To hear the boy talk, you’d think there was someone with a gun to his head keeping him from doing what he wants. Exercise, working on certain talents… he wants to do all these things but says he ends up wasting time instead. I tell him that there is motivation, which is ephemeral and episodic, and there is discipline, which is the day-in, day-out drive to do stuff even when you’re not in the mood.
I quote Calvin Coolidge (talk about being hep and relevant): “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”
Still, there is almost a resignation to defeat, an acceptance that he cannot overcome Newton’s First Law, which is derived from Galileo’s Law of Inertia: Every object in a state of uniform motion (whether moving or at rest) tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.
Here, though, there is hope, in two ways.
First, inertia, from a physics standpoint, does not necessarily mean stuck in a stationary position. Inertia in this sense means the state of motion of an object, whether that is at rest or moving. Inertia can define a couch potato, but it also can define someone who does not stop, who is always moving forward, always accomplishing his goals. So inertia can be a challenge when we are laying around watching the boob tube, but it also can mean we are always driving forward toward our dreams.
Second is the concept of the outside force. Motivation is an inside job, as thousands of motivational speakers have said, and that’s true. You must find within yourself the drive to move forward – it cannot be instilled in you by pep talks and multi-part systems complete with lists, calendars, quotes and re-order forms.
However, it is possible to be in a state of motivated stasis, wanting to achieve but not being able to get the process up and going. And that is where the outside force, and accountability, comes in. If there is someone you are accountable to, someone who encourages you when you are living up to your aspirations and calls you out when you are not, that person IS the outside force that acts upon an object (you) in motion (or at rest). You are more likely to do the things you have a hard time doing when it is not just you that you are letting down.
So I raise the idea of accountability, and he agrees. Now he is accountable to another person, a person he respects and wants approval from, and we will see if it works.
As you might have guessed, I am talking about my teenage son and me. But the person who wants to overcome inertia and live up to his potential is me, and the person holding me accountable is my son.
So now we get to the infallibility part: is it the right parenting move to admit your own fallibility to your teenage son, and to ask for his help in staying on track?.