Momentum is a blessing and a curse, depending on which side of it you are on. I am speaking of momentum in a fairly physicsy way, so I’ll give a brief description. The basic concept is that objects want to keep doing what they are doing, and it takes some measure of force to change their mind. Things that are moving are harder to stop, and things that aren’t moving are hard to get going. This is most commonly discussed around physical objects moving in space. It takes more gas to get a car moving than to keep it moving. But I think it applies to us as people as well.
I have been noticing this with my son quite a bit lately. When he is doing anything, it is fairly hard to get him to do something else. If he isn’t in the shower, it is a complete chore to get him to take one. But once he is in the shower, he loves it and refuses to get out. When he is at home, sometimes the enticement of going to grandma’s isn’t enough to get him out the door. But once at grandmas, getting him to leave requires a threat or bribery. This pattern appears over and over in various aspects, and the more I think about it, the more I realize this is my story too.
I have done a lot of writing about building habits. And I am just now realizing that momentum is another way of looking at the same thing. See, we humans have a momentum problem. When we are involved in bad habits, we have a lot of systems that line up to support that. There are systems in the body that chemically and psychologically align to maintain that steady state. Our bodies function incredibly well at trying to maintain the status quo. If I remove the external input that is enabling my state of being, my body and mind will work against me to reinsert that external input. The worst case of this is what we call an addiction.
Let’s pick a common drug we get addicted to. Sugar. Sugar releases happy chemicals in our bodies. If you remove the sugar, the body and mind coordinate against you to eat more sugar in order to regain the previous known state. I have experienced this recently by trying to cut back on my sugar intake. I got extremely tired and cranky, looking for any food that contained sugar in it. I had headaches, and random thoughts about all the ways I could get sugar into my body. There may have even been other symptoms that were so minor I didn’t notice them. Point is, my entire being rebelled against my choice to eat less sugar. Overcoming the momentum to stop that habit and change to a different path took an extreme amount of force.
The flip side is that this momentum can serve us if we are going in the direction we want to go. If there is no sugar in the entire house and there hasn’t been for months, the self-discipline required to not eat it is significantly reduced. At a certain point, the body gets comfortable with the new status quo and will inform you of changes. For instance I tried drinking a soda recently and it tasted bad to me. I’m pretty sure Dr. Pepper didn’t change their formula. But it tasted bad, and I felt sick. I felt jittery after a bit and then crashed really hard and got tired. My throat had weird gunk in it that smelled bad and looking at things with high sugar content was a little revolting. My body was looking to maintain the status quo of lower sugar.
So what’s the point? Well the point is that we need to be aware of momentum. Anytime we try to make or break a habit, be ready for the initial energy input required. Making or breaking a habit requires high initial input. Personally, I try to focus on one habit at a time. Yes, it is a little slow. But in the long-term it pays off. Trying five habits at the same time and failing at all of them will net me nothing in the long term, where focusing on one at a time until I have the necessary momentum will ultimately get me where I want to go.
Be prepared for the initial energy required to start something new or stop something old. Don’t quit when it seems harder than you thought it would be. It is always harder at the beginning. Expect it. Prepare for it. Focus on it. And power through until it gets a little easier. If you keep at it for long enough, momentum starts working for you rather than against you.
Recently I have had a lot of external focuses in my life and decided to let off the gas on my writing. I’ve been struggling a bit to get back into it. But then I realized it is just momentum. So I need to focus my energy on it for a bit to get moving again.
Is there something you have tried to start or stop multiple times and got bogged down in how hard it was? What would happen if you tried again, but expected the initial work to be harder? Could you push through until eventually that momentum was working for you instead of against you?
1 thought on “Overcoming Momentum”
Well said. I love how you take the sciency, mathy stuff and make it easy to understand and visualize. I never thought of addiction in terms of momentum but that makes sense. Really enjoyed it!
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