Inertia: Beyond Physics

By: Dr Tanvi Maharaja, PT DPT  | Board Certified Specialist in Orthopedic Physical Therapy 

 In 1687, Sir Isaac Newton published Principia, heralding the dawn of classical physics. Herein, he described the laws of motion, the first being: An object at rest will remain at rest and an object in motion will remain in motion with the same speed and in the same direction, unless and until an external force is applied to it. This concept is called inertia, and describes how a material change can be caused in an object by an external influence. 

When we learned this in school, little did I expect inertial to be a state of not just matter, but also the mind. When the alarm goes off each morning, I snooze it. That is because I love my state of being at the moment and do not want that external force to change it. When I ask my son to run upstairs and get me something, some whining and complaining invariably ensues, as being in a state of inertia on the couch is the more desired state. When my health coach asks me to watch what I eat, I nod in agreement, but internally despise the idea of having to change my eating habits. 

From habits such as quitting smoking, to going back to school, to working on a relationship, to endorsing a healthy lifestyle, we have to constantly fight mental and emotional inertia, and overcome that first critical step to get the ball rolling.

Someone once said that our habits become our character. Since man is a creature of habit, this is a tough situation, since we may end up becoming someone lesser than we would like, for want of better habits. Combating the inertia of our habits is pretty challenging. We need external force, and the best force to change individual habits is intrinsic motivation. You have to want to change your habits, it has to come from within. That is the only force that truly changes the direction our lives are in. We can speed up our ride to the desired destination by putting in the will and the sweat to get there faster, or to change directions entirely and move away from the negativity around us to a more positive and fulfilling environment. 

Sometimes we may need to recruit the help of our family and friends to stay the course, and they can act as the external factor that aids in altering the trajectory of our motion. Sometimes we may be steamrolling towards a disaster, and our well-wishers may have to interject to prevent that life-altering tragedy. Occasionally, the life-changing external force can be professional. However, the first change has to be from within, to then actively seek out help from the environment around us.

Recognizing the element of non-motion or non-action, or the non-agreement between our actions and our goals, takes paucity of thought and introspection. It is the first step in realizing the resolutions we make each year. It takes more than wishful thinking: it takes real-life concrete changes, meaningful goal-setting, and maybe even hauling life as you know it apart and starting over from scratch. 

Overcoming this mind inertia is hard work. It starts with asking the right questions: Are my choices and decisions today going to get me where I want to be in five years? If not, what should I do, or not do, or do differently? What aspects of my life are being hampered by inertia of thought and action? What is holding me back today? Am I headed for my goals? Am I on track to embrace my ambitions, to make my dreams come true? 

Take a break, have a seat, and ponder. 

Don’t let your inertia hold you back. 

Dr Tanvi Maharaja, PT DPT 

Board Certified Specialist in Orthopedic Physical Therapy 

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