Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Accepting Inertia

In counterpoint to Monday's blog post on overcoming inertia, I'd like to dedicate this moment to singing, instead, the praises of letting things stay the way they are. I hope you won't mind the contradiction. After all, wisdom is not a formula; it's insight rightly applied.

And as you've no doubt discovered for yourself, change doesn't always make things better. If you are the innovator, the early adopter, the champion of change, that's fine - but we don't all have to be that person. In a society that pushes us to constantly reinvent ourselves, to keep up, to upgrade, it's good for some of us - and maybe sometimes, all of us - to stop. To stop striving. To cease tweaking and improving. To give up questioning every darn thing.

As Richard Swenson writes, stress is "an internal physiologic adaptation to any change in our environment" (The Overload Syndrome: Learning to Live within your Limits). And while one of the measures of the body's health is its resilience, its ability to persevere and adapt to change, we live in a world in which the rate of change is ever increasing. Every year we have more options to choose from, more decisions to make, more freedom to pursue more and more change. But that means more and more stress.

So, what can you choose not to change, not to reevaluate? What "roads not taken" will just have to remain that way? Would it be a relief to let yourself off the hook? To recognize it would be fine - maybe better - to decide you're just going to stay in that house, keep your job, drive that old car, stick with your insurance provider or phone company, lay down that big self-improvement plan, and even stay in your mediocre church?

The "motivational time machine" that is so handy for overcoming inertia can be helpful in such cases as well. Is the change, decision, or endeavor I'm considering - or feeling pressured to consider - going to matter five years from now?

I think of the real estate agent who used to come around pestering me to buy a house. I can't afford to buy a house. I don't know if I will ever have one. "Renting is just like throwing your money down a rathole!" she told me, one time, in frustration. (This was in the days when real estate was a much more reliable investment.) Finally, I told her what my rent payments are. I may have also mentioned some of the things I do with my money instead of using it to make mortgage payments. I don't know if this conversation did anything for her, but I left feeling better. That's right, I realized: I have it good. Someday things may be different, but I don't need to accept the world's pressure to be ambitious and acquisitive. I can just accept things the way they are.

When I was in college and got stressed out I'd go sit down by the river for a while and watch it flow past, unperturbed by whatever it was that was troubling me. Or I'd walk through the old cemetery on campus. Both the giant trees and the graves they shaded did wonders for my sense of perspective.

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