Inertia | Bad Habits, part 3

Note: this page is part of the Cliffjump! Manifesto. If you’ve arrived from an external link, and haven’t read the previous parts of the book, you might want to start at the beginning


Inertia, in the context of creative work, is stuckness (or more engagingly ‘stuckification’, according to the wonderful Havi Brooks). I tend to think of it as a direct corollary of the physical Law of Inertia: objects tend to maintain a constant velocity unless acted on by an external force. We are the objects, and our ‘velocity’ is our creative flow. Lots of ideas, energy, projects moving forward keeping us busy and productive but not overwhelmed or clogged up – that’s velocity. No ideas or ‘inspiration’, no energy to start things, nothing much going on – that’s stasis, zero velocity. Lots of things can get you stuck in creative life, and once you’re there it can be very tricky dislodging yourself – and certainly it’s no help just sitting there waiting for the mysterious ‘inspiration’ to strike. The law of inertia states that if your velocity is zero, or nearly zero, if you’re creatively stuck and you want to get unstuck, you need to apply an external force. You need to light the fuse. Conversely, if you have momentum, if your constant velocity is rocking along nicely thank you very much, you need to AVOID external forces. Taking honest stock of where we are at on this continuum is crucial. We are often amazingly good at fooling ourselves. We can make all sorts of excuses for why we aren’t flowing, why our stuckness is justified, out of our control, a matter of circumstance. We can blame others, blame our lack of money, time, all sorts of things – but none of these excuses get us unstuck. If anything, they wedge our wheels even tighter into the rut.

Jumper cables…

Clarity, then, is the first order of business. Get clear on where we’re at (lots more on clarity over here!) and recognize the mental games we’re playing to avoid the simple truth that we’re mostly stuck for internal reasons. There may be things we cannot change about our circumstances, but they are rarely the real reason we’re stuck. We’re stuck because of inertia. How, then, do we apply an outside force when we need one? There are lots of ‘tricks’ to jumpstart the engines, but these are not the focus of this book. For those seeking a great source of ‘outside forces’, I would recommend the superb series by Roger von Oech, ‘A Whack on the Side of the Head’ and ‘A Kick in the Seat of the Pants’… Also excellent is Michael Michalko’s ‘Thinkertoys’. Rather than trying to add to those, I will offer instead my own prescription for lurching into motion, as outlined in the second half of this section – the ‘Cliffjump Method’ of creative action. It’s less a set of ‘creative tricks’ than a set of stages that lead from idea – or rather, a little before the idea – through execution, and on to a larger perspective on creative living. Meanwhile… to recap: first we have to admit that we are stuck, and that this inertia is mainly internal in nature. We need to recognize the nature of the stuckness – is it distraction? Depression? Some factors are not trivial to overcome, and I don’t mean to imply that if you just get off your butt and get started, everything will be fine again. Sometimes the external force that is needed is therapy, which is again outside the scope of this book. Sometimes it’s just lightening up and giving ourselves permission to have a little fun for a change.

Urgency and calm

However, regardless of where or how we find that external force to get us rolling again, we need to recognize how urgent it is that we find it. We need to realize that time is slipping through our fingers. Every day we do not create is adding to our inertia, our stuckness; and every day that we do is adding to our momentum. I find the latter more satisfying! This is not to say that taking a break or enjoying some downtime is necessarily a bad thing; it can even bring amazing benefits. Too much of a good thing can sometimes bring exhaustion, and rest can sometimes coalesce the subtle insight of the body – as opposed to the quick flash of the mind, which prefers action. It’s also possible, in my experience, to rest and refresh the mind and the creative self through physical exercise or hard work, which can sometimes bring fresh energy and/or perspective. Most of us have had the experience of having a breakthrough on some intractable problem while out walking in the forest, or perhaps mowing the lawn. Some further thoughts on this can be found on my blog: But we are creatures of habit; and again, according to the inertia principle, getting too much into the habit of not-doing tends to lead to more of the same. If we want to find that magical creative flow where it feels effortless, and feel like that more of the time, it’s likely best to cultivate an action habit. And if we’re particularly calcified, it may take a bit of a push to get things rolling. (We’ll get to the ‘how’ part a bit later on…) This is not a value judgement, by the way. In one sense there is nothing inherently better about action than inaction, creativity than stillness. However, this is a book about creativity and creative work, and not so much about meditation and the beauty of non-doing. So, let’s take a closer look at some of the forces that tend to keep us stuck, and see what we might be able to do about them… continue with FEARWhat’s your take? Does this make sense to you? Have you had creative experiences that confirm or contradict these musings? Please leave a comment in the Discussion section below, and start or join the conversation!

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