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Newton Invented Atomic Habits Before It Was Cool, and He Didn’t Know It

When psychology gives you a migraine, turn to physics. Just kidding, physics is also for science warriors.


I have a background in physics, where I shined in school and cried for four years in college with a group of 30 folks.

No matter how many times we memorise the concepts that we won’t apply in real life, the lessons that stay in our long-term memory are the ones that deliver timeless wisdom.

Applied physics is one of the fields whose impact is not limited to academics only.

Creativity is about connecting two unrelated dots while making sense in the process. It helped me use my physics aptitude to fuel my habit development journey.

One of the physics concepts is Newton’s First Law of Motion in classical physics, which I applied in my habit development process before I learned about James Clear’s Atomic Habits.

The physics wisdom dates back to high-school level in the Indian education system but is simple to understand when explained in plain English.

#1. Newton’s First Law of Motion.

The laws of physics are rarely contradictory because they are accurate in all practical frameworks we can experience in real life without going sub-atomic or attaining light speed.

The same is true about the validity of Newton’s First Law of Motion I learned in 2013, which says:

“A body at rest will remain at rest, and a body in motion will remain in motion unless it is acted upon by an external force.”

One word can explain this entire sentence so that you never forget it: inertia. It has a resemblance with the term “comfort zone”.

#2. The law of inertia.

The first law of motion is also called the law of inertia because it explains the tendency to stay in the current state for the sake of comfort.

When applied to habit development, it clarifies we don’t want to accelerate our personal growth as long as:

  1. We are happy with our current lifestyle and don’t want to explore further.
  2. We don’t feel motivated enough to improve our mental models.
  3. We don’t have a solid drive to chase our life goals, let alone fight for our dreams.

The tricky part is the external force in the law.

When applied to personal growth, an external force can be any powerful sign that drives us independent of our mental state.

For example, getting fed up with old habits is a fire motivator. Distraction is not suitable for our focus.

#3. The law of inertia for habit development.

The solution will sound ill-researched, but here is what I do when I don’t feel like doing anything:

“Start now, even before you are ready. Figure it out later. Your mind is more adaptable than you think.”

When you appreciate the drive that comes from igniting a sense of urgency to game your time management journey, your race with time will be full of adventurous pursuits where you are racing with two imaginary — yet equally real — rivals:

  • Time
  • Your past self.

Physics outside of academics

Not many feelings match the pleasure of outperforming ourselves.

I use Newton’s Law of Inertia in several ways to accelerate my self-improvement journey:

  • I use it to push myself to the gym, then grind for 2 hours pumping iron.
  • I use it to get ready for my morning walks. It puts my mind in a creative state to write the first draft of my Medium blog.
  • I use it to break the ice with people and practice the art of becoming a conversationalist.
  • I use it to follow the idea of lifelong learning to keep my mind alive with novelty.

Closing thoughts

I gave you a few examples where you can use physics to your advantage in self-improvement, independent of your academic performance.

To remember how the Law of Inertia can help you get out of your head and celebrate a long overdue change for good, here is a recap for your memory:

  1. Your desire to start is directly proportional to your desperation for change. Develop the external force that forces your butt out of the chair.
  2. Generate motivation with positive self-talk because half of the effort goes into showing up, even when you don’t feel like it. Once in motion, you’ll want to stay in motion.
  3. Apart from competing ourselves, we are racing lifelong against time. When we have more than one reason to prioritise the sense of urgency, energy management takes care of time management.

If you want to receive more stories like this, my lifelong learning newsletter is for you.

Sanjeev is a mentor, writer, and fitness enthusiast from India. He writes about lifelong learning, personal growth, and positive psychology. When he’s not engaging with students in solving their doubts or busy writing, he’s sweating either in a workout, vlogging or playing with his cat, Jim. You can also find him on Instagram and Twitter.



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Sanjeev Yadav

Sanjeev Yadav

Writer • Mentor • Recovering Shopaholic • IITR 2019 • ✍🏼 Personal Growth, Positive Psychology & Lifelong Learning• IG: sanjeevai • List: