The Gravity of the Situation

by Paul Salzer

Merriam-Webster describes gravity as, “a fundamental physical force that is responsible for interactions which occur because of mass…”  Gravity is certainly a major force in all our lives.  In some ways, we can look at our habits very much as we would Gravity.  Like Gravity, habits are unavoidable.  Both take a tremendous amount of force to overcome once we are caught up in them.  But when we’ve finally able to break free, it is far easier to continue moving in a relatively positive direction.

The potential for starting a habit is all around us, like Gravity is all around us.  Everyone has the same potential to start a habit and continue it.  So why doesn’t everyone have the same habits then?  Well let’s look at Gravity for a moment.  If we drop a hammer and a feather at the same time, the hammer generally hits the ground first every time.  The hammer must be hitting first because Gravity is applying a greater force on the hammer, right?  Well, Galileo proved that Gravity is actually applying the same relative force on both objects.

The reason the feather falls slower is because the air resistance (which acts against Gravity) is greater on the feather than on the hammer.  In fact, astronaut David Scott showed this by doing the hammer and feather experiment on the Moon.  Both objects landed at the same time because there is less air resistance on the Moon acting against the constant force of Gravity.  So what can we learn from this?  Well, like with Gravity, there are forces that can lessen and possibly negate our chances of starting any of those habits we don’t want.  There are also forces that can prevent us for continuing bad habits as well.  So you can both be a hammer and hit the ground first, or you can float around a while and be like the feather.

Granted, dealing with habits can seem as difficult as dealing with Gravity itself.  And if it were easy to overcome Gravity, we would already be flying around with anti-gravity jumpsuits, exercising at gravity-gyms, and potentially taking elevators into space.  Overcoming our habits can be equally burdensome too.  Changing one’s ways may seem astronomically difficult at first, especially when it seems unnatural to fight the urge in the first place.  Unfortunately, many of us fight our habits like we fight gravity.  It just doesn’t happen, even when the solutions is already known.  In both cases, it’s a matter of reaching the “escape velocity”.

In Physics, “escape velocity” is how fast you need to be moving in order to break free from gravity.  For those of you fluent in Geekspeak, this is the speed (not velocity as the name suggests) at which the kinetic energy of an object plus the gravitational potential energy of said object is equal to zero.  This is important to note, because escape velocity varies depending on your situation.  If you are sitting in a rocket, your escape velocity starts out is 11.2 km/s or over 25,000 miles per hour.  This number goes down as you continue to apply “upward” force.  In fact, as you keep moving, it becomes easier and easier to escape gravity as the escape velocity becomes a smaller number.

The same can be said about escaping our habits.  At first, it will seem difficult to change what we are accustomed to doing.  But starting in a direction is the first step.  You can’t go into space with a rocket without igniting it first.  And like with rockets, you may find that you need to take your journey in stages.  Or you may find yourself taking a slightly skewed path to your destination.  You may even find yourself going headlong toward the problem for a while (like when we slingshot satellites around the Earth to reach other planets).  That’s okay, so long as you have the energy (fuel) to continue on the journey.  If you don’t reach that escape velocity, you risk falling back into your old habits.  The good news is that, as you move along, you will find the task of changing easier and easier.

Habits are generally unavoidable.  It takes a lot to change one, if we don’t like where they are leading us.  But fortunately once we get going; it’s easy to keep moving in the direction we do want.  But this doesn’t mean that habits not all bad.  Look at Gravity again.  Without it, things like apples and leaves would never fall from trees and air would simply drift off the planet.  Gravity and habits are just another force to deal with in our daily lives.  How we deal with each determines if we remain where we are or if we are exploring bold new frontiers.

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