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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Maladaptive Inertia

For those of you who missed it when I put this essay up as a guest blog on Alex Bledsoe's site, here is my take on "Maladaptive Inertia." (What is that? Well, you'll have to read the post to find out, won't you?)

And when you're done here, be sure to scoot over to Judy Long's Novel Truth's blog--she's put up a review of my paranormal romance, Witch Ever Way You Can! [Thanks, Judy...]


You’ve probably heard of “inertia.” It is actually a physics term that refers to the fact that a body at rest tends to stay at rest. You probably haven’t heard of “maladaptive inertia,” however. That’s because I made it up. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t real. In fact, I’m guessing you’ve suffered from it once or twice, without even knowing it. Allow me to ‘splain.

I came up with the term maladaptive inertia years ago to describe the condition when it is just easier to keep doing more-or-less nothing (play one more game of solitaire on the computer, watch just one more show on TV) than it is to make yourself get moving on the things you actually NEED to do. So you waste lots of time and energy that you don’t have, and end up with that same old to-do list staring you in the face. Hence the “maladaptive.” This is not a time spent resting and rejuvenating, it serves no useful purpose, you know you’re doing it and that it isn’t good…and yet…there you are. Still sitting on your arse. Maladaptive inertia.

Admittedly, it makes for a good excuse. “Sorry I didn’t write that blog post for you, I had maladaptive inertia.” “I can’t take out the garbage, honey, I have maladaptive inertia.” Feel free to borrow it. [As long as you give me credit for coming up with it. I’m going to write a book about it. You know—as soon as I get over my maladaptive inertia.]

For writers, maladaptive inertia can be particularly tough. I had to put aside the novel I’d started in November, to deal with the December rush at my day job (I run an artists’ cooperative, so the holiday season is crazy time). Once the rush was over, I intended to jump right back into working on the writing. But I had…you guessed it. The truth is; it is a whole lot easier to KEEP writing than it is to START writing. Or to start up again.

So how do you get over maladaptive inertia, and get back to your writing (or taking out the garbage, or whatever it is you are supposed to be doing that is useful, rewarding, and necessary)? Here are a couple of the things that work best for me:

Keep plugging away at it. Don’t say, “Well, I’ve tried for three days to get back to my writing (or whatever). It hasn’t worked, so I give up.” Keep kicking yourself until you JUST DO IT.

Have your friends help you. When I am trying to get back into exercising, a friend and I often call each other up and say, “Okay—I just did 20 minutes. Tag, you’re it.” There is nothing like a friend to kick your butt into gear when you can’t do it on your own.

Set rules and rewards. For instance, when I am trying to get back into the writing zone, I’ll tell myself – no Twitter until you’ve written SOMETHING. Or, you don’t get a glass of wine until you’ve done at least three pages. (I find that one particularly motivating. But you can substitute chocolate, or whatever you like, such as watching your favorite TV show.)

Mostly, I find that it works to just get started on the writing, no matter what it takes. Because once you’ve started something, it is easier to keep working on it. Remember that other rule of physics: A body in motion is likely to stay in motion.

So put down the remote, walk away from the internet, or do whatever it is you have to do to break your pattern of maladaptive inertia. You can do it! I just wrote five pages. Tag—you’re it.


  1. You've just described my life. My biggest problem with that "you have to do x before you can do y" is that I say to myself "fuck you, I can do whatever I want!" I think that I didn't rebel enough in my teens, like not at all. So I've spent my adult life rebelling against perfectly useful and healthy suggestions!

    Maladaptive. Doesn't even begin to cover it.

    1. Tee hee. Apparently I described a lot of people's lives. I think we all have issues with this.

      Maybe it is time to start saying "fuck you" to your maladaptive inertia :-)

      Just sayin'.

  2. I told myself that during my Mon & Tues off I would do the timeline for my new wip. Guess what? It's Tues night and no timeline.
    I'm really good at procrastinating.

  3. German Chocolate BettyFebruary 8, 2012 at 6:21 AM

    Like Skye, you hve just described my life too. Aaaaacckkkkkk! The only thing that saves me is that most of the time, when I actually get down to doing something I do it quickly and efficiently. Then I beat myself up for having avoided something that wasn't all that bad for as long as I did.

    Maybe I feed on stress... Maybe I have a masochistic side to me. Dunno.

    But you gave it a much, much better moniker than just procrastination. Actually, now that I think of it, it's the moniker for that with which I fill in my time while procrastinating.

    So, now I will stop my maladaptive inertia and start working through my to-do list.

    After one last game of solitaire.