18th July 2011

A friend of mine is an engineer. Let’s call him Sam. Somewhere in the bowels of Sam’s current work place, resides on old steam engine. Obviously, this steam engine is pretty heavy, it is not made of feathers and it is not easy to move. I know, because Sam tried. He pushed it with all the force he could muster but…no movement. Then, one day, Sam decided to lean against the train for a while and…lo and behold…it began to roll. Thankfully the wheels were braced, otherwise that old steam engine woulda rolled right outa that place with Sam clinging on to the rear. Anyway, get to the point you say, what does this have to do with change?

As any therapist worth their salt will tell you, the pace of change for most folks is pretty slow. We loop through unsuccessful patterns over and over, we get stuck in ruts, we engage in self defeating behaviour because ‘that’s just the way we are’. Sometimes we are aware we are doing these things, and sometimes we are not. Like Sam’s train, it’s pretty difficult to get people to change or move forward by just pushing (unless you give them an almighty HUGE push equivalent to a speeding train). Major life events like deaths, births and break-ups are the psychological equivalents of speeding trains. Of course, change is still possible without these events. But in this instance, a more effective strategy is to adopt the metaphorical lean, it might take a while, but eventually, it will get the job done.

So, what does this have to do with flywheels you say? Other than rhyming (sort off…) with automobiles (you know, as in Planes, Trains and….erm, yeah, I’m a genius).

A flywheel is a mechanical device that uses a significant moment of inertia for rotational energy. A moment of inertia is a measure of an object’s resistance to changes in its rotation. Flywheels resist changes in their rotational speed to help steady their rotation. To put it more simply, flywheels, like people, resist change to remain steady. Because, let’s face it, change is hard. It is the opposite of steady, it rocks the boat, it capsizes us, it sends us hurtling forward, or backward or sideways into new and uncharted territories. And yet, change is essential and unavoidable. So, have patience with yourself and others when attempting to change internal or external states. And resist the temptation to push too hard, as this will often have the opposite effect.