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Overcoming Inertia

When does a person decide to take a risk?

I don't mean an everyday risk like driving or asking for a stranger's help or presenting an idea that may be badly received. I'm talking about big risks, life-altering decisions — like changing jobs, or moving a great distance, or ending a relationship.

There is inertia in the status quo. The good and the bad in the situation are already known. A change requires a fresh process of discovery and a lot of uncertainty, and this is uncomfortable. A "better the devil you know" attitude is the default (and is even healthy) until more information is available.

But what if you're not seeking that information? This is most likely to occur when it's someone else who is advocating the change. "They don't know my situation. Why should I follow their advice?" It's reasonable to be skeptical and to wonder if they have an ulterior motive. Indeed, you should be shocked if you discover they don't have an ulterior motive.

Given all this, what's the best way to overcome the inertia, uncertainty, and suspicion?

The methods of advertising seem nearest to the goal: Advertisers must get through the mental blocks and demonstrate benefit to the consumer. But advertising is generally about little things, a few dollars here or there, not about fundamental changes to a person's life.

Let's put my three examples together — how would you go about convincing a person to end a relationship and move across the country to start a new career? It's not as simple as arguing that they'd be happier in the new configuration. They also need to be convinced that the new configuration will be achieved. And that the instability during the transition will be worth enduring. As a life-altering decision or group of decisions, the bar is set extremely high.

I think I know abstractly what I need to do, but I'm not sure how to do it. I'd appreciate any recommendations of concrete advice for this sort of thing. Also, if I've omitted anything important in this analysis, I'd certainly like to hear about that too.


I'll be flattered if this gets me some useful e-mail, instead of the "link to this!" requests I've been getting more of lately. I'm no one's publicist.

Exception: If the thing you'd like me to link to is about the topic of overcoming psychological inertia related to big decisions, I'd be happy to link to it. :)

(Wishing again I had a commenting system, until reminding myself I'd rather not deal with comment spam…)

Tiny Island