The Negative Momentum Spiral of Death: How to Identify & Manage It

The Negative Momentum Spiral of Death: How to Identify & Manage It

“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”
– Newton’s First Law


Recently Jenna and I attended a wedding in Lebanon (side note: it was amazing). Our travel itinerary had us on an 8-hour flight to London followed by a 4-hour flight to Beirut. The way back, going against the jet stream, added about 3 total hours. All-in that was 27 hours in the air over the course of 5 days. 

There are lots of different ways one could spend 27 hours in the air.

You could read a full book (perhaps multiple). You could write, say for a blog you’re working on. You could talk to the person next to you. Or stare into the great expanse outside the window and wonder, “How the hell is this giant metal thing in mid-air right now?”.

But you know how I spent it? Staring at the little TV screen snuggled into the headrest of the seat in front of me.

Over that 27 hours, I watched at least 6 or 7 movies plus several episodes of TV shows. I don’t know if this is related, but I popped a blood vessel in my eye in the middle of the return flight! I can only assume it was related to Ironman of media viewing I had embarked upon.

Aside from the missed opportunity of quiet alone time that could have been spent on productive activities that make me feel good, there was a much greater cost to my laziness on the plane; it began a spiral of negative momentum that I allowed to ruin this past week.

Positive vs. Negative Momentum

In terms of productivity, there are two types of activities; those of positive and negative momentum.

Positive momentum activities include anything that makes you feel good or productive. They vary from person to person but a few of mine are:

  • Writing
  • Exercising
  • Cleaning
  • Knocking off to-do’s
  • Remaining focused at work for set period of time (see: Pomodoro Technique)
  • Meditating
  • Gardening (say something punk!)
  • Taking photographs
  • Coffee-fueled conversations

When I string a couple of these positive activities together, I become an unstoppable productivity machine. It’s like my energy is multiplied by 2x every time I spend time on any of these activities.

So, because I’m a nerd let’s call this cycle the Positive Momentum Hurricane of Awesomeness. The more you feed it with positive momentum activities, the stronger it gets and the more productive you are.

But these Positive Hurricanes are not invincible. On the contrary, they are actually extremely vulnerable to its evil twin; negative momentum.

Negative momentum, as you may have guessed, is any activity that hurts your productivity and, while it may provide short bursts of pleasure, makes you feel bad in the long-run.

For me, these would include (to name a few):

  • Watching TV
  • Reading news or sports websites
  • YouTube black holes
  • Not having a plan for the day
  • Actively choosing not to work out
  • Sitting on the couch
  • Oversleeping
  • Drinking too much alcohol

These activities have the diabolical quality of being able to stop even the strongest of Positive Hurricanes dead in their tracks. And worse, stringing several of them together (or one of them over a long period of time; think airplane TV) creates the dreaded Negative Momentum Spiral of Death.

The Negative Momentum Spiral of Death

The Negative Momentum Spiral of Death looks and feels a little different for everyone.

For me, it has a lot to do with lethargy. It feels like any task is too much to handle and that the couch/TV is always the better option. Even minuscule tasks like cleaning a dish (singular) seem like monumental endeavors that are better left for another occasion.

This lethargy then leads to some brutal negative self-talk along the lines of, “You are such a piece of shit, Chris”.

Left unchecked (which has happened for weeks at a time) this poisonous mindset has the potential to touch every part of your life; relationships, work, health (physical and mental), etc.

I’ve found myself getting extremely short with Jenna over completely trivial things (i.e. taking the dog out in the morning) during these periods. I’ll go to my workspace and piddle around on ESPN.com or fall into some hour(s)-long YouTube blackhole, getting absolutely no work done.

Any sort of exercise is typically kiboshed during these periods which only adds to the feeling that I’m “a piece of shit”. I’ll eat out a lot because cooking seems like too much. Meditation goes out the window even though I know, without a doubt, if there’s one thing I could do to make my day better – it’s that.

All I really want to do is go home, plop in front of the TV and see how many episodes of Jack Ryan I can jam into the rest of the day.

For me, this can be such a dark place that towards the end of last week (5 days after the Lebanon flights) I legitimately told Jenna that I thought I might be depressed.

But being the beacon of rationality she always is, she asked if I’ve been doing activities that make me feel good.

Meditating? No.
Writing? No.
Exercising? No.

“Well,” she said, “maybe you should start there”.

Emerging from the Negative Momentum Spiral

Just as positive momentum can be halted by negative momentum activities – the opposite is true as well.

By forcing yourself to engage in positive activities, especially if you don’t want to at the time, you can force the Negative Momentum Spiral out of existence.

But despite its simplicity, this is not always an easy task.

I’ll use this past week as an example. The previous section was essentially a documentation of how I felt; terrible. Among other things my work productivity had plummeted because I would go into the day without a plan and end up surfing the web.

So, after Jenna’s wake up call on Thursday evening, I stood in front of the mirror on Friday morning and said (out loud) to myself, “You are focusing today. You will not look at any sports or news websites or go on YouTube. You are there to work and that’s what you’ll do – great work.

It was the last thing in the world I wanted to do. After all, this was the opposite of the negative momentum I had created all week. I was slamming on the breaks and it was absolutely jarring to my system.

But it was the only way to stop the immense amount of negative momentum I had allowed to build up. And as soon as I took that first step, of committing to focus at work that day, the momentum started to shift.

After my pep talk, I meditated for 30 minutes. Then I journaled for another 30.

Then I went to the office and spent 5 consecutive, undisturbed hours pumping out great work.

The Spiral had been broken.

My momentum was now moving in the other direction and I could once again start being both productive and, more importantly, happy.

Exercises for Controlling Your Momentum

Here are two vital steps in controlling the momentum in your life:

  • Identify Positive & Negative Momentum Activities
    • Drawing up a list (similar to the ones I created above) of the activities that create positive and negative momentum in your life is very important. Not only will it be easier to identify activities that put you at risk for feeling like “a piece of shit”, you’ll also be equipped with tools (positive momentum activities) to fight back against any Negative Spirals that may develop in your life.
  • Identify Warning Signs of Negative Momentum Spiral of Death
    • Identifying the fact that you may be in a Negative Spiral is crucial in doing anything about it. The earlier you catch yourself falling into one of these, the easier it will be to pull out of. So, with me for example, if I find myself skipping a couple workouts (out of laziness) or plopping in front of the TV every day after work, I know that I need to initiate some positive momentum activities ASAP.

Momentum will always be in constant flux, the key is to remain vigilant in keeping it moving in the right direction.

Posted by on October 14, 2018

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