What Stays the Same, Stays the Same: The Impact of Inertia

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.  You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

ballteeskysun1Do you remember learning about inertia?  You probably learned about inertia in physics at one point in your life. Sir Isaac Newton describes inertia  in his first law of motion. Remember a body in motion tends to stay in motion, unless acted upon by an outside force?  A body at rest tends to stay at rest unless acted upon as well.  In simple terms, inertia is the force that must be overcome in order for a movement to occur that is different than the current state (movement or non movement).  Things tend to stay the same because of inertia. Mr. Newton was addressing concepts in physics.  I think that this law of physics is true whether it is your refrigerator, your body on the couch, your personal development, your career or your organization and of course, your leadership.

Recently I wrote an article about the inner critic.  Do you know that I received several comments from people about their own inner critic?  I was not surprised.  Actually I was quite moved.  I bring this up now because I can already imagine many of you are beating yourselves up about something that you are not doing because of inertia. If you are, please, stop it. Inertia is a real force in our lives.  The laws of physics apply to you and your life too. However, if you want things to change, then you must address the forces acting on your life and your work.

Inertia is a force.  Everyday that you allow things to stay the same, you add to the tendency of things staying the same and inertia gets stronger.  Whether it is a conversation that you have been avoiding, an appointment that you are not making, or exercise that you’re not doing, inertia is present.  Unless, you do something to shift your energy and overcome inertia, it will keep you just where you are.   Also, if you are a leader of others, then the forces of inertia that keep you down, also impact those around you.  Consequently, others may add to the forces of keeping things the same.  For example, if you are avoiding a conversation with another person, then you may be sending signals that the conversation or even you are to be avoided.  The other person, will pick up on those signals, and avoid the conversation or potentially you.  And, things stay the same.

Why don’t we just change?

What gets in the way? For one, decision making gets in the way.  We often don’t know what decision needs to be made or how to make it, so we do nothing.  We go with the theory of well, at least I won’t make it worse and I know how bad it is now. Who knows how bad it will be if I make a decision and everything implodes? Fear and self doubt get in our way. What if I can’t do it? These concerns and fears are very real and understandable.  Meanwhile, things aren’t the way you want them, so back to square one.  Sometimes we may implement the strategy of waiting and hoping that things will change, or perhaps that somebody else will make a change that will impact your situation positively. Maybe, but that’s not leadership.  That’s waiting for leadership.

Taking apart inertia

Let’s look at inertia.  If it is a force, then what are its components?  Take it apart for your situation and look at it in order to understand what is keeping you stuck and what you need to address to create movement.  For example, if you are experiencing inertia around a difficult conversation, what are the components that are going into you keeping things the same?  It could be fear about the impact of the conversation, consequences, hurt feelings, damaged to a relationship, or history of conversations in the past that did not go well.

1. The first step is to discover, unpack and make yourself aware of what it is that’s getting in your way.  What are your fears?  What stories have you told yourself about what could go wrong or why you cannot change?  Sometimes just acknowledging what is happening can be enough to help you move forward.

2. Next, once you can see what is keeping you stuck (fear, history, stories), think about where you can go for more information or help?  We are often stuck when we  try to do it all alone.  Who can you call for help, accountability and support?

3. Finally, take a step towards change.  The forces of inertia usually have built up over time and yet we often trap ourselves into “stuckness” by believing that we must take one giant step in order to make things better.  We don’t always have the energy, or the wisdom or even the capacity for the “giant step”.  If that is your case, then take one small step, then another and another.  In the teaching of Kaizen (the Japanese word for improvement and used in lean business models such as Toyota Production System), small steps can add up to big changes.  Instead of the size of the step, focus on the direction of the step and patience with yourself.  If the direction will help take you toward where you want to go, then it is indeed a great step.

Are there places in your leadership where you are stuck?  Are there patterns in your career and life that keep repeating but you would like to change.  Every day that goes by without you making a change, the change gets harder. What small step can you take today to change the direction? What do you need to acknowledge that is holding you back?  You must take the first step in order to take the second and then the third.  Begin and you’re on your way to shifting your energy and shifting inertia so it works for you, keeping you on track and moving toward your goals.  Best wishes to you on your leadership journey. ballhitclose1

Now get things moving!

Author: Larysa Slobodian, L4 Leadership LLC


  1. Ray Congdon August 17, 2009 at 8:06 am #

    Hi Larysa,

    Great article, as always, your articles cause me to pause, reflect, evaluate and decide if a change is needed.

  2. Larysa Slobodian September 1, 2009 at 8:23 am #

    Thanks for the comment and for reading. Happy to know that you enjoyed the article.

    Larysa Slobodian


  1. L4 Leadership » When Does Rescue Turn Into Recovery? - February 15, 2011

    […] Maybe you tend to hold on to hope when faced with a potential ending?  It is wonderful to have hope, but hope is not a plan and cannot dictate change on its own. And, sometimes, hope can be the undercover agent for denial. “Hope is the expectation that something outside of ourselves, something or someone external, is going to come to our rescue, and we will live happily ever after ” (Dr. Robert Anthony).  Hope can also keep us stuck and build on the inertia of keeping things the same. […]

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