Inertia is my Frenemy

I'm pretty sure I took a physics class in high school, but I had a severe case of "senioritis" at the time (basically, once I had applied to colleges, I had little motivation for school subjects that didn't seem relevant to my daily life, which consisted of spending as much time as possible with my friends, listening to Prince, and watching movies before we all left for college in different states) which made it difficult for me to care about concepts like vectors. (At least, I think vectors were something we studied in that class. Is that physics?) Anyway, the one concept I do remember learning about in physics class is inertia. In plain language, inertia is the theory (or concept... or maybe it's a law...) that an object in motion tends to stay in motion and an object at rest tends to stay at rest.


It sounds simple and yet I think it is rather profound. Not only is it practically relevant almost every day of my life, but it was also probably my first opportunity to practice "both/and thinking" (more on that in a future post, but it's basically the practice of holding two apparently opposite ideas/thoughts/beliefs to be true at the same time).


Let me give an example of inertia. Let's say, hypothetically, that I'm driving a 1971 VW bus up the coast of California, by myself, on narrow mountain roads in the days before I owned a cell phone. And maybe I stop at a rest stop (on the side of one of those narrow mountain roads) to use the rest room and I discover when I get back in the bus that it won't start (I also discover that the pay phone at the rest stop doesn't work - because I'm a late adopter and most other people did have cell phones and so pay phones were not being maintained anymore - so I'm on my own to handle this little hiccup). Luckily, the VW bus has a manual transmission and I know how to bump-start a manual transmission, so I recruit some kind people from the rest step to help me push the bus from its stopped position, to get it moving fast enough to bump-start it.


When the bus is stopped, it wants to stay stopped and that initial effort of getting it to transition from stillness to movement is quite challenging. Good grief, this bus is heavy! The bus is resisting our attempts to move it (because of inertia). And then the tires begin to rotate a fraction of an inch and then they turn an entire revolution and then they are rolling and before I know it, good grief, this bus is moving fast! (Because of inertia.) And I have to run to keep up, jumping into the driver's seat, putting it into gear and popping the clutch to get it started, waving my thanks to my helpers before I run out of parking lot and find myself back on the narrow mountain road.


And the thing that blows my mind is that both the heaviness when it was stopped in the parking lot and the speed when it started moving are both the same force (or theory... or concept... or law) - inertia. These two things - the resistance to moving at all and the quickly building momentum - are diametrically opposed and yet they are the same thing.


So what does this have to do with resilience? For me, resilience is the result of hundreds (or maybe thousands) of micro-practices that I choose (or don't choose) every week, every day, every hour, or every minute. And each of those micro-practices has inertia, in both of its forms. So any time I'm not doing a practice, it feels hard (so hard!) to start doing it (an object at rest tends to stay at rest), even if I've done it many times before and I know I will be glad I did it. And, usually, any time I am doing a practice, I get caught up in the momentum of the practice and I usually keep practicing longer or more often than I originally planned (an object in motion tends to stay in motion).


Honestly, for me, the second form of inertia doesn't pose many challenges for my life. The inertia of doing practices rarely interrupts other things I want to do with my time. It's the first form of inertial that tends to plague me a bit. For instance, even when I know that I always (like 100% of the time, not just most of the time) feel good after practicing yoga, it still feels like a huge effort to get myself to my yoga mat (which is right there in my 800 square foot home, so it's not like it's some kind of epic journey). And even when I know that I always feel better when I go to bed before 10:00 at night, it still feels almost impossible to get up from the living room couch to (walk fifteen feet to) go to bed most nights.


And this is where I usually trick myself, much like Bugs Bunny used to trick Elmer Fudd (and here's another both/and moment - I am both as wily as Bugs and as gullible as Elmer) to nudge myself past the first type of inertia and into the second type of inertia. I tell myself I don't have to practice yoga today, I only have roll out my mat and sit on it. Even I can do that. So I do. And then, once I nudge past the first inertia and I'm on top of my mat, I find the second inertia has already taken over and I am doing my practice. Or I tell myself I don't have to go to bed right now, I just have to get up and brush my teeth. And again, usually once I'm on my feet and my teeth are brushed, I find it's just as easy to continue into my bedroom.


And, much like Elmer Fudd, I do not ever seem to learn from being tricked. The same tricks fool me again and again (I choose to view this as a strength). I trick myself at least once a day, usually more: I don't have to go out for a walk/run, I just have to put on my shoes. I don't have to start working yet, I just have to turn on my computer. I don't have to really meditate, I can just sit with my eyes closed for a minute.


The way inertia plays out in my practices is that once I do start doing practices on a daily basis (whether it's yoga, mediation, flossing my teeth, eating vegetables, exercising, taking supplements, using my bright light lamp, etc.), it just becomes a thing I do, rather than a thing I have to get myself to do. Like the resilience bus is already in motion and so I don't need to bump start it every day. But what I also notice is that once I skip a day (usually because it's the weekend and everyone deserves a break over the weekend, right?) it feels much harder to start up again. "I'll start on Monday" becomes, "or maybe Tuesday." And that's when it's time to call in Bugs to work his magic.


After many years of tricking myself this way, it has sort of become its own resilience practice, in the sense that it is a micro-practice I know I can use to get myself from one from of inertia to the other. I now have enough experience with the practice that I trust that I am strong enough to get that resilience bus back into motion. I have developed more faith in myself and my micro-practices (yes, even the practice of self-trickery), which fuels my resilience and increases its momentum.


And all of that is thanks to my frenemy, inertia.

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