Overcoming static friction: the physics of motivation

Like many of us I want to stay motivated for longer, and when I don’t have it I miss it and wonder where it went.  I get really excited at the start of an endeavor, and then that slowly fades and I end up with another half finished, or more accurately one-tenth finished, project.  This is completely normal, and also completely frustrating.

Momentum, tenacity, resilience, grit, I’ve heard lots of words for what I want more of.  But what really stuck with me was a term from physics, “static friction.”  It’s hardest to get a heavy object moving when it’s standing still, but once it’s moving, even slightly, it doesn’t take much to keep it moving.  Static friction is what you need to overcome to get something moving.  So once I stop working on a project, once I drop any momentum on it, it stops moving forward, and I need to start all over again to overcome that static friction.  If I slowly kept it moving forward, with tiny little improvements, I can save myself all the effort needed to start fresh. 

So much lost momentum [Public Domain]

So much lost momentum [Public Domain]

You never notice static friction at the very start, because generally you have the excitement of a new experience, a new idea, a sense of novelty and no idea of how hard it’s going to be.  The danger is letting this fade when you’re in the thick of it, and walking away from your work in the midst of a challenge.

A half-finished project on my shelf has so much more mental burden than a bright idea in my notebook.  A stopped project has no initial excitement left, like a sentence started and you forgot how to end it so you awkwardly admit to not knowing what you were going to say, and hope dearly that the other person might have an idea.  

I’m not advocating finishing things in one sitting (that’s highly improbable), I’m just suggesting that you leave some excitement and curiosity along with all your parts and pieces.  Those little bits of wonder and fun you still have attached to your work will help you overcome that static friction when you start back up.

That thing you battle with, when coming back to an old project and you’ve forgotten where you left off, that’s static friction.  Give it a name, honor the challenge it poses, and prevent it from happening in the future.  A little bit of momentum goes a long way, and saves you energy in the long run.