I previously discussed the concept of positive feedback and how it applies to the human condition. There’s another term which originated in physics that also applies in therapy. The term is inertia.
Inertia is the resistance of any physical object to any change in its state of motion, including changes to its speed and direction. It is the tendency of objects to keep moving in a straight line at constant velocity.
For instance, if you want to push a car you will find that it takes a lot of effort to get the car moving from stationary, but once it is moving it it difficult to stop. And so it is with people. I often get clients – usually female – who were ‘gym junkies’, that is they went to the gym every day or most days, or they would run most days. Then something happens to prevent them from going: they have a sprained ankle for instance and the doctor says lay off the gym for two weeks. Six months later they come to see me. They can’t gain the motivation to return. This is inertia. When they go they can can keep going with the same routine but when they stop they can’t get started again.
I say to clients that it’s very important that they must be able to, as it were, slip on banana skin and get back up and keep walking. The smoker who smoked 40 a day and stopped but then has one cigarette finds himself back to smoking 40 a day within no time, has hit this problem of inertia. Someone who has been made redundant lacks the motivation to look for a job is suffering from inertia.
We use a number of techniques to change the state that the person is in, but also give them the resources to get back up if they fall down. This is the essence of all good therapy.