Motivation tip: manufacture momentum

You know what’s fun?  Eating lots and lots of Halloween candy.  You know what’s not so fun?  Trying to muster enough motivation to get out of your PJs and head to the gym the day after eating lots and lots of Halloween candy.

That was the problem I faced this morning.

Like so many other mornings in the last week and a half I had planned on exercising but quickly found some excuses as to why I couldn’t.  I’m too busy today.  I’ll go in the morning.  My brother’s in town so I should visit him.  It’s just not a big deal to skip another day.

And maybe it’s not that big of a deal, but you know what is?  Momentum.  People who don’t have momentum in their lives will find that every little thing that gets in their way has the ability to stop them, or at slow them down.  Those same little speed bumps might not even slow down someone who has big Mo on their side.

There’s a great little illustration about momentum in my favorite work of fiction, Jack London’s The Call of the Wild.  In one scene the main character, Buck, who also happens to be a sled dog, is the center of a betting pool.  His master, John Thornton, says Buck can “break out” a 1,000-pound dog sled and pull it for 100 yards all by himself.  (To “break out” a sled means to free it from the ice that has frozen it to the ground while it has been sitting still.)  Of the several hundred men in attendance to watch Buck attempt something deemed impossible, no one except Thornton believed the dog could accomplish something so great.

The sled Buck was to pull had previously been pulled by a team of 10 dogs, who were still hooked up to it as the men came out to watch the spectacle.  Those dogs were moved and Buck was fastened to the sled in his own harness.  Not only did he break the sled free of the ice that cemented it to the ground, but the longer he pulled the sled the easier and smoother it moved. Why?  Because of momentum.

Here’s how it went down:

“Now, MUSH!”

Thornton’s command cracked out like a pistol-shot. Buck threw himself forward, tightening the traces with a jarring lunge. His whole body was gathered compactly together in the tremendous effort, the muscles writhing and knotting like live things under the silky fur. His great chest was low to the ground, his head forward and down, while his feet were flying like mad, the claws scarring the hard-packed snow in parallel grooves. The sled swayed and trembled, half-started forward. One of his feet slipped, and one man groaned aloud. Then the sled lurched ahead in what appeared a rapid succession of jerks, though it never really came to a dead stop again…half an inch…an inch… two inches… The jerks perceptibly diminished; as the sled gained momentum, he caught them up, till it was moving steadily along.

So you see, if you feel like you’re trying to get things going but getting started is just too difficult, it may be that you just need to break loose your sled and get things going, trusting that momentum will kick in at some point.  If you want to be in shape next year, you need to suck it up and go to the gym today.  Break it out.  If you want to turn prayer and Bible reading into a helpful and enriching habit, you need to force yourself to get alone with God today.  Break it out.  If you just jerk a little, then take a break, then jerk a little, then take another break, you’re going to wear yourself out and maybe quit altogether.

I knew I needed momentum on my side, so I ultimately went to the gym and used the elliptical for half an hour, and you know what?  I’m going to do it again tomorrow.  Was it hard to convince myself that it was worth it?  Sure, at first.  But was it worth it?  Absolutely, because now that I’ve tasted the feeling of healthy again, it will grow progressively easier to get to the gym.  That’s Mo for ya.

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