Getting started with a new project or with pursuing a lifelong dream requires us to overcome inertia, friction and opposing forces. Once we get started we have to overcome…more inertia, friction and opposing forces!
In my last article Three Mental Hacks to Help You Get Started (And Keep You Going) I introduced the framework of inertia, friction, and opposing forces to explain why it’s so difficult to get started:
Inertia is the feeling of apathy or lack of motivation to get going. It’s the energy required to get moving. We all have a natural level of energy and activity, but our habits, our environment, and our situation can all have a big effect. To overcome inertia we need to generate energy.
Friction is anything that naturally slows us down. If you have to learn a lot, that’s friction. If you have to network, that’s friction. If you have to hold meetings, that’s friction. Anything that makes us feel like we’re being slowed down is friction.
Opposing forces are all the competing priorities, responsibilities, and commitments we have that use up our time and energy. It’s whatever is keeping you from making progress that isn’t directly tied to the project at hand. If you’re a parent, your kids are often opposing forces. That doesn’t make them bad, it just means they aren’t necessarily positive from the standpoint of your project.
Every time you ask someone why they haven’t started, you’ll get an answer that falls into one of these categories. It’s too big a challenge, they don’t have the energy, there’s too much prep work, there are too many distractions.
That’s all true. But this is also true: inertia, friction, and opposing forces will always be there. We can’t get rid of them. At a minimum we need to learn how to navigate them. At best we can use them to our advantage.
I highlighted the last sentence because it’s critical to understanding momentum in general. These forces that hold us back are always there. Getting started doesn’t get rid of them, and it doesn’t even guarantee to reduce them.
For example, if you decide to start learning the piano, the first few lessons might be pretty easy. But sooner or later it’s going to get tougher, which is going to slow down your momentum if you aren’t prepared for it.
The three strategies we recommended—telling someone, taking micro-steps, and focusing on getting to one—are all designed to focus your energy on overcoming inertia. They drive you to put in the necessary energy to get moving.
But to really sustain our momentum, it’s useful to take a slightly broader view. Let’s visualize what sustaining momentum means to understand it better, and then consider two super-simple mindsets for sustaining your momentum as things get tough.
The simplest way to understand momentum is to think of ourselves as a ball, moving up a hill toward our goal. The higher and more difficult the hill, the harder it is to achieve the goal. I call this the Momentum Model and it is my preferred framework for thinking through how to generate and sustain momentum.
Our inertia is how fast we are moving. If we haven’t started, then by definition we are sitting still. Getting started is the act of going from not moving to moving.
To achieve our goal, we need to not just get moving, but get going fast enough to overcome both the friction—the height of the hill, the obstacles on the way—and any opposing forces—the conflicting responsibilities and commitments that we can’t avoid.
We can generate our momentum internally, by improving our effort, our motivation, and our discipline. Or by eliminating doubt, fear and other beliefs or emotions that are keeping us from doing what we need to do.
We can also generate momentum externally, when we are pushed by someone else. Managers, coaches, parents, and teammates can all help to provide this external push. The more support we have, the more likely we are to achieve our goals.
Getting started is about making that initial push. But that initial push will never be enough get us to our goal. We need to be pushing consistently or else we’ll end up right back where we started.
SIMPLE MINDSETS FOR SUSTAINING MOMENTUM
These two mindsets will help you to think differently about the work you are doing, and enable you to put your energy into activities that will sustain your momentum.
1. NEXT STEP GOALS VS. NORTH STAR GOALS
North Star goals are the big thing we want to accomplish, the flag at the top of the hill. Having a dream to chase, a purpose to fulfill, or a goal to achieve can give you the energy you need to push hard day in and day out.
The more this aligns to who you are as a person, the more it will sustain your momentum. When you pursue a North Star goal that doesn’t align to who you are, it becomes more of a burden than a boost.
North Star goals are great for keeping us on track and giving us a reason to work hard. But they don’t actually tell us how to get there.
Next Step goals are the action we need to take to make the most progress right now. It’s the task we need to accomplish, the skill we need to develop, or the connection we need to make. It’s today’s key action.
It’s important to treat this as a goal. It’s not just about doing something. It’s about doing the right thing, and doing it well. When you act purposefully, with a defined result you are striving to achieve, you will make more progress. The ideal Next Step goal will require you to focus and will push you out of your comfort zone, if only just a little. It won’t just make you push hard, but it will make you better at pushing.
We can think of this like using Google Maps. Imagine you go on a road trip. Where you want to arrive is your North Star goal. It can be a specific address or it can be as broad as “the East Coast.” If your North Star goal keeps you headed in the right direction, it’s serving its purpose.
Your Next Step goal is your turn-by-turn navigation. The route from where we are to our final destination is rarely a straight line. The roads are often winding, the best paths often blocked, and side trips are often required. All of this is normal. Our Next Step goal assumes we have a North Star goal and a “best route available”—our plan to get there—and then tells us what to do in this moment.
If you want to sustain momentum, keep your North Star goal in sight, but put your immediate focus on your Next Step goals. It’s the Next Step goals that truly sustain your momentum.
2. A FRICTION-FREE ENVIRONMENT
The way we set and execute on our goals can help us to maintain our inertia. But that’s only part of the problem. We have to overcome the friction and the opposing forces as well. These exist outside of us, in the environment we create for ourselves.
Just as we can take micro-steps toward our goals, we can also make micro-improvements to our environment.
Here’s an important point that most people fail to understand: The most disciplined people don’t use willpower to overcome friction and opposing forces. They create an environment that minimizes them to begin with.
If someone or something is holding them back, they figure out how to remove it or lessen its impact. If there is something they know they need to be doing, they modify their environment to make it as easy and smooth as possible.
I call this the Discipline Illusion. When you are undisciplined, it looks like being disciplined is harder because of all the sacrifices and difficult decisions. But in actuality, it is easier because the discipline is baked into routines and no decision-making is required.
I was undisciplined about stretching, doing sit-ups and eating healthy when I first started running. But I got very disciplined when I implemented some simple changes to my environment. I made a point to lay out a yoga mat before running so that when I came back the space to stretch and do sit-ups was ready for me. I kept the foods I didn’t want to eat out of the house entirely. I knew I didn’t have the willpower to avoid eating them, so I made it a rule to not buy them at all.
In the same way, you can find ways to make your environment work for you. Set up your workplace to prompt you to be productive. Remove anything that distracts you. Don’t buy foods or drinks you don’t want be eating. Limit interactions with people who hold you back. If you are forced to be around them, try to do it on your terms.
We all have friction and opposing forces in our lives. Recognize them for what they are. Then reduce them to give yourself a momentum boost.
IT’S TIME TO KEEP MOVING
These mindsets aren’t in opposition to the three strategies we suggested to help get started. In fact, they go hand in hand.
You can tell someone your goals. In fact, working with someone on your Next Step goals is a great way to make them more effective and hold you accountable to doing them.
You can take micro-steps to boost your momentum, either by executing your Next Step goals or by reducing some friction.
And you can always focus on just getting to one. Commit to taking that one step each day. And use the mindsets we discussed above to make it as effective as possible.
Bryan Green is the co-founder, Editor, and COO of Go Be More. He is a firm believer in Next Step goals, and believes discipline is primarily environmental. You can give him feedback at bryan◎gobemore.co or on our Facebook page.