As part of my undergraduate work, I took a course entitled “Conceptual Physics.” The point of the course was to introduce and enhance an understanding of physics without the usual trappings of mathematical formulas that look like someone spilled alphabet soup on your textbook. Having always been the writing and literature type, I surprised myself by ranking the course as one of my all-time favorites.
Early in the semester, we reviewed the concepts of inertia and momentum. Inertia is defined as the tendency of an object at rest to remain at rest, or the tendency of an object in motion to remain in motion, unless acted upon by an outside force.
Momentum is a bit more complicated, but it can reasonably be defined as a property of a moving object that determines the length of time and amount of force required to stop the moving object. A particular object’s momentum is a product of its mass and velocity.
I find that inertia and momentum affect not only the physical world, but also our mental environments. When we make a commitment to reach a goal — losing 30 pounds, saving enough money to replace the carpet with hardwood, or training that filly in the back pasture — we throw ourselves into a surf of conflicting forces that will do all they can to thwart us.
People who know me well call me one of the most committed, goal-oriented people they know. (The term obsessive is applied with some regularity.) Indeed, I do my best to abide by a strict training schedule that obligates me to work with at least two horses every weeknight, and four per day on weekends. I know that, by following this schedule, I will reach my stated, annual training and conditioning goals for each horse.
And yet, inertia comes into play. Though I enjoy my day job and put a lot of effort into it, such work renders me, for horse training purposes, an “object at rest.” How easy it is, after a busy day at the office, to look for excuses not to train tonight! I need to go grocery shopping. It’s really windy out. I’m still getting over that cold. It’s just one day.
But, almost always, I pull on my boots and head out to the round corral anyway. Why? Because an object at rest tends to stay at rest. “Just one day” often turns into “just two days,” and suddenly it’s Wednesday and a third of my training week is gone, and there isn’t time to catch up because each training hour ahead is already booked to another horse. Meanwhile, I’m left feeling frustrated with myself because I know I haven’t lived up to my own potential.
Happily, inertia works both ways. When I’m “in motion” and making daily progress with the horses, I remain excited about the next day’s lessons. The mass of previous successes builds momentum like a snowball rolling down a hill, getting harder and harder to stop.
This momentum is what propels me through days like today, when it’s 40 degrees out, 25 mph winds rage, rain threatens, and I would prefer to skip Aaruba’s 12-mile conditioning ride. If I hadn’t been consistently conditioning him over the past six weeks, watching his physique change and attitude brighten, it would be all too easy to put off this ride until another day…and chances are, we wouldn’t be ready for the Owyhee Fandango next month.
You see, the last part of the definition of inertia is the most critical. An object tends to keep doing what it’s doing unless acted upon by an outside force. When it comes to goal-seeking, the outside force is choice — your choice. No one is going to make you get outdoors and train your horse. That filly isn’t likely to complain about another day of loafing. But how are you going to feel about it?
Will you feel the daily twinge of guilt when you head out to feed tonight, glance over at your dusty saddle, and wish you’d pulled away from your housekeeping or blogging or bill paying to put in an hour of training? Or, will you bask in the satisfaction of having made the right choice, begun the journey of a thousand miles, given the snowball a hearty shove? Today, tomorrow, and next week, the choice is yours.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a horse to ride.
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