Our lives are often driven by inertia – the force that keeps something moving in the same direction it has been. Sometimes this is for better, but often it is for the worst. This force makes it hard for us to change directions, even if our underlying values or priorities change and the direction our life is heading no longer makes a lot of sense.
I’ve found that taking a sabbatical has been a huge inertia killer. In the best ways. Sometimes also in the hardest ways.
The Effort To Change
Change always requires work. There are times we keep heading in the same direction not because that is right, but because the effort required to do something different seems overwhelming. If the work required to change course is more than the work required to keep going the same direction, that makes a bit of sense. For a lot of people it seems easier to stay in a job or career they don’t like than to go through the effort to switch companies or careers.
This is often a shortsighted fallacy. It will require a ton of effort to change careers, but that work is finite, it will be over eventually. It will require some heavy upfront but then things will get better. Staying on a path you don’t enjoy might seem easier in the short term, but its effect will last much longer, and eventually surpass the total effort you would have put in to fix things now.
Would you be willing to add 100 extra units of effort over the next two months if it saved you 1 unit of effort per week for the next 10 years? This is a tradeoff decision that involves, time-value, confidence and prediction factors. It is the type of equation that most people frequently get wrong.
If you stop moving altogether, however, the calculus changes. All of a sudden it would take a lot of work to get the engine going again, regardless of the direction you decide to head in. That equalizes the playing field a bit. The right direction might now only require as much work as the old direction.
If you are going to have to add 100 units of work to the next two months, would you rather point it towards the option that saves you one unit of work per week or the one that doesn’t do that? All of a sudden this is an easy decision, even for people that aren’t good at spotting their own time and confidence biases.
Our Sabbath Year and Inertia
I’ve recently expressed how stopping working and moving made our sabbath year very difficult and added work that took away from rest. That was one of the negative affects of our plan.
The counter argument is that by moving, we have killed our previous location-inertia and thus we’ve made it easier for ourselves to make a good decision, instead of defaulting to the way things had been.
Specifically, most of what we own is packed up in a storage unit right now. No matter where we decide to live next, we’re going to have to put all of that stuff in a truck and bring it to a new house. It is a little bit easier if that house is closer to where the stuff is stored, but most of the hard work of moving is done once it is in boxes and on a truck. That means that we feel more free to decide if we want to return to the place that we have been moving, or move to a new place. The work required to either is pretty big, so we might as well do what we actually want.
This is a big decision. One that we haven’t yet reached a family agreement on. One that I haven’t even reached internal agreement on. Sometimes, as my wife and I get to talking about it at night, watching the hours pass away, I just want to stop it and decide nothing. This is inertia too. Sometimes a decision is so difficult that it isn’t the work required to change, but the work required to even decide that keeps us in place. Sometimes neither option is selected but the process simply drags out long enough that the current default ends up maintaining its place. Maybe for months. Maybe for years. Maybe for decades. Maybe it never changes.
Our sabbath year design has helped fight that type of indecision inertia by creating a deadline.
We are now ten months into a twelve month sabbatical, so we feel some urgency to come to a decision in the next two months. That is, after-all, what we said we would do. That deadline is close enough that we have to continue to make progress, but we’ve had enough time that it doesn’t feel like it will be rushed or ill informed.
Adding to the urgency is that we are intentionally in a temporary living situation. As we feel the pressures of that situation, it pushes us towards a decision even more. We know this chapter will come to an end eventually, so we might as well be in control of the timing. Thankfully there is also enough flexibility that it doesn’t feel like we need to make a really bad decision just to line up the timing.
Other Inertia Types
I focused most of this post on how our sabbath year has killed our location based inertia and helped us come towards a better decision about where to live. This happens to be the decision we’re wrestling with most right now, but I want to emphasize that this isn’t the only type of inertia being killed.
A quick brainstorm helps me realize that the way we took our sabbath year has also killed inertia related to; our family-roles, our church, our external friendships, my job (including company, industry & role-type), our hobbies, our habits, many of our expenses, the stores we shop at and our daily routines. Is there anything I haven’t covered?
Some of those items will return to a state similar to before. To some degree that is to be expected, it isn’t as though we’ve had no control over them and we’ve actually gotten a few soft-resets when we moved, got married and had kids.
But some of those aspects will end up being different.
Regardless of whether a particular item changed or not, because we took the effort to kill the inertia on them and in many cases do a bit of broad exploring, the decision to ramp them back up is more intentional. Thus, I feel a lot more confident in them and what our life will look like for the next six years.
That is really valuable. Maybe even valuable enough to give up a year’s worth of income and take on the stress of changing everything about our lives temporarily.