What’s holding you back, Inertia or Procrastination?


Steam locomotive in state of Inertia



What are the differences between procrastination and inertia when it comes to living an extraordinary life?



The previous post ended with the idea that procrastination feeds off fear, indecision, lack of confidence, self-doubt and sensitivity to criticism. All combining to create a state of inertia.

Is there a difference between procrastination and inertia? Can the term inertia be used correctly in a human context?

Yes there is a difference, and there are daily, glaring examples of inertia provided by politicians, bureaucrats, many occupiers of elevated corporate offices. At a personal level, most of us if we are honest, can identify times when inertia has held us back.

In psychology, procrastination refers to the act of replacing high-priority actions with tasks of lower priority, or doing something from which one derives enjoyment, and thus putting off important tasks to a later time. – Wikipedia

Inertia is the resistance of any physical object to a change in its state of motion or rest, or the tendency of an object to resist any change in its motion. – Wikipedia

A Google search of Procrastination finds over 3 million links to psychology, personal development and productivity. A search of Inertia reveals  5.4 million engineering and physics references.

If Inertia is the resistance to any change in motion (and direction, attitude or belief in humans) and Procrastination is replacing high priority (important) tasks with low priority (more enjoyable) tasks, then they are different.

From the Wikipedia definitions, it would seem that Procrastination is a conscious decision not to take action, driven by internal factors such as fear etc. as listed above. Inertia on the other hand can be more of a decision to maintain the current situation, perhaps even an unconscious decision because the stimulus for action has not yet been picked up on our radar.

We can, if we are truthful with ourselves, recognise tactics we use to procrastinate, favourites are checking emails, updating social media, continual research and learning, attending endless webinars.

Inertia is much more difficult to identify, often we can only acknowledge that Inertia had been holding us back after the event, after we have overcome it and started taking action in a new direction or started striving towards a new goal.

Unlike fear of the unknown causing procrastination, familiarity with the known increases the difficulty of overcoming inertia.

 A practical example of inertia

The best practical example of using small amounts of energy and big leverage to overcome massive inertia was imprinted on my mind many years ago when I was helping my father on our dairy farm in Headlands, Rhodesia back in the late 1960’s

It was before the days of bulk milk tankers and on farm milk collection. Milk was transported in 10 gallon (before metrication too) milk cans with big mushroom lids and 2 handles. We delivered our milk with a pick up truck and trailer or tractor and trailer to a rail siding at night when it was cool. The cans sat on the platform, out in the open until the train arrived to collect them in the early hours of the morning and take them to the milk processor in Salisbury, 70 miles away.

Sometimes there would be a rail truck parked on the siding track so that it blocked the access road to the platform. At times, I was able to hitch my 4 x 4 Landrover to the rail truck and in low ratio, slowly and carefully tow it out of the way. That was an exercise in overcoming Inertia itself. It could get exciting if the farm worker responsible for applying the brakes to the rail truck did not see me stop my truck.

At other times, the configuration of the tracks, rail ties, and switching points did not allow the towing option. The railways provided a metal lever to start the rail truck moving. The business end of the lever was shaped with a wedge to go under a rail truck wheel and a heel which formed a fulcrum when the handle was pushed down.

The leverage provided by an 8′ handle, allowed a skinny 160 lb teenager to shift a 30 ton rail truck about an inch. The handle would then be slid along the rail, the operation repeated and another inch of progress made. Once the inertia had been overcome, it was fairly easy for 3 of us to keep the truck moving by pushing it, only having to use the lever if it stopped moving. It was impossible for us to get it moving without the lever.

Behavioural Inertia is overcome the same way, by taking action, using leverage. Turning the first one inch of progress into a second, then another until we have replaced Inertia with Momentum.

Sometimes that leverage can be provided indirectly. I know that if I am stuck, spinning my wheels, not consciously procrastinating by choosing to replace a difficult task with a more pleasant activity, but not doing what I should be, I need to do something different. It can be working on another project, anything where I can make some progress, even a small step, by taking action.

By making progress in one area and converting inertia to momentum, I can use that momentum to make progress in another.

Do you have a tactic for overcoming inertia or conquering procrastination? Share it with us by leaving a comment.

Wishing you success and continuous momentum.


Peter Wright




Image courtesy of James Barker / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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