effort & inertia.

3 Sep

A huge part of my sabbatical is working on a book that reflects on lessons and experiences I had in Roller Derby and applies them to psychological, sociological, and theological topics. Each chapter has two titles: the first one, in capital letters is the basic concept, followed by a phrase or inspiration from derby.

I won’t promise to post all the chapters, but I will post many of the first drafts. What do you want to know more about? What should I write less about? I welcome all constructive feedback, questions, curiosities.

Towards that end, here is the chapter I am calling…

Effort & Inertia: Stinky Pads

It’s midway through practice and we are doing a hitting drill with full contact. It’s my turn, and as I chase after my teammate, I am breathing heavy and envisioning where I will catch up to her and how I will slide my hips in front of her and then sheriff her with my shoulder.

Midway around the track, I catch her and as I go to slide in front of her, the top of our arms touch. Her skin is so slick that my arm slides in front of her fast enough to throw off my balance. Before I know it, I am face down on the floor. My teammate has lept over me gracefully.

I get back up, and go stand back in line to try again. As I look at my teammate, I see she is covered in sweat. There are no dry spots on her shirt. Indeed, if she stands in one place too long, a puddle will form.

Roller derby makes you sweat, some more than others. Many sports make you sweat, of course, but many sports don’t have you wearing as much protective gear as roller derby does. Sweat gets into our helmets, our elbow pads, our wrist guards, our kneepads, and of course our skates themselves. At the end of practice, we throw all our sweaty gear into our bags and into our cars. If we are lucky, they will have time to dry out before the next practice. Many of us aren’t so lucky. So in addition to being sweaty, we stink.


Oh, how we stink. Even after cleaning my pads and letting them air out, two years after I last strapped them on, I can still smell them when I walk into that part of the basement. Since our sense of smell is the one most tightly connected to our memories, it’s not uncommon for me to stand and nostalgically remember my roller derby days whenever I have to get something from the basement freezer.

Sweat. Stench. Signs of effort.

I have come a long, long way.

There was a time – just after college when I began working in the “real world” where I would actively avoid anything that made me sweat. I had lost that part of me that enjoyed getting dirty while playing in a creek, playing tackle football in a field. I avoided anything where I might get dirty, or, heaven forbid, that might make me smell.

All around me were pictures of what being a woman meant – nicely coiffed, clean, in a pressed shirt and impeccably accessorized. This is what I thought I was supposed to be now that I was “grown-up”. I abhorred anything that might require sunscreen, or bugspray, or ultra-heavy-duty-deoderant.

Thank goodness for roller derby, which allowed me to reclaim my love of getting dirty. Now, like a kid, I revel in it (sorry, honey!). These days, if I am participating in a physical activity and don’t sweat, I feel like I have not worked hard enough. I haven’t put in enough effort.

So you would think that, given how much I enjoy the effort that I put into practice, and how good I usually felt when it was over, that getting me to actually get in the car and go to practice would not be such a insanely difficult endeavor.

But it usually was.

Most days, I just wanted to stay at home. I was tired after a long day of working, I had barely had a chance to say hello to my kids, much less knowing I would be missing bedtime again. With a job that has a lot of evening meetings, there were some days I didn’t even go home first – I would spend 10 hours at the church and then go straight to practice.

Most days, inertia set in. And it became a battle with myself to get to practice, even as much as I loved it.

I’ve talked to a lot of people about this process, now, so I know that I am not alone. For many of us, even if something is wonderful, fulfilling, exciting, challenging – all this good stuff – we still have a hard time getting off our butts and actually doing it.

This is one reason why new exercise routines fail, or new healthy-eating plans, or : Inertia.

Inertia is the tendency of an object at rest to stay at rest, or an object in motion to stay in motion. This fundamental principle of physics applies to the motion of objects, but the word itself actually comes from a Latin root that means idle or sluggish – words we usually use to describe human beings.

If we are going about our daily business, and then come home and plop on the couch, it is inertia that will want to keep us there for the next 4 hours. It is inertia that tells us that it is too hard, too difficult, too time-consuming to get out the equipment of our old hobby that we loved to do before we get derailed from doing it regularly a few months ago. Particular to my field, it is inertia that keeps someone from going to a religious service, even if they know they will love seeing their friends and worshipping with their community.

It is also inertia that can keep us going even when other resources have failed. It was actually easier for me to get practice on those nights I worked late, even though I entered practice pre-exhausted. It was easier because I had been in motion all day and just allowed it to carry me along. Whereas if I had gone home first and slowed down, it was harder to resume activity.

A friend of mine recently shared a quote with me, from Lucille Ball. She said “If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it.” At first glance, I thought my friend meant “Ask a busy person, because obviously they can’t say no!” but the quote continues: “The more things you do, the more you can do.” Inertia works both ways – it is harder for us as human beings to change our state than it is to keep doing what we are doing.

So how does one get over the inertia that may prevent her from participating in something that will be fun, exciting, and fulfilling, and actively recalibrate her activity level? Marelisa Fábrega, author of How to Live Your Best Life – The Essential Guide For Creating and Achieving Your Life List, recommends the following in her blogpost entitled “Seven Ways to Overcome Inertia and Get Yourself Unstuck”:

1. Shock Yourself Into Action
One way to get the bump to move us from resting to activity is to shock ourselves into action. This may be by asking ourselves pointed questions, such as ones that might focus on the consequences of not engaging in an action. “What happens if I don’t make it to practice tonight?” I might ask myself. The answer: Not only will I feel worse for not going, and not only will I neglected to engage in a healthy, stress-reducing activity, but I also won’t be eligible to play in the next bout if I don’t earn these practice points!

2. Secure Short Term Wins
Sometimes, overcoming inertia is giving ourselves enough quick wins that we become energized, which can then help us get motivated in the longer-term. For getting out the door for practice, I would create short-term wins like “I am just going to pack up my gear and put it in the car” often followed by “I am just going to get dressed and put my contacts in” – with no requirement that this meant I would actually go to practice. Of course, by the time I had done all this, I was pretty much ready to go and so usually did.

3. Dangle a Carrot In Front of Yourself
Reward ourselves! Both long-term and short-term rewards come in handy when trying to overcome the inertia that keeps us idle. Short-term carrots for me almost always involved chocolate after practice. A longer term carrot might be qualifying for the roster for the next game.

4. Use a Stick
Fábrega points out that “not only do we have a tendency to move toward pleasure, we have an even stronger tendency to move away from pain.” So then how can we use this to overcome inertia? Denial is an effective technique – I have found the denial of chocolate to be quite effective. Another one she recommends is charging yourself money. “For example, you could ask a friend to charge you $5 for every day that you fail to take action toward the achievement of your goal.”

5. Fill Your Gas Tank
I think this one should probably really be number 1. How often can we not get started on something because we don’t have enough energy? This might mean taking a nap, getting to sleep earlier more regularly, or having a healthy snack. It might also mean going for a walk, light job, or doing some yoga – something that helps get our blood flowing.

6. Create a Clear Vision of What You’re Trying to Achieve
Visualization works wonders. We were often told in practice that, in order to master a skill, several times a day we should visualize ourselves mastering the skill. Combining this with some of the other tools can yield particularly powerful results when overcoming inertia: I would visualize eating that lovely piece of chocolate when I got home from practice. When my mouth started salivating, I was out the door.

7. Stage It
We can also remove physical obstacles that might prevent us from getting done what we are trying to get done. For instance, if I hate going into the basement to get my gear, I could set it up closer to the door that I will go out. I might make dinner in the crockpot that morning so that lack of something to make for dinner is not my excuse for not going to practice. Fábrega says “Set the stage for the action that you want to take.”

Sometimes, the rewards of putting in a good effort are not quite enough to overcome our inertia. But when we do overcome it, we can be extra proud. One sign of that effort in roller derby is how much our pads stink. Roller girls are secretly (and not so secretly) proud of them. Still, just to be safe, if a roller girl hands you something and says “Hey, smell this”…don’t.

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