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Newton on procrastination

more percent efficient

When I was younger I always imagined that Sir Isaac Newton, the renowned scientist and mathematician, looked something like Sir Isaac Newton, the anthropomorphized newt in Beatrix Potter’s illustrated storybook, “The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher.” However, Newton the man has his own certain charm and usefulness (as I’m sure physicists, engineers, mathematicians and quite a few other scientific groups will attest). Today, I want to share a thought I have about Newton and his teachings and apply it to my favorite domain—motivation, productivity, and effectiveness.

One of Newton’s many contributions to science was a set of three scientific laws of the universe. Together, these laws are often referred to as “Newton’s Laws of Motion,” and the first of these laws essentially reads as followed:

“An object at rest will stay at rest. An object in motion will stay in motion. Both of these laws remain in effect unless an outside force acts on the system.”

In plain English, this means that when something is moving forward, it will keep moving forward unless an outside force makes it stop. It also means that something which is not going anywhere will stay that way unless something shakes it up and gets it on its way. His law could be rephrased, perhaps, in this manner: things that are stopped will stay stopped, things that are moving will stay moving, either will continue to happen unless something literally forces the situation to change.

When it comes to procrastination, our biggest danger is the fact that it feeds on itself. Just like Newton’s law states, once we become “at rest” we will remain that way until we put in the massive effort to get ourselves moving once more. Have you ever noticed how much energy it takes to go from procrastination to productivity? It takes a lot. You’re going up against one of the fundamental laws of the universe.

When it comes to going out and achieving your goals, momentum is a powerful driving force. It demands that we keep on working even when we don’t feel like it. Once you have momentum, every single day can become productive, powerful and satisfying. Because every day you make forward progress you’re gaining momentum until you simply snowball into a massive wave of accomplishment.

I think that the most important question to ask regarding motivational ideas and philosophies is, “How is this actionable?” Newton’s law tells you that you must wake up every day and get started moving. Start by doing something that will lead you into another something which will lead you into another something all the way until your head hits the pillow each night. It really doesn’t matter what you’re doing as long as you’re doing something, because procrastination really hits us when we’re feeling as though we aren’t doing anything anyways. It gets us when we’re bored, and we have no activities to do. The way to combat it is to always be moving forward.

Now, a corollary to this principle of forward momentum is that if you are going to be constantly moving forward then you must be be supremely organized with your time. If you aren’t, there are two problems you can encounter. First, you may feel as if you have hours of time every single day to fill with action upon action upon action. However, you may also feel like you have too much to do and you procrastinate because you’re afraid to even begin. Scheduling will help with either problem.

If you feel you have nothing to do then scheduling will allow you to mold your time so that you come up with projects and activities and goals for yourself to fill your time. On the other hand, if you have a ton of stuff to do, scheduling will allow you to make it more manageable and allow you to work productively without going overboard.

Obeying this corollary, one of the most important ways to react to this motivational law of momentum is to start scheduling your day. Preferably, schedule it the night before, because it’s best to wake up each day with a plan. And that’s step number two for utilizing Newton’s law. Wake up every day knowing what you’re going to do. Waking up and checking your phone? That’s not a plan. Waking up and knowing that you’re going to put your coffee on, stretch and meditate and then write in your journal—that’s what a plan looks like. That’s something that can get you started.

Taking into account the fact that specifically developing a morning ritual may be new territory, here are some things you can do to start beginning a motivational and effective day, every day:

Wake up and write in your journal. I personally like write about my goals, because that gets me pumped up, motivated and ready to go, and because the day is young I feel full of optimism.

Stretch and meditate as soon as you wake up. The two activities go together superbly because stretching is waking up your body in a slow, calm and thoughtful way while meditation is waking up your mind in a similar fashion. I stretch for ten minutes or so and meditate for the same. Then I drink my coffee, look at my daily plan, go out and kick ass.

Begin by reading something high-quality, positive and motivational that will get you inspired. A lot of people underestimate the power of filling their minds up with positivity, with positive words and thoughts; this is what morning reading allows you to do. Read books that get you primed and fill your mind with productivity-oriented thoughts.

Momentum begins the instant your feet hit the floor. By Newton’s first law, it will either continue as long as you allow it or it will stall out and flounder as soon as you allow it to slip away. Your most inspirational days will be the ones in which you build momentum through a positive morning ritual and then power on through roadblocks towards your goals until you wind down and finally lay at rest in the evening. However exhausted you may be, never underestimate the satisfaction you’ll feel at the end of a day that was filled with momentum in the right direction.

Jack Dolinar is a Trinity sophomore. His column, “more percent efficient,” runs on alternate Fridays.