Winning the War Against Inertia

20 Jan

I think of myself as a pretty action-oriented guy.

While my wife was enjoying a well-deserved night out with her book club a few days ago, I herded the kids upstairs to bed, came back downstairs to start a load of laundry, learned from my son that a defective water bottle had flooded the bedding in his gerbil cage, cursed silently and mightily for a couple minutes, went back upstairs to help clean the cage, switched the laundry, fended off the usual bedtime stall tactics, said goodnight and then settled down, fittingly enough, to finish reading a great article about anxiety.

I did all of that in an hour. But it’s also true that I’m a world-class procrastinator in the face of certain challenges. Take, for instance, the avalanche of spam this blog began attracting last year.

Every time a comment comes into my blog, I get a message in my personal email account alerting me to its presence. It used to be that maybe 20 blog-related messages a week came into that account – usually half of them spam. By last summer, however, I would get hundreds of messages a week – usually 99 percent of them spam (Blatant plea for my self-esteem: Leave me a real comment. Please?).

I would look at my phone in the morning and delete 75 messages from that account. By lunchtime, another 75 would be there. It was also necessary to permanently delete these spam messages from the blog itself. If a few days went by, there might be more than 2,000 of them – and I couldn’t figure out how to erase more than 20 at a time!

Even thinking the word “blog” began to freak me out. And the thought of writing more posts that would attract even more spam seriously dampened my enthusiasm for blogging at all.

My wife began encouraging me to get a spam filter installed, and that sounded like a good idea in theory. In reality, I’m a techno-idiot, which meant I’d need to find somebody to help me do it. And that meant one more thing on my to-do list. Plus, being a techno-idiot, I doubted that a spam filter would really help anyway.

And so I kept on dejectedly deleting spam, all through the fall and right into the holiday season, when the problem worsened.  Finally, about two weeks ago, I couldn’t stand it anymore.

I asked a buddy who’d helped set up this blog what I could do about this disaster. He immediately recommended a filter that took us 10 minutes to install. And not a single piece of spam has slipped into my blog since then.

Obviously this is great news. The couple hours a week I’d previously devoted to deleting spam can now be invested in writing blog posts and cleaning the gerbil cage, and the overall sense of relief that this situation is under control is immense – much greater than it should be really.

But that’s because I let the problem linger way too long in the first place. This whole thing could have been solved months ago in a matter of minutes if I’d simply put it on my list and asked for help. Why didn’t that happen? I honestly don’t know.

The lesson, I suppose, is that inertia threatens us constantly, like water searching for a way through a roof. Even when we manage to keep it at bay at 50 different points, it’ll find a way to slip by on the 51st. The question isn’t if we’ll fall victim to inertia – but when. And how quickly we’ll identify it and take action.

What’s your equivalent of my spam debacle? And what simple steps can you take today to turn it around?







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8 Responses to “Winning the War Against Inertia”

  1. Ann Marie Slevin January 21, 2014 at 7:14 am #

    Here’s a real comment! I enjoy your posts and always take something with me from each one. Really liked your book too..look forward to more! Thanks for continuing.

    • Stephen January 22, 2014 at 1:12 am #

      Hi Ann Marie — now that is a great comment! Feel free to leave more like this one. Seriously, thanks for your support and kind words — they are much appreciated!

  2. Greg @ Tiny Bit Better January 21, 2014 at 5:03 pm #

    I have so many points of inertia it’s overwhelming at times. And only a few are positive in nature. For example, I read for a certain amount of time every day…I see that as positive inertia. But the others…whew…so many. Thanks for the gentle nudge to take a look at those things and begin to handle them.

    • Stephen January 22, 2014 at 1:14 am #

      Hi Greg — good to hear from you! Your philosophy of getting “a tiny bit better” is an excellent approach for taking on inertia; little steps make a big difference. My guess is you’re doing better than you think. Glad you’re posting again on your own blog, by the way.

  3. Andrea January 21, 2014 at 5:40 pm #

    Long live the gerbil cage! Actually you did a good thing in at least recognizing that you don’t like deleting spam. I find when I want to procrastinate, I get totally sucked into tasked like deleting spam (in my case, old emails) — it’s amazing how quickly you can spend an hour that way!

    But the larger point here is that dreaded tasks cast an ever-increasing shadow. Like you, I have often been surprised at how little effort it takes to get some dreaded task, like paying a bill, done.

    I’m taking classes right now (five of them!) and I realize there is a value to taking the exams as soon as you can (the online classes allow you to take the exams at your own pace.) The more you put them off, the more they grow in your mind.

    • Stephen January 22, 2014 at 1:17 am #

      Hi Andrea — one of the gerbils almost got loose from the cage tonight! Thanks for stopping by and leaving, as usual, a thoughtful comment. Five classes?! You literally don’t have time for inertia. Very impressive; what are you studying?

  4. Dawn January 23, 2014 at 3:33 am #

    Is inertia the same as procrastination? If so, I am the queen of inertia! I’m working on it, but it it is so hard to change. Oh well, keeps me busy!

    • Stephen January 24, 2014 at 3:04 pm #

      We’re all in that boat with you, Dawn. Our brains are apparently not capable of changing more than a habit or two at a time — so keep at it. Baby steps don’t feel especially productive but that’s the way to make change stick over the long haul!

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