“We think of inertia as the state of being inert or motionless—one of our purer displays of passivity and disengagement. It’s not. Inertia is an active event in which we are persisting in the state we’re already in rather than switching to something else… The most reliable predictor of what you’ll be doing five minutes from now is what you’re doing now… The most reliable predictor of who you’ll be five years from now is who you are now.”
— Marshall Goldsmith, The Earned Life
Yes, you might detect a pattern in the writing recently. I keep returning to the Tom Peters statement that excellence is the next five minutes. Habits are hard to break, routine is either a prison or a path to a brighter future. And inertia now can predict who we are in five years if we don’t take that next step to change right now.
Does that sound unnecessarily urgent? Perhaps, but aren’t the stakes just that high? We are what we repeatedly do, and more often than not we repeat the same damned thing this five minutes as we did last. So we ought to take this next five minutes and demand something more of ourselves than the previous five. We ought to make it an active event that transcends our previous place.
The easiest way to determine the truth in that is to look at what we did last week and compare it to what we did last year. Sure, there are highlight moments of trips and events that break up the sameness, and a pandemic mixed in to skew the data, but on the whole things are roughly the same. If our habit loop is positive this can be a very good thing, but if we keep repeating bad habits we might be living in a rut that runs straight to the grave.
“Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity. This is one reason why meaningful change does not require radical change. Small habits can make a meaningful difference by providing evidence of a new identity. And if a change is meaningful, it is actually big. That’s the paradox of making small improvements.” ― James Clear, Atomic Habits
It’s easy to spot inertia when we look at intentions. If we intend to write the book or run the marathon or summit the mountain but find ourselves dancing with the same excuses we had yesterday and five years ago, well, let me introduce you to our friends inertia and low agency. On the flip side, if you’ll allow me to use a few of my own examples, inertia is publishing this blog every day for the last four years, reading early every morning and most nights and maintaining a streak on Duolingo that’s approaching 1000 days. Maybe each is small in the big scheme of things, but each is a +1 on the path to becoming.
Moment-to-moment we make decisions that pull us forward or set us back. We default to the familiar, which both reinforces our identity now and reinforces it in our future. That past moment isn’t this moment unless we choose the same thing. Will it be a plus or a minus? Our vote ought to be for an active event, our action should be a plus.