Monday, September 13, 2010

Overcoming Inertia

I call it "the motivational time machine," and it's my trick for overcoming inertia.

I first discovered its power with short-term teams. Inevitably two or more team members would have a conflict, perhaps based on a misunderstanding. One or both of them would decide that though the other person's behavior was obviously deplorable and hugely distracting, the nice Christian thing to do would be to pretend there wasn't a problem. After all, she probably can't change the fact that she is a horrible person, and why be the one to make trouble over it? Soon it would be all over and you could go back to your real friends.

In the context of a small group living and working together very closely for a couple of months, however, that's all it would take to poison team life for everyone. So, whenever I caught the whiff of such problems, I'd ask the probing questions, get a couple different perspectives on what was going on, pray a bunch, and offer up the best suggestions I could think up for untangling the conflict. Whether or not those conflicts got untangled was often the key to whether the last couple weeks were the best part of the trip, or the worst. Butting in was not my favorite role to play but I'd remind myself it was better to do it and risk making things worse than to hear the team members confess at debrief, "I just wish we'd all been closer."

There's the trick right there: Climb into the motivational time machine. Imagine how much you'll regret the problem if it isn't fixed. Anticipate the negative consequences of your inaction. Look at how much joy or peace or effectiveness it's costing you, every day. Picture the good things that might result from facing the problem and doing something about it. If you're willing to pay attention to the problem now, won't you be glad, later?

It applies to simpler and more concrete things as well: Shouldn't you do something about that funny way the car, washing machine, or computer is behaving? What about the thing you've been meaning to buy, or the thing you've been meaning to throw away? The closet that needs cleaning, the pile on your desk? Put away the "should" and think: Will I be glad I did? Will it feel great to have it taken care of? Will it get worse if I ignore it? Consider the relative cost of those plane tickets if you buy them now, vs. waiting until the last minute. Or what about making the phone call Monday, versus pushing it off every day until, finally, on Friday afternoon, you realize how much time and energy you've used up all week long coming up with strategies to delay that one phone call. Will you wish you'd taken care of that earlier?

Sometimes the easiest way to find the motivation to do the right thing now is to travel to tomorrow and see how the world will be different because of how we act today.

See also: Accepting Inertia (9/14/10)

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