Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Do you know what motivates you more than anything else? It's probably not what you think it is. It's not your family. It's not your job. It's not your latest cause. It's not alcohol or drugs or food.

The number one reason you do what you do is: inertia, or from a different perspective, momentum. Every other motivation pales by comparison and it's pretty much the same for everyone.

After hearing an infomercial on the benefits of collard greens, you decide to pick up something new while at the supermarket. However, the overwhelming majority of items in your cart are ones you purchased before. The market is the one you visit every week. Unaware, you use the same algorithm to discern the fastest checkout line. Pushing your cart out the door, you autopilot to the same place in the parking lot that you always park your car. Driving home, you zone out a couple of times, but still manage not to miss any turns.

With only minor variation, your shopping experience this week is the same as last week. Over long intervals, the minor changes may add up to something significant, but not from week to week.

Why? Well, over time you developed a pattern for shopping, one that works for you. The pattern makes shopping more efficient; you get done quicker. The pattern makes shopping more effective; you easily find the items offering the greatest value proposition. The pattern makes shopping less demanding: you really don't have to think much to do it. That pattern works, so you stick with it.

If the pattern is effective and productive, then you might call it momentum. However, if the pattern were holding you back in some way (e.g., keeping you from buying the best items to help your partner drop some pounds), then you might call it inertia. Regardless, the way you shop today is almost entirely defined by the way you shopped last week.

Of course, this phenomenon is not limited to shopping. We use momentum/inertia in pretty much everything we do. Momentum/inertia determines whom we see and whom we don't, how we conduct conversations, how we approach work, when and what we eat, whether or not we exercise and how. It's the primary influence on how we practice, how we make love, how we engage new ideas, how we think.

Momentum/inertia is such a pervasive motivator that we often fail to see it as such. It's like gravity holding us in the orbits that we call our lives. It's no wonder that it can be so difficult to make meaningful and lasting change. Each time you try something really new, you're essentially attempting to defy gravity. You may glide for a bit, but then the force of momentum/inertia pulls you back to earth. You may even fly, but rarely do you break free and escape the gravitational force altogether.

When you do, if you're not diligent, you find yourself entering the orbit of another momentum.

Don't get me wrong; momentum can be a good thing. It helps make life easier. However, you can't have momentum without inertia. They go hand in hand; making one thing easier always makes something else more difficult. The thing is to be aware of the tradeoffs and then actively decide whether or not you're getting all that you want.

Breaking Momentum
I've found the easiest way to break the chains of momentum is to practice with little things. Actively and deliberately change little things in your MO on a daily basis. If whenever you pick up your guitar, you play a certain riff to loosen up, then play another one instead. If you always purchase a certain brand of cereal, try a new brand taking time to read the labels and compare. If family members always sit at the same place at the table, have everyone switch.

Little acts of momentum-breaking have the effect of stretching your muscles before you run. You work free mental tissue that have seized up. You open channels of awareness that have been closed. You become more flexible and creative. Little acts become bigger acts.

Studies suggest that the frequency of disorders like alzheimer's corresponds directly to the degree to which one's life is guided by momentum/inertia and that by constantly breaking patterns, one can avoid the effects of the disorders.

Whether or not that's the case, I know from my own experience and watching others that people who diligently monitor and maintain the effects of momentum in their lives tend to do much more of what they say the want than people who don't.

What about you?

Happy Tuesday,

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