The Curse of Momentum

Photo: Nora Dunn

Judging by the continued relevance and popularity of the article Feeling Stuck? 100 Ways to Change Your Life, I would say that there is a large contingent of people out there who are cursed by their own momentum. Once stuck in a routine, it is easier to perpetually roll along in the same direction than it is to halt your momentum and reevaluate your path.

Aimee Mann sings it beautifully in her song “Momentum”

Oh, for the sake of momentum

I’ve allowed my fears to get larger than life…

…I know life is getting shorter

I can’t bring myself to set the scene

Even when it’s broaching torture

I’ve got my routine

I can’t confront the doubts I have

I can’t admit that maybe the past was bad

And so for the sake of momentum

I’m condemning the future to death

So it can match the past

How many times have we gotten out of bed in the morning, really not feeling good about the day ahead? Not looking forward to anything – at all – at work, and even beyond work? Resigning ourselves to a life of routine that is sucking us dry?

And when we occasionally ask why we subject ourselves to such a life sentence, we apathetically reply that it’s just easier to maintain status quo than to change anything.

Change is difficult.

Momentum is easier.

Sometimes, momentum is not a bad thing. You are on a roll with work, going to the gym regularly, and your home and social life is largely satisfying. You may not be dancing in the streets with joy every day, but you have a good thing going. There is no need to rock the boat.

But sometimes, momentum can slide you into unhappiness without so much as a hint along the way. You wake up one day, wondering what happened to the last few years. You are miserable at work, unhappy at home, and feeling lethargic about everything.

So what do you do?

The easy solution is to continue on with that momentum you have built up. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other until it starts to feel good again. You akin the experience to being on a treadmill or running a marathon; you’re just in that flat part of the race where energy levels are low – a good shot of weekend debauchery or a nice vacation should set you straight and you’ll be ready to hit the ground running again, right?

Or maybe not. Maybe things won’t get better on their own. Maybe your momentum in life is truly a curse; easier to maintain than to break; a sure way to wile away your life in relative unhappiness.

In examining this dichotomy, I realized that momentum itself is not the curse. The curse is our inability to see when momentum is simply helping us along life’s road, and when it is distracting us from greater ambitions and dreams that are passing us by on the sidelines.

So how do we evaluate whether momentum is our curse or cousin? Here are a few questions to ask yourself to help find out:

If I could go about my day differently (without actually having to change anything), would I?

This question takes the pressure off you to develop an action plan that will rock the boat, and gives you permission to restructure your day’s affairs purely with your imagination to determine if your routine could be more satisfying. If your imagination comes up with a better plan than you currently have on the go, then you can consider making those changes!

Is there anything small I could change about my day that would make me more excited to get up in the morning?

I recently switched up my breakfast food. What a surprising difference that made! Now I look forward to getting out of bed every morning and starting my day with a nutritious meal I’m excited about. It starts my day on a whole new level.

Maybe you would thrive on going to the gym at a different time of day, or doing something different over your lunch break. Or maybe joining an interest group that meets once per week can shake your routine up enough that you have something new to look forward to. I know for myself that joining Toastmasters when I was stuck in routine was a beautiful way to break up my week and give me something fun and constructive to shoot for.

Am I prepared to make big changes?

This question requires much more thought and care than the first two questions, which are designed to help you take baby steps out of the proverbial box. Here, you go much deeper to decide whether your momentum to date has arrested a greater aspect of personal growth in another area of your life. Sometimes a big change is a good thing.

I had a wake-up call a few years ago when my health came into the fray and I realized the momentum I had going wasn’t sustainable. It led to a complete change of pace and routine, and ultimately to the life I now lead as a Professional Hobo. Although I wouldn’t necessarily recommend such drastic life changes to everybody, it was a surefire way to break the momentum that had cursed me into acquiescence.

Evaluating the curse of momentum is a continual process. Just because I turned my life upside down three years ago to become a Professional Hobo doesn’t mean my life has been buttercups and lollipops ever since. I regularly trap myself unnecessarily in an unsatisfying routine that gains momentum and becomes difficult to break. But by understanding the curse of momentum and asking the right questions, we can limit the power of the curse and effect the changes in life that will continue to make us happier every day.


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Guest's picture

but what if the changes that need to be made aren't big... what if what's needed is to take the time to enjoy the beauty around us. I see us all going and going and doing and doing like little robots. no one knows how to just be anymore.

Guest's picture

Corporations have the same issue. It's called "corporate inertia" as we studied in business school. That's even more difficult to change.... we're the speed boat, corporations are the cruise ships, hard to turn around.

A random vacation is really one of the best ways to break up a routine, as well as adding one new thing different to do a month.

Nora Dunn's picture

@lovely post - Indeed; we could all benefit from some true down time. I also like to think of just being as simply living a more conscious way of life (but then again I have been living in the rural countryside recently, so I am used to a slower pace)!

@Shogun - Corporate inertia indeed; great parallel. I am (of course) all for vacations, and changing up something every month - sounds perfect!