Conservation of Momentum

Physics was one of my favorite classes in high school, for two reasons. The first reason is found in the zany stunts my physics teacher managed to execute somehow under the nose of the administration and generally accepted rules of normal behavior.

Our egg drop competition, for example, culminated with the winner successfully landing an egg onto a gelatinous platform that was less than an inch thick after dropping it from the top of the school stadium press box (accessible only by way of the shoulders of another student standing on the bleachers below). His crowning achievement, however, was not the bed of nails (literally) that any student brave (or stupid) enough could lie on, but when he asked us to break a cinderblock that was sitting on top of a piece of plywood that was placed upon his chest…while he was lying on the bed of nails! Ahh, the joys of public education!

The cinderblock broke, my teacher gulped a glass of water to prove he had no new holes in him (though we jokingly mentioned that he needed to take a biology class as other liquids were likely to spill out first) and we learned a TON about physics in the process.

Newton's Cradle, image by Wikipedia

One of my favorite principles is that of momentum. Momentum, as you will recall, is the product of the mass and velocity of an object. Momentum is a conserved quantity, which means: “In any closed system, with no external forces acting, the total momentum of the system does not change.” You may have seen a fascinating device, called a Newton’s Cradle, which helps to explain this concept. When you pull away and then release one of the balls on one end of the device the total momentum after the collision with the ball next to it is maintained and the ball at the other end moves more or less by the amount lost by the first ball.

What does that mean to us, in the scope of our typical daily considerations on “Gregg Hake’s Blog“? Many of my readers have asked me how they can get better at staying on the path to progress once they’ve decided to move forward from where they are in life. Distractions – both internal and external – overpower their willpower on occasion, delaying at best and derailing at worst the progress with which they are concerned.

The natural science we call physics is fascinating to me as it provides valuable insights to the physics of life, or perhaps better put, the laws of living. There are certain immutable laws – rules that remain the same no matter how much human will, opinion or ignorance is applied – that govern the living of life. These laws are not foreign to us, as they are touched on in schools, considered in churches and pointed to in what we call “common sense” day in and day out.

When you consider making changes in your life, momentum quickly becomes your best friend. Every process of change involves momentum – a vector quantity – meaning it possesses both direction and magnitude. As an agent of change, you must manage both direction and magnitude if you are to be successful.

Change, as a process, must be actively managed. I’ve observed some people who take a laissez-faire approach to the changes in their lives, and they tend to attribute any accidental progress to either fate, good fortune or dumb luck. For them the good things – as well as the bad – are simply “in the cards” or the will of the capricious gods that govern their lives and they tend to feel acted upon, rather than seeing themselves as active participants in the shaping of outcomes.

On the other extreme you will find those who grab life by the horns, preferring a white-knuckled approach to life. These are the control freaks, those who are driven by a desperate urge to control the changes in their lives, and in some extreme cases, they seek to manipulate the forces that motivate and power change. You needn’t be a control freak yourself to know that this is an exhausting and typically unsuccessful approach to life.

There is a place for you, for me, in the management of the process of change. We are the balls at the other end of Newton’s Cradle, but we also possess the capacity of free will. We can elect where to direct the momentum gifted to us from other sources. How you manage that momentum will largely determine your success in life and remember, as my father-in-law always says, “success is optional.”

For lack of space in this post, I will conclude with an analysis of one simple matter, that, properly handled, can transform your ability to conserve momentum on a generative basis in your life. Take note of what you do, what thoughts fill your mind and what feelings creep into your heart when you begin to experience successful outcomes in your endeavors. It is at this delicate starting point in most processes where the seeds of destruction are sown.

You start to feel a little ahead of the game, on top of the wave that was previously crashing on your head and your life over and over again and you feel you have a little “spending money,” emotionally, energetically and maybe even physically speaking. That loose change gives evidence of the additional momentum that has come your way. Spend it wisely! Don’t resort to old habits, impulse buys or displays of braggadocio. They will come back to haunt you.

Remember, too, that not spending doesn’t require a miserly, tight-fisted or unnaturally strained reaction. You can stay relaxed in the process while enjoying what is coming your way. So doing will put you in better position to invest wisely, after, I repeat, after you have had a chance to review the options. Remember to exercise your free will at this point and you will save yourself a TON of trouble! Momentum can, and should be, your ally and not your undoing.

6 thoughts on “Conservation of Momentum

  1. Kai Newell

    A week’s worth of consideration here and it’s only the starting point. Looking forward to working with this one for a while, and welcoming the next steps you post. Thanks so much!!


  2. Joshua

    Too funny, and wise words to heed,
    A friend of my wife and I, was considering this very topic just the other day with us, she has also been reading your posts for awhile now, this just indicates once more how connected we all are.
    Thanks for distilling the factors here, and you can trust wise investments on my part!
    Thanks again Gregg!!!


  3. Colin

    You don’t hear about momentum every day, but I can see how it contributes directly to our successes and our failures. The other side of this principle also means that when you put that energy you have acquired back into the system in the right direction, it adds to your momentum. I believe that is part of what they call a habit. If you put your energy in the wrong direction, it slows you down and it is harder to get started again. I believe that is another way to view the quote “If you’re going through he’ll, keep going”. I’m still learning not to squander thatbtike I get after I make a change but before it is truly a habit, and I just wanted to say thanks again, because reading this blog helps add to my momentum in the right direction.


  4. Brad

    thanks for this post – it’s very timely.
    in another post you mentioned a book – Time to Think – I am very much enjoying “studying” this book. Seems to me, taking time to think in relation to what you’ve mentioned above would prove to be very helpful. Rather than reacting to the change in momentum, perhaps taking a moment to consider our next steps would be advised.
    thanks again for your daily guidance thru this blog


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