AGL 038: Velocity & Inertia

It’s easy to stop a train that’s not moving…But its hard to stop one that has already started.


is defined as the speed of something in a given direction. 

Have you ever started on a project, task, program, or something and got into the “flow” state?  What is flow you ask?  Flow is being in the Zone.  If you’ve played or watched basketball you’re familiar with this term.  It’s that state where Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Steph Curry or Lebron James get into where it seems as though they cannot miss.  Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (notice I didn’t try to pronounce that on the podcast) coined the term “flow” in 1975 as a feeling of full engagement, energized focus and complete enjoyment.

I get into a flow state sometimes when I’m teaching or speaking.  Its like the words just come out of mouth and knowledge pours out of my brain. And when the talk is over, I have little to no idea what I just said.  You can get into a flow state doing about anything.  I’ve been there playing basketball when I was younger and more athletic; I’ve been there speaking and teaching; I’ve been there recording podcasts.  When you’re in that state, time seems to slow way down for some reason. The bad part about getting into a flow state or having good velocity while working on a problem is when it get’s interrupted.  Its like you’re on train that comes to an abrupt halt.  Things going flying around in your brain and it takes a good bit of time to sort out where everything goes so you can get started again. The size and length of the interruption can determine the time it takes to get moving again.  I like to imagine that the work you’re doing is a big locomotive.  It takes time to get started and to get stopped. If you stop fast, it means you crashed.  So why is that?  Well, physics tells us its because of Inertia.


is defined as a tendency to do nothing or to remain unchanged; or a property of matter by which it continues in its existing state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line, unless that state is changed by an external force.

The bigger the locomotive you’re on, the greater the inertia.  The greater the tendency is to keep doing what you’re doing.  I fall back on my running examples when I talk about this stuff… so if you’re not a runner or don’t play one on tv, sorry.  When I’m training for a race or running on a consistent basis, its easy to keep running. My brain wants to keep running.  I want to remain in that pattern of behavior.  Its inertia.  The same is true when you’re working on projects and tasks. When you’re seeing results, making progress, and building a habit of positivity, its easy to keep going due to inertia.  At least I attribute it to inertia, even though in physics they say inertia only affects physical items.  I believe it effects emotional and behavioral items as well. So once you get started, things get easy. So how do you get started?

How to get started

There are lots of blogs, motivational speeches, and podcasts to help you out with this question, but my take on it is probably a bit simpler.  Before writing this, I Googled “How to start”  and I found dozens blogs about “10 simple tips to start something new” and lots of click bait like that.  But here’s my take on it. Use physics.  In physics, its hard to move a large object, but its easy to move a smaller one. So start small… very small. If you want to start being a better leader, and doing some of the things I talk about in this podcast, start small. If you want to start a habit of running, start small.  Get some running shoes… step 1 complete, check that off the list.  Go for a walk in the shoes… step 2 complete, check that off the list. Run down to the end of the driveway, step 3 check that off the list, etc.

You first day of running could be just that.  Down to the end of the driveway and back. Start seriously small, but build a habit of consistency.  People trust consistency.  Leaders use consistent behavior to build habits and to get things done.  Now that you’re building some velocity on whatever it is you have, physics states that its easier to keep moving on it than it is to stop.  So keep moving.

How to keep moving

The way I keep moving on projects is to keep breaking down my tasks into smaller chunks.  Small steps that I can check off my list.  Like I talked about in my biology of leadership episode, when you check things off of your to do list, you get a small hit of dopamine. That dopamine motivates you to keep moving.  So to get more of that motivation, keep breaking things down into smaller chunks and checking those things off the list. For example, when I’m running around the neighborhood and I’m starting to get tired.  I set a goal to run to the next mailbox. When I reach that mailbox, I set a new goal, to run to the next one.  And so on and so on.

Ask for forgiveness… not permission

Going back to the analogy of a locomotive and the quote at the top. It’s easy to stop a train that’s not moving…But its hard to stop one that has already started. Start moving.  If you want to try something new at work, my advice is to try it.  Don’t ask your boss for permission (unless it is very risky or expensive).  Get started trying it out.  Once it starts working, its hard for them to ask you to stop… inertia. But if you haven’t started yet, its easy for them to say, no. Be sure to listen to this episode to hear my stories of starting new things to encourage team building and purpose on my web and mobile development team.

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