Building Momentum in Personal Growth and Development (Part 1)

One of Newton’s laws of physics (a subject I know ZERO about–except for this law) states that a body at rest will stay at rest until an external force acts upon it, and that a body in motion will remain in motion until acted on by an external force.

In the context of this blog, I want to talk about that law as it pertains to personal growth and development. I’m sure this will not be the first time you have heard a personal development analogy spun off this law of physics. I’ve even seen it in television commercials, which, come to think of it, is probably where the idea for this blog post was born.

But I want to take the analogy beyond the obvious (in my mind, “obvious” would be exercise, as it, by its very nature, literally includes motion). When I speak of personal development, I think of wholeness–body, soul and spirit. Therefore, I think of things like Bible study and prayer (spiritual development), reading, studying, researching (mental development), social activities and relationships (relational development), exercise and fitness (physical development and health/wellness), etc., etc., etc.

So with that broader concept of growth and development in mind, how can we become “bodies in motion”? What “external forces” could we bring to bear upon these areas and start a process of development?

I don’t want to be standing still (or regressing!) spiritually, mentally, socially, or physically, and since you are reading my blog, I presume that you might have the same kinds of goals and aspirations as I do.

It’s a fact that it’s most difficult to get a dormant “body” moving as opposed to getting a moving body moving. The example of a locomotive comes to mind. We can observe what a strenuous task it is for the locomotive to move just a few yards from a still position. Slowly—ever so slowly—the locomotive picks up speed. However, once the process of movement has begun, and once the initial first few yards are conquered, the process gets easier and easier and the train picks up speed at a much faster rate than when it first began.

I have a personal example of what it’s like to build momentum. My very first running goal was to run 1/2 mile. I had never run that far before, and frankly, it had never crossed my mind to even try. I contrived a plan to start with my base distance (how far I could run the first time I tried–which was a pitiful few feet) and to build on that base by adding a few measly additional feet once a week (See My Running Story for all the fun details).

You may think I was amazingly unmotivated or lazy to set such small goals, but you would be so wrong. Those few additional feet once a week were honestly all I could manage at that time.

Picture that slow, unwieldy train. That was me. It was hard adding those additional feet in my early months of running. More than once I said to myself or to Steve, “I think I’ve reached my maximum capacity.” And I meant it. I truly wondered if I could add one more stride to my current distance. But somehow, I always managed to meet my weekly goals. I eventually ran that half-mile, and I was as happy as if I had just completed a marathon. The sense of accomplishment was the same.

After mastering the half-mile, I kept challenging myself. First, I went for a whole mile. I used the same method of adding a few extra feet every week. Then I started working on two miles using that same method. When a friend entered her first 5K (3.1 miles) race, I decided to join her, and I increased my weekly increments from a few feet to several additional yards in order to be able to run 3.1 miles by race day. (I know what you’re thinking. From adding a few additional feet a week to a few additional yards? I was definitely hitting the big time!)

Race day was my first time to run three miles. Once again, I was so happy and amazed at my accomplishment. I wondered if there was nothing I couldn’t do if I just gave it enough time! Which led to me considering a half-marathon (13.1 miles) just a few months after completing the 5K.

Training for a half-marathon was no small ambition on my part. I had been consistently adding to my distance ever since I had begun running, but my longest distance at the time I made the decision to train for the half was only 7 miles–roughly half of what I needed to run in a half-marathon.

I downloaded a training plan, tacked it to my closet wall, and started running! Literally. And this is where the momentum analogy comes in. Remember those few additional feet that I struggled with in the beginning (think “choo-choo train” here)? When I started training for the half, I was not adding a few feet a week, but a mile a week!

How was that possible considering how difficult adding a few feet had been for me only a year before? How could I jump from feet to miles in a relatively short period of time? Was I just not trying hard enough back in my running beginnings? Could I have done more, sooner?

The answer is momentum. One of the definitions of momentum is “a measure of the effort required to bring a body to its present state of motion from rest.” In the beginning, I was starting from a still position, a place of ‘rest’ (I had never done any distance running before). While I was struggling (much effort!) to add those few extra feet, there were things going on in my slow-moving body and my mind that I could not see. My lungs were increasing capacity for sure. My leg muscles were strengthening. My mindset was becoming one of “I can (given plenty of time)” rather than “Can I?” In a word, I was building momentum—both physically and mentally.

I had started as that locomotive, requiring much effort to move just a little further each week. But after a year or so of building up some steam (momentum), it required no more effort to add a mile a week to my runs than it did in the beginning when I was adding mere feet. Amazing, huh?

Now the question I pose is how can we use Newton’s Law of Physics and the Law of Momentum to become a whole person–body, soul and spirit? And what external forces can we bring to bear to start moving in other areas of personal development?

(Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow!)

Photo compliments of wolfro54 via Flickr.


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2 Responses to Building Momentum in Personal Growth and Development (Part 1)

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