Overcoming Inertia

Overcoming Inertia

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Remember all those things you said you would do, but didn’t get round to it?

What are you continually thinking about, yet not acting upon?

Are you finding it harder to get things done, as time goes by?

Living in our world of infinite choice and infinite opportunity can be paralyzing. Choice is a paradox. The wonderful side is that having options means you can always get what you need. The huge downside of multiple choice is the paralysis it causes in a culture of people wanting to be seen to make the right or perfect choice.

The attention economy means that billions and billions of pounds of clever marketing and neuroscience investment works to draw you away from where and who you are. Very few of us were ever taught how these people co-opt our minds and manipulate our attention, so it isn’t a fair fight.

If you are struggling with any form of personal inertia, be compassionate with yourself. Many people struggle with choices or procrastination. Even today, I spend far too much time on my smart phone and on social media than I should do. Inertia is a phenomenon of our times – and it’s been creeping up on us all.

I have struggled massively with inertia my whole life, so I’ve learnt a lot about overcoming it. By no means do I have all the answers, but I am able to share some things that work for me.

I have two types of solutions. One is a ‘scaffolding’ approach that’s all about putting in processes that prevent inertia. The other is a ‘healing approach’.

The Scaffolding Approaches

Looking after your mind. ‘Go-forward’ or action-based decision-making is like a muscle. The more you exercise it and train yourself to use it well, the easier it gets. Our brains (and minds) need care and attention – but this involves a whole-body approach. If you have a poor diet, or you don’t do regular exercise, if you are stressed, or don’t sleep well, your brain will not perform well. The better condition your mind is in, the easier it is to overcome inertia. This can be a catch-22, but the first thing to do is to build a platform for a healthy mind.  Use whatever willpower you do have to do the things that create more energy and desire to take action. For me, inertia disappears quite easily after a run, or a period of meditation. Wellbeing isn’t a reward: it’s a mechanism for going places.

Inoculating yourself against manipulation, through education.  To be free from inertia, one has to be free of the mechanisms that suck us in. The more you learn about marketing and neuroscience – and how organisations and individuals manipulate us into decision-making – the more you can make conscious choices. Awareness of the problem is a good first step. The human mind is the basis of every decision we will ever make. Personally, I think we should be teaching our children these basics – even before reading and writing. Our minds have a lot of bugs (evolutionary features, like the fear response) that we aren’t taught about. Not only do we need to learn how to cope with these in modern life – we need to understand that other people seek to control us by manipulating our responses, and even our minds.

Setting yourself up to make fewer decisions. People like Mark Zuckerberg wear the same thing every day, so they don’t exhaust their cognitive capacity on things that don’t matter. They can direct their mental energy towards what they want to do, instead. Identify where you are making daily decisions you don’t need to make. Consider how the clutter in your life is consuming your mental bandwidth. Physical clarity provides mental clarity – and if you want inspiration, watch the documentary Minimalism as a good starting point. I keep everything I own to an absolute minimum, to reduce the bandwidth that might otherwise be consumed by all the things around me.

Look to use the practice of satisficing in decision-making. Be satisfied with what suffices. Rather than looking for the best solution, look for the first solution that meets your requirements. For instance, on a menu, don’t look for the best thing to eat, out of hundreds of choices. Look for the first thing you fancy. Looking for the perfect choice in every decision you make takes a lot of cognitive bandwidth. Make it easy.

Bypass the need to make decisions. Design your own systems to bypass the inertia effect as much as possible. I have ways of getting things done even if I couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed. A lot of people look at what they want to do with rose-tinted spectacles of who they are and what’s realistically achievable for them. They design idealistic plans and actions that rely on them being their aspirational self – rather than their real self (or worst self). I don’t take an over-optimistic view of getting things done – I design systems that work even on my worst days. Essentially, if you struggle to make decisions or get going, there are lots of clever little ways you can get others to do it for you. Using the restaurant example, I would typically get someone else to make the decision for me. I share my dietary requirements with the server and ask them what to suggest.

Maximise strengths and minimise exposure to weaknesses. As much as possible, I design my life around things I like to do, rather than things I don’t. Some people have been indoctrinated with a cultural notion or narrative that life is a struggle – and you must steel yourself to the suffering, accept it, and just get through it. I say – avoid struggle unless you want to intentionally learn from it. Whilst some things might be unavoidable, most things that give your life structure (e.g. job, home) can be changed over time, to support you in operating from a place of strength rather than weakness. Build on your strengths and passions, and leave other people to do things you hate, or can’t do well.  We tend to live in a deficit culture focusing on problems and curing illness. Most companies get people to work on their weaknesses, rather than building on strengths. If you think about it, that makes no sense at all. A strength-centric approach to life will significantly reduce instances of inertia, over time. Moving away from an ‘individualistic’ view of life is also helpful. I always say, if I’m doing something I hate, I’m probably depriving someone of doing something they love. Outsource – someone out there loves the jobs you hate. Provide a service – someone hates the jobs you love.

Use accountability to get movement. Whilst I am not good at doing tasks, I am good at showing up for appointments. I don’t like letting people down and I hate not being on time. So, I can utilise this self-knowledge to do things; to create momentum in my life, I meet people and discuss my plans. I wrote this blog to create public accountability for my actions. I am much more likely to do things when I have shared them with everyone I know. This particular means of motivation is definitely not for everyone, but it is important to know that we all have elements within us that we can use to challenge inertia. Think about how you can leverage yourself to resolve so-called weaknesses by using your strengths and motivators.

Small steps. This has to be the one of the simplest things to do. I break everything I need to do into the smallest of steps, and I only focus on the next step to take. Get good at eating the elephant one bite at a time and be happy in the process of taking single steps. The overwhelm and paralysis that big tasks often provoke can disappear quite quickly.

Outsourcing and automation. We are no longer hunter-gatherers. Most of us don’t spend hours every day looking for animals to kill, gathering plants for food and chopping down trees for firewood. We have outsourced many things, collectively. Our era has engendered an explosion of systems and services to outsource virtually everything that needs to be done. If you are consistently struggling to do something and you have the resources, consider outsourcing the task. I’ve always invested heavily in support over the years, and every year, it gets cheaper and easier to do.

Those are my scaffolds. Whilst these solutions are practical and easy to do, they do take time and energy in themselves. And they aren’t completely fail-safe if you have deep-set issues, when life gets difficult or when things change quickly. Which brings me to a solution I’ve found profoundly helpful.

The second overall approach is what I call the ‘healing’ approach.

The ‘Healing’ Approach

This looks at  what lies underneath the inertia in the first place – the reason for it. Such patterns are often set in stone, in early childhood. Our fears, our stories of self-worth and negative experiences are usually the reasons we struggle to get going. The great news is that we are learning much more about how to heal our stories and our fears.

Moving forward in life is effortless when we become aligned with who we truly are. The more we peel back the layers of the onion in our subconscious mind, and the more we let go of our fears and unhelpful stories, the more the barriers to our progress disappear.

Physical, psychological and spiritual therapies, interventions and practices abound to help us in the healing process. There are so many paths to explore, and the direction depends very much on the world view of the individual. During the past 5 years, I have been a lab rat in exploring all sorts of different healing approaches and modalities. Whilst I have found all the scaffolding approaches really valuable – and they still are – nothing has helped me flow with the river of life more easily than getting to the root of the problem.

The malaise of inertia is often a sign of deeper questions that remain unanswered in your life. The quest for answers can be an incredible journey in itself.

Develop a process that works for you, then make good use of that initial momentum, to build on it.

Step by step, we reach our destination. We might as well enjoy the journey.

To moving forward.

Marc

P.S. This blog and all the work that I do is supported financially by the generosity of people in my network. If you have been thinking about supporting my Patreon campaign and haven’t yet got round to support it, now is the time to try some of these techniques. For more information visit this link.

P.P.S. If you have any other ideas or approaches for overcoming inertia, please share them in the comments section below.

P.P.S. I’m always available for coffee, to talk about overcoming inertia. If you would like to do so, please get in touch.

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  1. Patrick Kim says:

    Thank you Marc, for this wonderful post.
    You remind us that any challenge we’re trying to overcome necessarily has many sides to it. And thus many ways to overcome it. Sometimes, the best way is not “through,” but “around” or “another way.”
    Inertia sounds like a mechanical analogy. An electrical one would be to think in terms of resistance. In order to overcome inertia, you need to apply a force. In order to overcome a resistance, you need to let the electrons flow. So perhaps we can help by being conducive to things happening. And that is where your message about healing is so important!
    We often are so busy with doing that we forget about being. Simply being. The rest follows…
    One of the best gifts a friend once gave me was the simple sentence: “Be kind to yourself!”
    I wish you and your community an excellent day!

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