In a recent post, I introduced you to my "Law of Human Inertia": the tendency of people, having once established a life trajectory, to continue on that course unless acted on by a greater force. In this post, I want to explore the forces that drive our life inertia. Many of us wonder what propels us down the paths of our lives, why we go in the directions that we go. I believe there are four major forces -- needs, self-esteem, ownership and emotions -- that govern the direction of our lives.
The good news is that if we are aware of the four forces and understand them, we can take
control of those forces and, in turn, our lives.
Needs: The Propulsion System That Drives Your Life
Just as all of us have basic physical needs, we also have essential psychological needs that
must be satisfied for us to be able to lead healthy and happy lives. We must feel that we are loved. We must feel safe. We must believe we are competent. How these needs are met sets the initial course of our life inertia. When our emotional needs are fulfilled by loving parents and a
supportive environment, we have a propulsion system that initially pushes us along a positive
In contrast, if our needs have not been adequately met in childhood, for example, if we
grew up in an emotionally chaotic family, then our need for love and security becomes a
propulsion system that drives us powerfully, but down the wrong path. We will need to let go of
our unhealthy needs and reconnect with our healthy ones, so that we can finally power our life
inertia with a propulsion system of our own choosing.
Self-Esteem: The Pilot That Commands Your Life
Many of us were unwitting experimental subjects in the "self-esteem movement" that
started in the 1970s. Many of our parents were persuaded by the parenting experts of that time
that children would develop high self-esteem if we were loved no matter what we did, protected
from failure, and constantly told how terrific we were at everything (even when we weren't). The
result: we ended up being unable to love ourselves, felt insecure and didn't feel at all competent.
If you are driven to gain love, a feeling of security and a sense of competence from other
people because you need their approval to feel good about yourself, then others are controlling
your life path. An essential part of piloting your spaceship will require that you learn how to trust
in your inherent value and capabilities, so that you can be in control of your own self-esteem.
This shift will relieve the immense and unrelenting pressure to gain self-esteem from others and
put you on a trajectory to gain your own feelings of love, security and competence, which is the
only true way to feel good about yourself. With this genuine self-esteem, you will have the
capabilities to take full command and pilot the spaceship that is your life.
Ownership: The Guidance System That Directs Your Life
If you have spent most of your life doing what others wanted you to do instead of asking
yourself what you wanted to do, you may never have felt that you were responsible for your life.
Ownership means that you are an independent being who has a cause-and-effect relationship
with the world in which your actions matter, your actions have consequences. With ownership,
you do have to accept responsibility for your mistakes and failures, but you also get to accept
responsibility for your successes and achievements. Additionally, you now have the power to
change your life. Once you accept ownership of your life, you will be able to direct your life
trajectory with your vision of who you are, what you value, and where you want to go.
Emotions: The Fuel That Powers Your Life
Children who are raised in families where there is a lot of emotional turmoil will often
develop internal lives that are dominated by negative emotions. If your life is controlled by
negative emotions, it's really hard for you to be happy. It's as if you're trying to run your
spaceship on contaminated fuel.
When parents who believe that "bad" emotions will hurt their children and try to prevent
their kids from experiencing, for example, frustration, anger or sadness, the children could end up emotionally undernourished, deprived of the chance to understand and gain mastery over the full range of what they are capable of feeling. That lack of emotional mastery results in an empty fuel tank, leaving your spaceship drifting through life without a means of propelling it, and vulnerable to outside forces that will dictate your life inertia.
When you gain mastery of your emotions -- when you are capable of identifying, understanding, and expressing your emotions in a healthy way -- you produce a fuel that pumps directly from your soul, burns reliably and can power your life inertia efficiently in whatever direction you choose.
Controlling the Four Forces
Like that asteroid plunging through space, our current life inertia is highly resistant to
change because of the great forces that put us on our path in the first place. A little effort here or
there is unlikely to change the direction of our lives because it is already being driven by
potent forces. But we can control these four forces to alter the course of our lives. Once we can see clearly what launched us on our initial path, and understand the surprising lasting power of those initial forces, then we can understand what it will take to gain control of those forces and change the trajectory of our life.
When we change our life inertia, we liberate ourselves from those forces that have, until
now, propelled us in a direction we would not have chosen. With control of the spaceship that is
our lives, we will have freedom from debilitating fear, doubt, anger, shame and despair. It also
means we will have the freedom to hope, feel, accept, engage and strive. When you are in command of your spaceship you are on track to live a life that will bring you meaning, fulfillment and well-being. And you can be sure that you will not have to experience the most frustrating of all emotions -- regret. Once you have gained command of your life you will not have to ask, "I wonder what could have been?"
What does it feel like when you get control of your life path? Not long ago, I was working
with an accomplished businesswoman, Tricia, who came to me because she felt she was living a
life of profound emptiness. Her job had created a toxic lifestyle of too much travel, too little sleep and poor eating. She had little time to exercise, had put on considerable weight and just felt lousy about herself. Plus, the long hours prevented her from maintaining meaningful friendships or exploring romantic relationships. After several months of working to understand and control the four forces, Tricia had been able to free herself from the long trajectory of her old life. One day, Tricia came to my office and told me that she had an exciting and healing epiphany the previous night. With tears in her eyes and a smile on her face, she said, "I realized that I would never have to go back to the way I used to live my life. I have never felt such joy!"