Did you know that there’s a principle in physics that’s profoundly connected to personal development and even spirituality? It’s called the law of inertia, and it states: “An object at rest tends to stay at rest.”
If a car is parked on the street with the engine turned off, it’s not going to move anywhere—at least not on its own. It’s going to stay right there. If a chair is placed next to a desk and no one touches it, it’s going to remain in that position gathering dust till kingdom come. Things don’t move by themselves; something must make them move. That couldn’t be simpler, right?
But guess what? The law of inertia is true not only in physics; it’s true in every area of life. It’s true for human beings. It’s true for businesses. It’s true for governments. It’s especially true for people who are experiencing different kinds of funks. When you’re overweight and out of shape, you’re essentially “at rest,” and you tend to “stay at rest.” You don’t want to go to the gym and exercise, or lift weights, or run, or eat healthy foods. When you’re disorganized and sloppy and your life is a big mess, you’re “at rest” and tend to “stay at rest.” You don’t want to straighten everything up or do a major house cleaning or even dress nicely. When your finances are in shambles and you owe everybody money, you’re “at rest” and tend to “stay at rest.” You don’t want to make the hard choices necessary to correct the situation. You don’t want to cut your expenses drastically or stop using your credit cards. You don’t want to even look at your bills. Instead, you want to watch TV, or have a drink, or eat, or gamble, or play video games, or go on vacation, or have sex. Anything to distract you from your problems.
Why? Because nobody wants pain! Looking at a balance sheet when we know our finances are a wreck is painful. Looking in the mirror when we’re disgusted with all our flab is painful. The only time we get off our butts and take action is when the pain of not doing something becomes so great that it exceeds the pain of doing it. In other words, we sometimes get so upset by the way things are that we push ourselves through the pain and move.
But there’s a better way to get yourself to move, a better way to overcome the law of inertia. It involves another principle from physics. It’s called momentum.
Follow me here! This is one of the most important things in life to learn. And it’s so simple that people forget it all the time. When an object at rest starts to move, it moves slowly at first. It doesn’t go at full speed instantaneously. It accelerates. It builds momentum. I’ve done a lot of traveling on planes in my life. In fact, I happen to be a pilot. When you’re on the runway and you begin your takeoff roll, you don’t just miraculously lift off the ground. You push the throttle forward, and the plane begins to inch along. At first, you’re going very slowly — so slowly that a child could easily outrun you. Then, as the seconds tick by, your speed picks up, and before you know it, you’re airborne.
This is true for everything in life.
The key to taking effective, long-lasting action is momentum. If you want to get out of a funk—any funk—the best thing to do is to start with small actions, even the tiniest ones, but to take them consistently over the period of a few days and weeks. Once you do that, things are bound to accelerate.
You know this works. You’ve been through it before. You know that first trip to the gym is the hardest. It’s actually torture to force yourself to go. The second trip is a little easier. The third easier still. By the fourth time, you’re raring to go. In fact, nothing can stop you from going. The same applies to getting yourself organized. Or straightening out your finances. Or even fixing your relationships. If you start small and force yourself through the initial period of pain, you will pick up speed. It’s just a law of the universe.
We’ve all got to get off this roller coaster we’re on. Up and down, up and down. It never stops. How many “phases” have you gone through in your life? We’re always going through “phases.” Isn’t it pathetic? We’re always getting excited about this thing or that. Always trying some fad diet or exercise plan or personal-development program. They all work for a while but then lose their power once the emotional high is gone. We’re like dumb mice that keep going for the same piece of cheese in the same mousetrap, no matter how many times we get caught. Aren’t you tired of it?
But if you start small and build slowly — or even if you just keep up the same pace — your progress won’t stop with such depressing regularity. Life won’t be a roller coaster or a pressure cooker or a series of phases anymore.
Wouldn’t that be nice?
This isn’t just some personal-development principle. It’s at the heart of true spirituality. The Bible warns us not to despise small things and small beginnings. And if you look through Scripture, you’ll find dozens of examples of battles in which a handful of warriors was able to miraculously defeat a huge army. God always seems to go out of His way to show that small numbers of people — or even people of small stature — have the power to overcome overwhelming odds, as long as He is on their side.
The best example of this, of course, is the story of how God saved humanity. Now, nothing is bigger or greater or more powerful than God, right? And yet, when this same Almighty God chose to enter human history and become a man, He did so by first becoming a little baby. We can’t ever forget that Jesus Christ — who is God — was born a child and placed in a small manger. And before that, He was an embryo in His Mother’s womb. And before that, He was a zygote — just two cells, yet divine! Consider the implications! If God Himself thought it was best to start small, why wouldn’t we use the same strategy?
Building momentum always works. It doesn’t matter if you’re eighteen or eighty, broke or a billionaire, the worst sinner in the world or the greatest saint. Sometimes the results aren’t always immediate, but that’s to be expected. You don’t plant seeds at night and expect flowers to be blooming the next morning, do you? It takes time before you can reap what you sow. But you’ve got to start sowing. You’ve got to get the seeds in the ground!
If you’re in lousy physical shape and need to start an exercise routine, of course it would be great if you could begin going to the gym regularly. But if you can’t bring yourself to do that right now, fine. Take a walk around the block instead. It’s not really important what you do as long as you do something — and as long as you keep doing a little something extra every day.
Or if your life is a chaotic mess, then start organizing a tiny part of it. Go clean your closet! Who cares if it’s a cliché? The point is that it works. It gets the juices flowing. It gives you the feeling that you’re in control of your life — and that’s something that’s absolutely necessary if you’re ever going to solve all your other problems.
Remember, this is just a starting point. But it’s a starting point you’ve got to keep coming back to. Gravity is always going to be pulling you down. Stumbling blocks are always going to be thrust in your way. And when you run across them and they halt your progress, you’ve got to be able to jump-start yourself with a minimum amount of turmoil. No more roller coaster! Whether it’s your body, your mind, or your spirit you’re working on, it’s always best to take baby steps first.
Of course, you have to get radical too. It’s impossible to be happy if you’re not radical in your approach to life and in your approach to love and in your approach to God. But the best way to get radical is to get moving first.
So don’t despise small beginnings! Pick a few random things right now—a few nagging tasks, a few irritating to-do items you haven’t been able to get done in the last few months—and start working on them, slowly. Resist the urge to do it all at once. Consistency is what we’re aiming for. Momentum is what we’re aiming for.
Go do something small!
Editor’s note: this article is the second of a five-part series. It is adapted from a chapter in Anthony’s forthcoming book 30 Days to Your New Life, available for pre-order at Sophia Institute Press. The book will be released June 20, 2023.
Image by oatawa on Shutterstock.