“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Laozi
At some point in our schooling (and for the doctors out there, we've had A LOT of it!), we’ve all heard of Newton’s Laws of Motion. The first law specifically deals with the concept of inertia, and can simply be summarized by the following:
- An object at rest tends to stay at rest
- An object in motion tends to stay in motion
Think back to what you learned way back in high school physics. How do you overcome the force of inertia? You have to apply a force.
If we want to enact real change in our lives, either financially, in our career, or our family life, there’s no way we can stay at rest. We need to take steps (apply a force) to set good habits in motion.
Here are a few places inertia plays out in my daily life and some steps I've taken.
Spending and Saving
When I spend, I tend to spend more. And more. And more – until it becomes a snowball effect. Unfortunately, it tends to gain velocity unless I take great effort to stop it. For example, I recently bought this GoPro camera to take videos of the kids on vacation but next thing you know I was buying accessory after accessory and had to make myself stop. It was getting ridiculous.
Lifestyle inflation has played a huge part in this as well. We didn't buy a single piece of new furniture for five years when we lived in our one-bedroom apartment. But the moment we purchased and moved into a four-bedroom home, we started filling it with new furniture, artwork, rugs, etc. The spending accelerated at a rapid pace.
However, the opposite is also true. When my wife and I have been intentional about saving a significant portion of our income and we've seen our savings grow in our online account, it tends to reinforce itself and we end up saving more. The mindset of saving pervades all aspects of our lives and we end up making smarter decisions about things we buy and just ultimately what we spend our money on. No, I wouldn't say we reach the point of frugality, but we're way more selective with our spending. It feels good when you're able to throw any chunk of change into your retirement or savings accounts knowing you're being smart with your money.
I’ve found that the best way to start investing is simply to take that first step and… start investing. Just put some money somewhere. Obviously choose your investments wisely, but don’t let uncertainty keep you on the sidelines. People who never get started tend to do just that – stay on the sidelines. They fall into the state of “analysis paralysis” and get so bogged down by all the possible scenarios that they never make a move. For example, some people get so concerned about whether they should put their money in a three-fund portfolio vs a four-fund portfolio that they never actually end up investing.
But the opposite is also true. I’ve seen people overcome their initial hesitation, and once they start, their desire to invest become insatiable.
Personally, I was initially extremely hesitant to start investing in real estate, but after I took my first step through real estate crowdfunding, I invested in ten more deals – all within six months of the first. That ultimately led to me buying a single family home rental property and then eventually an apartment building. That first step was the hardest by far, but it's amazing to see where it's taken me since.
My wife and I have really tried to focus on increasing our giving this year. In fact, we've tried to give to the point where it's almost uncomfortable. Why would we do that? A wise person I respect greatly said that when you give to that point, your life truly changes for the better. Your priorities and perspective change and in some ways you receive more than you gave.
This giving though has stoked a fire for us to find more ways to be generous, not only money but of our time as well. I’m happy to say the ball of cheerful giving is rolling downhill.
Exercise and Health
Several years ago I signed up for my first triathlon. It was an Olympic length one – consisting of a 1.5k ocean swim, a 40k bike, and a 10k run. I had never even done one of those leg distances separately before. Now I was trying to do all three at the same time. Funny enough, I’m scared to swim in the ocean and I hate running. I thought about backing out so many times but I didn’t want to let my training buddy down. So having that goal in mind, I forced myself to join an ocean swim club, I worked hard to train and somehow I miraculously finished the race.
Can you guess what I wanted to do next? That’s right, another triathlon. But here’s the twist: I didn’t immediately take the initiative, and soon fell back into the same pre-triathlon routine, which is not exercising at all. I failed to keep my momentum going, however, recently I've started to exercise again. Not by training for a triathlon, but by simply taking good walks and small runs while listening to podcasts. This has pushed me to make wiser decisions about what I eat, which causes me to feel better overall, which only encourages me to exercise more. Again, it's a self-reinforcing cycle.
At the beginning of this post, I mentioned a force that can overcome inertia. What is this amazing and mysterious force? Encouragement from friends and family can help, but it can only take you so far. The fact is that they can want it for you, but they can’t make you want it.
I’ve found that this ultimate force is actually a combination of your will, your desire, and some courage.
You don’t necessarily always need a ton of all of it either. Sometimes all it takes is a tiny nudge – just enough to get the ball rolling – and inertia will help take it from there. So I encourage you to take a step, any step and get things in motion.
Have you noticed this phenomenon in your life? What do you do to make sure you stay in motion, ultimately moving forward and pressing on toward your goals? Let me know in the comments.