Get Unstuck: 7 Rock-Solid Steps to Overcome Inertia, Build Willpower and Implement Change by Lorena Knapp


How often have you said, “I know what I need to do” or “I’m planning on it” but days later (or weeks or months) you still haven’t taken action? You want to do it. You mean to do it. You should do it. But you aren’t.

You’re stuck.

Why? Inertia.

Inertia is the disinclination to move or act.

Inertia is powerful. It keeps us in the job we hate, spending time with “Debbie Downers”, or from shedding the extra 15 pounds. We are creatures of habit. We don’t like change.

To overcome inertia you will need to apply force. In this case, the “force” is the decision to act and moving from thinking to doing.

Overcoming inertia is simple but it isn’t easy. It will be work. You’ll want to slide back into your old habits. Starting an exercise program and getting into shape? Not that fun. Staying in shape? Not nearly as difficult. In the beginning, you will need willpower to develop momentum and establish a new way of being.

What we know about willpower: 

It is a limited resource.

You have a finite amount it willpower. The more choices you make, the more you deplete your willpower. After I’ve been flying for several hours, making countless decisions about the weather, our route, the fuel required, and how to best assist the crew and the patient, my willpower is depleted. This is when I am most likely to make poor food choices. The package of cookies in the vending machine or a fast-food meal seems like a great idea even though I often have healthy snacks in my flight bag.

Finding ways to limit your choices will help preserve your willpower.

Having a system helps. A routine prevents you from having to make as many choices. President Obama’s diet and wardrobe are limited. He says,“I don’t want to waste any time deciding what to wear or what to eat. I have difficult decisions to make.”

Believing in your willpower makes it stronger.

Research has shown that if believe you have the willpower to do something you are much more likely to succeed. If you believe your willpower is weak, you are much more likely to give in or settle. When you tell yourself, I have no willpower to resist moose tracks ice cream (the best ice cream ever), this is true. But if you tell yourself you can resist, then that will be true. Stop telling yourself you don’t have any willpower. You do. Once you strengthen willpower in one area of your life, it will carry over to other areas of your life.

7 Rock-Solid Steps to Overcome Inertia and Implement Change

1. Start Small. All you want to do in the beginning is have a tiny bit of movement. Think of a train. It takes time to build momentum. At first, all you need to do is get out of the station. What is one small action you can take today? Go for a walk? Research job opportunities for 15 minutes? Declutter one drawer? Replace one soda with water? Small actions lead to big dreams.

2. Create a Routine and Make a Date with Yourself. At a recent writing retreat with Ron Carlson, he said, “You wouldn’t not show up for a coffee date with a friend, so why aren’t you showing up for a date with yourself?” He was referring to a writing practice but the sentiment could be applied to anything you want to do. Scheduling a date with yourself is like the “pay yourself first” financial strategy. Carve out time for you. Preferably daily. Make it into a routine. Working on something for a shorter period of time daily is preferable to a longer block of time less frequently. Even twenty minutes is effective. Show up.

3. Be Specific. You’ve scheduled a time for your project. Now make it as simple as possible. Remove as many choices as you can to preserve your willpower. Decide exactly what you will accomplish. I often feel resistance when I am working on my book. Thoughts of “I don’t know what I’m doing” threaten to derail me. At the end of each writing session I make a note about what to work on next. Then when I open my Scrivener file, I skip the scariness of a blank page and instead have a clear direction for the day. Choose what you’ll do for your workout. Decide the topic of your blog post ahead of time. Know what tweaks you want to make to your website. Pick which drawer you will declutter. Be specific.

4. Create Consequences. Consequences can be positive or negative. I work much better with positive consequences. In the beginning, keep the rewards small and frequent. Once you’ve developed some momentum, you will be able to sustain yourself for longer and work toward bigger rewards. I wanted to read a juicy new book about the Pilgrim family but didn’t allow myself to start it until I had finished my writing for the week. What will you earn if you work on your project three days in a row? Dinner with a friend? A movie? Downloading a new song?

5. Believe in Your Willpower. Tell yourself you can do it. Your brain believes what you tell it. If you tell yourself you can be organized, you’re more likely to be organized.  If you tell yourself you work out regularly, you will. Create a new normal.

6. Don’t Worry if You Miss a Day. Don’t let one off day or crazy week derail you. Restart. Recommit. This is about progress, not perfection. Each time it will be easier to get going again.

7. Enlist Support. An accountability partner or a supportive community increases your chance of success. Don’t go it alone. Check in with these people regularly. Tell them about your project. Have them ask you about it when they see you. You can’t fall off the radar when you enlist support.

The hardest part of getting unstuck is getting started. By using your willpower, you’ll build momentum and implement lasting change. What change are you implementing?


Photo Credit: Charlotte Anabar

Guest Blogger Bio: Lorena Knapp is a medevac helicopter pilot and writer living in Alaska. Her website, Big State, Big Life, is about sharing the tools, ideas and resources you need to live your own personal Big Life. A life where you are fulfilled and connected with the things and people that matter. No more “somedays,” we are living a Big Life today. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Oh, and you can watch her TEDx talk “Get Uncomfortable: Living in the Yellow” here.