Overcoming Inertia: How to Get On With It and Get Things Done

A woman's hand holding a pen while writing on two goal-planning notepads.

When it comes to your goals, you always want to feel like you’re moving forward. 

But, of course, real life gets in the way of our momentum. We get inundated with deadlines and obligations, fatigue settles in, and the last thing we want to do is go out for a run or stay up late to work on something creative. 

It’s totally normal to have stops and starts with the goal-setting process. But sometimes, this can lead to inertia, and the feeling that we’ve been stuck in the same spot for way too long. How do we give ourselves a little nudge to get moving again?

Trust us, we know how disempowering it can feel when you’re not seeing any progress, or when the finish line seems so far off in the distance. But the most important thing you can do for yourself during these times, is to just do something.

Do one thing, even if it seems tiny and negligible. One small step can spark another step, and then another, and that creates momentum. 

The key is to just start.

So if you need a little push to help you get moving on your goals, you’ve come to the right place. Here are some tips and tricks to help you refresh your goal setting strategies and get you pumped for the path ahead. 

Give yourself a pep talk

Maybe you think positive affirmations are too new agey or woowoo, but everyone from Olympic athletes to screenwriters use motivational words or give themselves pep talks to prepare for a big goal.

In many ways, we can be our own biggest critics and saboteurs. We make ourselves feel bad for skipping a workout, but instead of promising ourselves to do better next time, we end up skipping the next workout and the next. Or if we don’t see progress on a goal or achieve instant mastery of a new skill, we give up. 

And as writer Julia Cameron of The Artist’s Way would say, the trick to easing negative self talk is to challenge it with positive affirmations. It’s so easy for us to pay compliments to our friends and even strangers, but we’re so reluctant to heap praise on ourselves. Change that behavior by reciting positive affirmations, starting now.

On those days when you’re feeling stuck or unmotivated, try to focus on what is going right. Focus on the small wins and pump yourself up for getting this far. 

If you’re trying to achieve fitness goals, use your fitness planner to record your small wins and then write down positive affirmations to pump yourself up for the work ahead. If you’re a student trying to reach academic goals, you can read inspiring quotes and record your favorite ones in your planner or tape up them on a wall. 

Start this today and you’ll be moving in the right direction towards your goals.

Focus on a priority, not the priority

We all know that one of the key productivity techniques is to prioritize and focus on the most important tasks. But sometimes, this priority technique can backfire when we fixate on trying to figure out the most important priority. We end up being paralyzed because we don’t want to waste time, but then end up not accomplishing anything at all.

Here’s a scenario: Let’s say you want to launch a side business but you don’t know if you should spend your day networking or doing research or marketing, and then before you know it, the day has already ended.

Yes, it’s important to have priorities and make sure that you're doing something every day that serves your goal. But it’s also important to just get started on something, anything. So if you’re struggling with inertia, pick a task off your to-do list -- any task -- and do it. 

According to this New York Times article by writer Elizabeth Grace Saunders, a pep talk you can give yourself is: “I can’t always know for sure what should be the priority. However, I can make a reasonable decision to pursue something that I know is among my most important activities.”

So let’s go back to the side business example. If you’re having trouble weighing your priorities, then you can try to organize your week thematically. Use Mondays to do research and devote Tuesdays to marketing and so forth. This way, you’ll know that nothing is forgotten and you don't have to decide where to start each day.

Start small

Another belief that can hold us back is the idea that we need hours to work on our goal. We think we need to devote an entire afternoon to work on a novel or go for a run or clean the apartment. And if we don’t have that spare time in our schedule, we abandon the goal altogether, instead of making the goal smaller. 

According to Atomic Habits writer James Clear, the hard part is just getting started. To make it easier on yourself, do the smallest thing possible. Something so simple that it doesn’t require extra discipline and energy just to get started.

Want to go for a run? Tell yourself that you’re only going to run for 5 minutes and then walk the rest of the way. After 5 minutes you might decide that you can run a little more. 

Want to write a novel? Write for 5 minutes or write 1 paragraph. 

Want to clean your house? Pick one counter or space to clean.

Does 5 minutes seem like it’s such a small amount that it’s negligible? That’s the point! The key is to just start. If you end up going longer than 5 minutes that’s great, but the important thing is to just get moving again. Worry about big strides later, when it feels easier (because it will!).

Set yourself up for success

If you want to get moving, then make your environment conducive to success. 

Your brain can’t keep track of everything. It needs visual cues to help you take action. This is essential for people who are starting new fitness goals. Our brains have hardwired us to fight or flight but not when it comes to motivating yourself to do a 6am spin class. Let your environment do some of the motivational work. 

  • Want to make sure you go for a run in the morning? Keep your sneakers by the door and your workout clothes on top of your dresser. Use these visual cues to remind you to go for your run. 
  • Want to eat more fresh vegetables? Buy pre-washed and pre-chopped veggies and salads. You won’t have to worry about prep and you’ll have no excuse not to eat them.
  • Want to better manage your finances? Schedule a day on your calendar to check in with your accounts. And then put it in your calendar to add money to your savings. If you schedule it, you’ll do it.
  • Want to have more productive mornings? Write your to-do list first thing in the morning or the night before so you’ll have a plan for the day ahead.
  • Want to be more organized for meetings? Make sure you have your necessary documents and office supplies on your desk so you don’t have to search for notebooks and pens right before your meeting. Enter background info or documents into your calendar reminder so you can easily access all the information. 

Let us know how you’re moving forward with your goals. Checking in with other people can be a big help and motivate you to keep going and take action. Good luck!

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