The Power Of Inertia Or Know Your Flow

While inertia is a term that refers to Newton’s 1st law of motion, I’ve always thought about inertia outside of the realm of physics and applied it psychologically.  I’ve taken some liberties with Newton’s definition, “Every body remains in a state of rest or uniform motion (constant velocity) unless it is acted upon by an external unbalanced force” and tried to view it as a factor in personal development/motivation.

I saw the new A&E show, Heavy last week and it was a blunt reminder of just how powerful inertia is in our lives.


Bodies at rest tend to stay at rest.

In watching the subjects of Heavy try to transform their bodies, I was immediately struck with how difficult it can be to get something moving.  As one person was exhausted and covered in sweat just walking to the gym, the personal trainer commented that, “He’s at 600 lbs.  That’s like a normal person trying to walk to the gym with a refrigerator strapped to their back.”

When I thought about that for a moment, I realized that if I had a fridge strapped to my back, it would only take a couple of steps before every synapse in my body said, “Forget this.  This is dumb. Just sit down.”  The fact that these people worked through that to get to their short-term goal, speaks both to how difficult it can be to work through inertia, and also to how we have the ability to break out of cycles in our heads.


The flip side of inertia is that bodies in motion tend to stay in motion

So while putting something in action can be hard, maintaining it is a lot easier than stopping it and trying to start it up again.  If you build positive habits it becomes easier to maintain them over time. I’m not saying that it goes on auto pilot.  If you don’t like practicing scales and have built up a new practice regimen involving playing scales – you might have days you skip.  The important things are

1.      that when you’re doing it – you’re really doing it

2.      if you fall of the wagon make sure to get back on


Falling off the wagon is easy, but getting back on isn’t a big deal if you’ve done it before.

I remember taking with an alcoholic who fell off the wagon in the middle of a multi-day binge and he talked about falling off the wagon like it was a high-speed train.  It’s an issue of perception – if you view a habit or an action as something you have to amp yourself up to do – it’s going to make it more difficult to instill.

If you view the wagon as something that you’re either on or off –it’s going to put a lot of additional pressure (and difficulty) for you to get back on.


Going with the flow

If you’ve ever tried to walk up a really powerful stream, you know that it’s a lot easier to follow the current than it is to fight it.  In terms of productivity – it’s important to know your flow.  If you know what works for you and what you’re likely to do it’s easier to work things in around that.

I’ve often found that the biggest learning curve that I’ve had in maximizing productivity has been in learning what works for me.  For example, by nature I’m not a very disciplined person and I find that if I leave myself to my unorganized devices I don’t often get much done.


Coordinates or knowing where you are

Having said that – I do tend to be an organized person.  So in being organized, I find that keeping a calendar (and a practice log) help keep me focused and in focusing helps keep me disciplined.

While I keep and maintain my calendar, every time I put it aside and say – “I don’t need that –  I know what I’m doing” – a week goes by and I find that I may have only gotten a fraction of the things done that I wanted to.

In keeping a weekly calendar  I see not only where I’ve been but also what I’ve been doing.  If I don’t get to my short-term goals, it simply means I’ve fallen off the wagon and have to get back on.  The more time’s I get back on – the less likely I am to fall off.

Because I know my behavioral tendencies, I can go with the flow of those tendencies rather than fighting against them.  If you’re not a morning person, getting up at 5 am to the gym is going to be an uphill battle.  If you tend to be focused mid day – working out on your lunch break might work better for you.  In being organized I find that keeping a calendar (and a practice log) helps keep me focused, disciplined and getting things done.


Sometimes the last one standing is the winner

All of this works off of the concept of short and long-term goals.  There are times in life that you’ll have to hustle a breakneck 50-yard dash, but life itself is a marathon.

I don’t know how many of you have ever seen Another State Of Mind (a really great get in the van with the band style documentary featuring a then largely unknown Social Distortion).

Social Distortion was on Conan last night, and while I was watching it I thought about all of the critical accolades they’ve received since Another State of Mind and wondered if Mike Ness ever imagined that he would go from spray painting the band logo on a T-shirt to still being around 26 years later.

As a guitar culture, we’ve always put emphasis on the hot-shot guitar player.  You can go on You Tube and see any one of ten thousand people playing their fast licks, and most of them will be posting videos of their snowboarding jumps 2 years from now while their guitar sits unplayed and gains dust.

Social Distortion has achieved the success they have largely by being the last one standing.  Largely by being around and playing so long, they simply couldn’t be ignored anymore.  I also suspect that over time they started amassing a better team (management, lawyers, agents, etc) that helped amplify that process.  But they never would have attracted that team if they broke up for good in the 80’s or 90’s.

I’d known about my fret hand fly-away pinky issues for years, but it wasn’t until I studied with Miroslav Tadic and Jack Sanders , that I realized how much it was holding me back.  Unlearning my habits and fixing that has been a really arduous 4-year process but I can say that my playing is already in a different place than it was 2 years ago – much less before I studied with Miro.  If I just stuck with the old habits I had, I never would have been able to move forward – but in taking a huge step back in my playing  – I’m able to move forward now.


Thinking isn’t Knowing

The difference is I thought I knew what I was doing was right, but it wasn’t until I experienced how wrong it was, that I knew it would have to be fixed. While I tend to conceptualize (or think) things very quickly, but it takes a long time for me to know something.  That’s my flow, and while it would have been great to fix my playing at the get-go, that wasn’t going to happen until I really knew what was wrong and what to do.  To know something is to experience it – and experience takes time.

If you have a plan of where you ultimately want to go (and have some flexibility in getting there) you are well on your way.  In the meantime, it’s important to know what works for you and establish practices that work with your nature instead of against it.

I hope this helps! Thanks for reading.



1 thought on “The Power Of Inertia Or Know Your Flow

  1. Newtonian mechanics shaped our civilisation. If our culture were shaped by quantum mechanics the totality of our minds would be completely different. It’s like that aesop fable. … for it’s the man, not the lion who made the hunter’s statue.

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