Yet, as much as we all claim to want happiness and meaning in our lives, there’s a paradoxical catch that thwarts us at every turn. I want you to burn it into your memory:
Our default response in life is not to experience happiness.
Our default response in life is not to experience meaning.
Our default response in life is to experience inertia.
In other words, our everyday process — the thing we do more often than anything else — is to continue to do what we’re already doing.
If you’ve ever come to the end of a TV show and then passively continued watching the next show on the same channel, you know the power of inertia. You only have to press a button on the remote to change the channel. Yet many of us can’t do that. Often, inertia is so powerful that we can’t even hit the remote to turn off the TV, even when we no longer want to watch it.
Understanding the principle of inertia is why I can say with absolute certainty that the most reliable predictor of what you will be doing in five minutes is what you are doing now. Take a moment to let that sink in, and weigh that statement against your life. I’m not saying inertia is a foolproof predictor — we obviously switch from one activity to another — but it is a reliable short-term predictor.
Once you appreciate the paradox, you become aware of its paralyzing effect on every aspect of your life, not just the mindless routines of eating or watching TV, but things that really matter — such as the level of happiness and meaning in your life — and you become more thoughtful about turning things around. Breaking the cycle of inertia doesn’t mean exerting heroic willpower. All that’s required is the use of a simple discipline.
Allow me to give you some backstory. Some 20 years ago, I was preparing a leadership development session for a Fortune 100 company when one of the company’s senior managers asked me: “Does anyone who goes to these leadership sessions ever really change?”