truly understand now the power of this foundational piece of physics knowledge. Successfully achieving diet, exercise, career, family and various other self-improvement goals hinges on our respect for the Law of Inertia. Being aware of this law can truly shape our outcomes in life, for better or for worse.
Newton’s First Law, or the Law of Inertia, as it is also known, states that if a body is at rest, it will remain at rest, unless acted upon by a force. Or, if a body is moving at a constant speed in a straight line, it will keep moving in a straight line at constant speed, unless it is acted upon by a force. This law of physics isn’t something simply observed in a classroom or lab setting. It has great influence on our successes in different aspects of our life. Let’s break this down with some examples…
GETTING STARTED: INERTIA
Newton’s First Law of Motion has profound implications for how well we do in striving towards and reaching our life’s goals. Perhaps one of life’s greatest challenges is simply “getting going” or taking the first steps towards our goals. Overcoming inertia, which includes things like self-doubt and procrastination, is arguably the first and biggest barrier we must overcome in pursuing something.
It could be said that the first thing that must get us up and moving is a thought. Making a mental leap to decide to take action on something is not always too difficult. Collectively, we generally understand that we should eat well and exercise regularly to be healthy. Similarly, we know that in order to be successful at anything, we need to work hard at our particular craft. But why can’t we always easily transition from intention to action?
More often than not, we know what we ought to be doing. But, for too many of us, we don’t always do those things. And if we do, it may not be often enough or for long enough. What force then must act upon us to get us off our comfy seat and moving in the right direction toward a goal?
I’d suggest the time-tested method of goal setting is an obvious starting point. Define what you want to accomplish. There are countless resources available that can help us to set S.M.A.R.T. goals. Specific. Measurable. Attainable. Realistic. Timely. Easy enough, we all know the drill. But what force will actually get you started?
Motivation is a huge factor in my view, as a moving force. It’s not enough to know what you want to achieve, but knowing why you want to do something is crucial. The “why” is what gives meaning and purpose behind the future actions you will need to take. It specifies the destination. Without the why, it’s easy to lose sight of what led you to set a particular goal and to abandon it in short order. In other words, you need an enduring “why” to serve as the force that will move you to overcome your inertia. Day after day after day, until you hit your intended target, NEVER FORGET YOUR WHY. It is what will get you moving in a particular direction each morning. Giving meaning to your movement is what keeps inertia at bay in my humble opinion.
STAYING IN MOTION
It can take the most amount of effort or energy to get started on something. A vehicle consumes the most fuel and taxes the engine most when we push on the gas pedal to accelerate from a dead stop. An airplane too operates like this at the take-off stage of a flight. I liken these examples to how many people feel when launching towards a new goal. Getting up and taking the first steps are often the hardest.
If and when we do get moving on some task or objective, then the second and more constant challenge is overcoming the outside forces that are acting as brakes on our motion. There are countless barriers, detours, unexpected surprises and people that may detract us from our goals. COVID-19 has been one huge collective barrier for all of humanity, for example. Family and friends may plant seeds of doubt in you with negative comments. Or they may put forth distractions and unhealthy options in front of you.
For fun, let’s list a few examples of negative forces that could derail your plans or halt you in your tracks, when working towards a goal.
Diet (i.e. trying to eat healthy):
- family or friends invite you over for a fairly unhealthy meal, that they’ve innocently prepared with good intentions
- friends invite you out the bar or club for a night of drinking
- you were too busy to prepare a meal and find it most convenient to grab fast-food
- there are no healthy options on the menu wherever you may be dining, while out
Exercise (trying to be more active)
- you slept in and missed your chance at a morning workout or walk
- the weather outside is cold or wet and you decide it’s warmer and more comfortable to stay inside, than get some fresh air and movement
- you’re too tired to visit the gym after a long or tough day at work
- boredom and/or repetitiveness are making your motivation to workout fade
- you drank too much partying last night with friends and are in rough shape the next day
- your parent or sibling needs your help moving or fixing something
- a family member is sick and needs your help caring for them
- your kids are enrolled in after-school activities that take up a lot of time
The above list is by no means exhaustive, but representative of typical “life stuff” that can crowd out our goals. To counter this, we need to passionately and definitively carve out time in our days for doing what we know we want/need to do. When outside forces are bumping up against our forward motion, we need to course correct to stay on our track. MOMENTUM is defined by Merriam-Webster as the strength or force that allows something to continue to grow stronger or faster as time passes. Build up your momentum and more importantly, maintain it, in order to resist the outside resistance that may appear from time to time.
FOR EVERY ACTION…
Newton stated that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. To me, that means that each step that we take towards our goal, our goal takes one step closer towards us. This is yet another brilliant law of physics that has great applicability to our pursuit of happiness and success. Knowing that our purposeful daily actions will one day lead to convergence with the attainment of our goals, is a type of fuel that gives us the optimism to continue onwards in our journey.
NEWTON’S LAW CAN MAKE OR BREAK OUR DREAMS
It’s truly fascinating to me that Sir Isaac Newton’s First Law of Motion encapsulates that which must be done with our individual energy, in order to fulfill our goals, wishes and dreams. Being mindful of this law in our everyday lives can hopefully help us to better focus on avoiding doing things intermittently or sporadically. Like with a vehicle, stopping and starting all the time, can take a real toll on our hybrid physical and mental human engine. Inertia can be taxing on our energy and causes inefficiency. Instead, it’s useful to get in motion and stay in motion to maximize our energy efficiency.
Be aware of those daily forces that may be getting in your way. Course correct and get back on your flight path ASAP. Turbulence is temporary. Remember that your progress is fragile and precious. Your hard-earned motion needs to be protected in order to stay the course. Only then will you reach your goal in a timely fashion.