Get Your Butt Moving
You don’t normally think of Isaac Newton or Galileo Galilei when you think about police psychology, but that is a mistake. These two weird-looking men while daydreaming under that apple tree or looking up at the stars came up with a theory that explains much of police psychology and much of life.
Inertia is the idea that objects will resist any change in their motion. In other words, an object at motion will stay in motion, going in that same direction at the same speed unless a force is applied. Further, an object at rest will stay at rest unless acted upon by a great enough force.
People have a tendency to think of trains when contemplating inertia. I don’t know why, but let’s go with it. Picture a large train, chugging down the tracks, hooting cheerfully when it gets to the platform stations (you don’t need to be picturing a cheerful train like Thomas—any hunk of metal with wheels will do). Trains, like any moving object, operate due to the laws of inertia and it takes a lot of friction to slow them down and stop them. There is a lot of power as it moves faster and faster and you won’t want to get in the way. That power is inertia, and we can all understand that. We didn’t need two bearded old guys named Newtie and Gally to tell us that.
Inertia Can be the Enemy Also
But when the train is at rest, it gains inertia also. The longer it is at rest, the harder it is to get moving. Yes, read this carefully because it will explain a lot. A train sitting for two days is harder to get moving than a train sitting one day. Trains sitting for months will be much harder to get moving. This is not so obvious, and why Newton and Galileo have been around for five or six centuries. Trains can begin to rust. Rust can settle in the mechanism, corrupting the engine, corroding the wheels, and consuming the body of the train, until it is left as an empty shell of its former self. Or perhaps the metal become less likely to go into motions for other reasons. Whatever the reason, negative inertia builds up and makes the train want to sit. It also can create a friction that totally stops a train even once it does start to try to get into motion again.
Psychological Inertia: Be the Train
People live life according to these same principles. For example, when people are moving, when they are motivated, very little can stop them. They are productive. They are driven. They have a plan and a goal. Picture any moment in your own life when you felt this way. Chances are you felt really good about yourself, knowing how productive and accomplished you’ve been that day. This is the concept of inertia. You are in motion. You are moving in a certain direction, at a certain pace, you will tend to keep up that momentum.
But there is the danger of non-movement, and it is a very real danger for people too. When you are not moving, when you are sitting on the couch with a butt print already engraved on the cushions, with a bowl of chips in your lap, guzzling down beer…you’ve reached a point where you are beginning to rust. Or, perhaps you are worrying about some drama around the office instead of being productive. You’re building negative inertia. This inactivity, this lack of drive, this motionlessness is corroding your body and your mind, until you will be left with a hollow person, a mere shadow of your former self. This can be extremely dangerous, and it is hard to fix once you have gotten there. The lesson we can learn from inertia is to make sure we are moving
Change builds inertia. Movement builds inertia. Productivity builds inertia. It feeds itself and keep you moving. The trick is to start small, to do something—anything—that gets you to move forward in life. Once you start, inertia will take over and propel you in that goal-oriented direction.
Here are three steps for helping you get movement started:
Start Motion in any Form. When I handle a client, whether it be a couple looking at numerous problems in their relationship, or a business person looking at some insurmountable task, sometimes I ask them just to create motion on the first day, even if it isn’t moving toward the goal. “I need you to be in the same room, even if you don’t talk for an hour a day. Just don’t sleep and don’t argue.” “I need you to get your desk cleaned off to prepare for the fight ahead.” Don’t approach the problem, just start movement. Get started. Overcome entropy. Remember a train in motion will have a much easier time with movement than a train sitting still.
Stop Friction. Friction can stop movement before it starts going. If problems creep up while changing your relationship, deal with them later once motion is started. If issues at work are causing drama, let people know keeping motion is most important. Be careful of not starting someone emotionally pinballing when you are doing this. Tell them you will simply put it first on a list to deal with once motion is started. If at all possible you must keep motion going once you’ve started. There are tons of inertia breakers that are just not that important. You may slow the train at some point, but never stop motion.
Build in Inertia Stimulators to Keep Movement. If you are not excited about the goal you have set, it will be very hard to stick with it. In order to create excitement, it helps to talk to others about it, read about it, create a routine to remind yourself daily of what success will look like for your specific goal. It can be a healthier, hotter body, or a better GPA in school, or positive attention from your boss leading to a potential raise or promotion. The more excitement you can engender into the task, the easier it will be to start doing it.
Use these tips to help you start the movement because once you started, the momentum will take over and completing future tasks will be even easier.
If you have any other tips, or if you want to share your own story, comment below! I would love to hear from you.
Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP
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