Home It's All Mental Motivation, and The Power of Physical and Emotional Inertia

Motivation, and The Power of Physical and Emotional Inertia

by Erika Nicole Kendall
Woman peering into the distance, probably in awe like I am right now

So many of the questions I’ve received lately all talk about “first steps.”

“What were the first steps you took?”

“What motivated you to take those first steps?”

“How did you make those first steps?”

Now, it’s easy to read those questions and think they’re technical. Answers about “eating fresh produce” and “being more active,” and something that boils down to “just do it” might do the trick at first glance. But, when I offer those up as answers, I always get the follow-up.

“But… how do you do it? You just…do it?”

This is a question of motivation. So many people think those initial first days of active living—and that magical “excitement” that comes with those first days should stay forever. You’ll never experience a feeling of “Nah, fam. Not today,” or “Nope, not even close” again.

We’ve talked about this before. So many people believe that there will always be this excitement or compulsion that will make it easy for them to do the right thing, and that’s just not the case. But what about the other aspect of that? What makes it so easy to remain in our old behavior patterns?

Wikipedia defines “inertia” as “is the resistance of any physical object to any change in its state of motion, including changes to its speed and direction.” I think it’s pretty fair to say that this applies to a weight loss journey, too, and the resistance is more than physical. It’s emotional, as well. 

Change is foreign, it’s complicated, and it’s hard. We settle into our habits because they comfort us, they fulfill something we need, and in the meantime begin to flow seamlessly in our daily lives. These habits become a part of us, one way or another, and then we become emotionally attached to them.

I’ll give you an example. One thing I used to do, when I was younger and living with my mom, was I’d go through her things to find where she was hiding the junk food. She’d hide the snacks because I had a habit of gorging on them before she could ever have any, and she was trying to keep it out of my line of sight.

It almost became a game for me, one that I got a weird sense of satisfaction from after a while. The hunt and discovery were both a challenge and an opportunity to feel proud of how smart I was in finding all her hiding spaces. On top of the pseudo gratification I was getting from the food itself, I was emotionally attached to the way I felt in hunting and uncovering my “prey.” To make matters worse, learning how to re-seal and shut packages the way my mom did, in hopes that she wouldn’t find what I did was a part of it, too. The feeling of “getting away with it” was, dare I say it, thrilling. Even in typing this now, I can still remember that feeling, even though this was well over a decade ago.

I have to acknowledge how deeply attached to this process I was. It was the food, but it was also more than the food.

Take, also, my old sedentary nature. I used to stay in my apartment, couch potato style. I had to accept that I was hiding because I didn’t want to be outside. I was scared for reasons of safety. Once I began to let go of the fear, it became easier for me to do what I needed to do.

For some people, that ultimate feeling of instant motivation will never come because they have these kinds of attachments to their regular habits that they must overcome. Waiting for that kind of instant motivation only results in more of the same.

I wrote about my experiences with feeling unsafe. I wrote about feeling like the only safe space for me was a corner in my bedroom with both of my dogs between me and the door. I also, eventually, realized that the fear I felt was more powerful than my desire to be the active person I enjoy being, and that fear was blocking whatever energy I wanted to put towards being active. For many people, that’s what’s happening: it’s as if your desire to be active and healthy is on one side of the scale, and another compelling emotion is on the other side… and whatever is on the other side is outweighing that desire to live healthily. That’s what’s creating that inertia.

And, don’t get it twisted. Even the most motivated people have to deal with the kind of competing emotions that prevent action. The only difference is that they have a better understanding of what it feels like to fight that inertia and come out on top in the end.

Some people will just have to accept that the motivation will never arrive. Some people will just have to accept that their competing interests or emotions will never play out in favor of what they know they need to do, which is work out more or eat healthier. Those people will just have to accept that, even though it won’t feel “good” in the way other things do, they’ll need to get it done without the early warm and fuzzy feelings.

But those people can still get it done. I certainly did.

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1 comment

Lisa February 17, 2016 - 3:17 PM

I just discovered your web site through the Oprah web site. It has come right on time. I had bariatric surgery in June of 2015 and have lost 107lbs. Your article on strength training really gave me some things to think about as I adjust my work out program. That’s for a very, very informative website. By the way, I am 63 years old. Better late than never!

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