The biggest obstacle to achieving your career dreams isn’t in the hands of other people, but in your head.
Newton’s law of inertia is a useful scientific method for explaining why we don’t change the things we want to in our lives. According to this law, we’re being controlled by a rule usually expressed in the following convoluted way: ‘An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. An object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.’
So, even free-thinking, independent beings like you and me will keep doing what we’re doing (even though we want something else) until something causes us to change course.
My aim here is to identify what’s feeding your inertia so that you can do something about it. It’s great to act because action fuels more action. However, as actor Denzel Washington once told a cohort of students about to graduate, “Don’t confuse movement with progress.” We must act on the right thing. Once you understand the cause of your inertia it’s much easier to know what action to take.
Here are six mind-sets I frequently come across while coaching graduates to job success – you may find them useful:
Either you don’t know what you want, or you do but have no idea how to get it. So many options but where to begin? This is the cause of your paralysis: there’s too much noise in your head it’s hard to take action. Simplicity is the answer to confusion. Sometimes it is easier to eliminate what you don’t want and work with what’s left.
It is the top reason why people don’t act on their dreams. The fear of what might happen if they do out-weighs the fear of what might happen if they don’t and keeps them from acting. What if it doesn’t work out, or if you get there and you can’t hack it? But fear is the work of illusion. It hasn’t happened anywhere other than in your head.
A group of researchers at Leiden University in the Netherlands have found that inertia can set in if you bypass an opportunity to act. The more you do nothing the more likely you are to do nothing. The longer you take to make a decision, the less likely you are to make that decision. According to the researchers, this leads to a whole set of other social problems such as procrastination, decision avoidance, decision deferral and sunk cost effect (see below).
Studies on the relationship between depression and inactivity show that one often feeds the other. The more a person engages in doing nothing the more they become stuck in an ‘inactivity trap’ that makes them feel even more depressed. It then becomes difficult to break out of the habit. Researchers aren’t sure which comes first and say either is plausible. If you’ve been depressed for a long time you should seek professional support. Otherwise, you can help yourself by breaking the cycle with action.
Sunk cost effect
I sometimes come across people who have been in a career or job they don’t like for so long that they find it hard to move on. They’ve devoted too many years to learning and building up specific experience and feel that to abandon it all will mean losing all they’ve invested. This is known as the ‘sunk cost effect’, where people are more likely to continue to invest in a failing course of action than to change because they reason that they have already invested so much. However, there’s always the possibility of reinvesting your skills and knowledge in pastures new.
Can’t be bothered
Think about it: it is easier to do nothing and just keep moving in the direction you are going than to interrupt things, especially if you’re comfortable. So, if you’re of the slothful sort you’re going to do exactly that. Watch out, however, as this laziness usually disguises itself an excuse for why you aren’t where you want to be. Just get up and make it happen.
Whatever lies behind your inertia, the more you feed it the more unlikely you are to achieve your career dreams. Whether it’s finding and applying for the job you really want, making yourself more employable, going for that promotion or leaving the job you hate, you’re the only one standing in the way of your progress.
If you want to progress your career you must act on what you know. Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the law of inertia is to know that once you take that first step you will start to build the momentum you need to keep going.