02 February 2010

Living from scratch

I read a very inspired essay by Anne at life in pencil the other day all about the concept of living from scratch. In other words, starting anew, paving a new path in any part of our lives. And oddly, my father’s voice appears in my head when reflecting on this idea: the words inertia and trajectory. He was a scientist and his work dealt largely with mechanical physics. But these two familiar subjects of physics apply to our lives, perhaps in more ways than we care to admit.

Inertia tells us that an object will continue to move along its current path unless acted upon by an external force. A human-life example of inertia is the person who remains in an unloving relationship without taking proactive steps to make a change for the better. Or a person who has an unfulfilling job but makes no attempt to change the situation. A couple of less obvious examples might be the person who does make an attempt at change, but upon meeting the first obstacle, decides that change is impossible and accepts inertia as inevitable, or the person who selects a change strategy that turns out to be an unsuccessful approach at achieving the desired change, but continues to make the same unsuccessful attempt time after time.

How many of us have fallen under the spell of inertia?

The term trajectory refers to the direction of the new path of an object once a force has been applied to initiate movement. In mechanical physics, we have to compensate for the effect of gravity in order for our object to reach its targeted destination. In life, we have to compensate for other unquantifiable factors, if we hope to succeed in our quest to make progress along a new path. These factors are things like the seductive comforts of our old habits and the voices of fear and shame that play inside our heads.

Creating change in our lives requires some amount of fortitude, perseverance and vision. We need to be able to visualize that the difference we are seeking will prove beneficial and hopefully, increase our level of happiness.

How many of us have stumbled along a new path because we were ill prepared to expend the energy needed to compensate for the unforeseen roadblocks to our visualized success?

I am personally able to check both of these boxes. Time and again I can recall complaining about some circumstance in my life that caused me dissatisfaction, but I made excuses to myself to justify living with the inertia. Or opened the door to a new relationship without acknowledging the need to clean up my behavioral mistakes from the past.

Change is work. It is not as simple as deciding. In physics, there is a formula for computing work, a function of force and distance. In my own life, change has been successful through humility, gratitude, imagination, forgiveness and perseverance over a span of time. The force applied, in this case is not physical at all. A difficult lesson to grasp.

I don’t know if my dad ever thought about physics in these terms, but I am finding comfort in deriving abstract life lessons from the concrete principles he applied in his life’s work.


  1. Change is indeed WORK. And I can definitely relate to the inertia I sometimes feel. The hard part is knowing when to move ahead with change, even when you don't quite know what the change you're seeking needs to be.

  2. thank you for so much inspiration!

  3. I was never particularly good at science, but the physics concepts that you discuss here resonated with me even as a student. In my life, I have had an on-again, off-again relationship with change. At times, I have made dramatic moves to change my trajectory; at others, I've allowed inertia to dictate my course. Sometimes I wonder if my attitude toward change has stayed the same, but what's changed is my ability to embrace it.

  4. I think you're right. Change remains difficult to accomplish in most cases, but as we grow to know ourselves better and visualize our desired lives, at least we can comprehend the need for change. Not so many years ago, I cannot honestly say that I was able to get it.

  5. It's amazing how science and spiritualiy collide. Maybe the fact that change takes so much work is why people fear it so much? I've never thought about it that way until reading your post. Knowing the need for change and being courageous enough to make it happen are different. Sounds like you have mastered both. A great inspiration for everyone!

  6. Avery interesting and inspiring post. I always say that I hate change, but I guess that is more in a physical sense that it ends up unsettling me emotionally. Inner changes have actually been very good for me. I'd never looked at in physic terminology, but it certainly makes sense. Another thought provoking post!

  7. fear of the unknown is how great things begin. My Father used to frequently tell me the only thing constant is change. I adapt well..one of my parents, not quite. We try to be very very flexible and it is a constant work in progress. Love the post.

  8. That's an interesting way of looking at things. I am in definite need of a change.

  9. I have never quite seen lifes lessons laid out in such mechanical terms.......but I have to agree whole-heartedly at the solution.