Word Winding

attempting to spin cacophony into sanity

Harnessing Inertia

Life decisions are often made in the shadow of an 8am class. We all have wide-ranging interests, but not all of them are compelling enough to lure our eighteen-year-old selves out of bed. By process of elimination, the college classes we are willing to wake up for become the path we pursue.

But those almost-majors, the ones who didn’t make the 8am cut, they still trail along in our wake, ghost-careers that either haunt us or enrich our quirky selves, depending on whether our chosen vocation is currently going well.

I’m a serious physics nerd. The test of my love came in the form of early morning Calculus freshman year; I’d received college credit for AP Calculus, so this class was only required if I wanted to be a physics major. I decided against it by the end of the first week. I like math a lot… but not in the morning. When it came to Counterpoint at a similarly incomprehensibly early hour the following year, however, I magically managed to propel myself out of bed and over to the music building, often in pajamas and occasionally without breakfast, but nonetheless present and enthusiastically engaged. Music major, chosen.

I may have become a musician rather than a physicist (and don’t regret it), but my affection for the subject remains, and I find it frequently moonlights in the realm of analogy.

My latest one has to do with inertia and momentum.

Some folks roll into change with grace and even appear to relish the opportunity. Others resist novelty with every fiber of their being. Some are happy habit formers and others can’t seem to follow a consistent pattern for the life of them.

I’ve concluded this must be because we all have different mass.

We commonly think of inertia only in terms of resistance to motion. But the scientific definition speaks of resistance to changes in motion: essentially, the more massive the object in question, the more it wants to continue whatever it is currently doing, be that sitting still or rocketing along at high speeds.

It is a curious thing, and not one I’d considered until recently, but for those of us who take longer to get off our asses and do something, once we finally do we are kind of unstoppable, are we not? Whereas those of us who can more easily flit between activities, we may transition with envious spontaneity, but sustaining effort can be more of a challenge.

If you, like me, harbor a joy for physics or analogy or both, try assessing your momentum and that of those around you. Not empirically better or worse, just different. It may take more force to get a massive stone rolling, but it also takes a whole lot to stop it. It may be easy to derail a pebble, but it takes a tiny amount of energy to get it going again. We all have different challenges, but they are matched by our strengths, if we can only see them in the right light.

If you struggle to start anything new, see what it does to remind yourself how well you retain habits after the initial formation period. For you, it takes a lot of strength at the beginning, but then you are something of a cannonball.

If you find it tough to keep your nose to the grindstone, try to notice how quickly you reignite after each stumble, leaping up dancer-like to begin anew.

And what if you’re in the middle and therefore seem to sway from one camp to the other, like me?

Well, as you may know, friction also plays a card in this game. So sometimes I’m moonwalking across kitchen linoleum and sometimes I’m swamp-tromping with the bullfrogs, knee-deep in muck. Different day, different texture. If you are at one extreme or the other, the texture changes aren’t going to affect your basic strategy too much, but if you’re in the middle, you may need to periodically assess which way you’re leaning.

This analogy works well for me because it ushers blame, shame, and denial politely but firmly out of the equation and unearths plain truth, which is so much easier to grapple with.

So what if I’m as massive as an iceburg? It might help to fuel up as best I can as early in the day as possible and then expend my effort toward launching into action, knowing that I’m likely to sustain whatever pace I set.

Or let’s say I have a student who eagerly tackles even the most devilishly challenging of new pieces but needs a lot of help staying focused for polishing. Ok. I’ve got a pebble here. I need to work with that. Addressing them as a boulder is never going to get us anywhere.

If I am to grow in any positive way I need to come to terms with who I am and who I’d like to become, and then stockpile tools that take my own unique set of strengths and challenges into account. Same goes for my approach to my kids and students. Inertia can be my undoing or my key to success — my perspective makes the difference.

Because objects in motion tend to stay in motion…


…and objects at rest, well, you know.



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