It is extremely difficult for me to accomplish anything, even if I really want it. Very often I sit for a long time and do nothing at all, or continue to do the same for extended periods of time. I cannot force my brain and body to act “synchronously” with my goal. It’s just impossible for me to start doing something. On the other hand, I often “get stuck” on what I’m doing now and not being able to stop. The more I force myself, or someone else makes me, the harder it is for me to do something. Some time ago, my friend called this problem inertia.
Examples from personal experience:
– I do not eat until my stomach starts to hurt, but if I start to eat, I can not stop until my stomach is full or the food is over.
– I do not pay bills until companies threaten to cut me off.
– I rarely wash dishes, wash clothes, do other chores, but if I start, I usually do a lot at once.
– I often do not do such simple things as switching TV channels.
I used to think that this is a problem of laziness or the habit of postponing everything for the last moment, but it seems that everything is much more complicated and this cannot be controlled consciously. Even when I am very strongly motivated by the huge consequences (positive or negative), and I know what needs to be done and how, I still don’t do it. Instead, I sit and think about it or plan what I will do in every minute detail. On the contrary, sometimes I start doing something that does not give me pleasure, and I can not stop. If I were just lazy, I would not do so much from time to time.
After talking with other autistic people and their families, I discovered that this problem is relatively common among people at all levels of functioning. Moreover, some also began to use the word inertia to describe this problem. Nevertheless, despite the prevalence of this problem, very little is written about the difficulties of autists associated with inertia.
What is inertia?
In physics, the term inertia is defined as follows:
1. An object in motion remains in motion unless force stops or changes it;
2. An object that is at rest remains at rest, if the force does not change it (it begins to move).
In this context, inertia is not inherent in the object, but in attention, thought, or movement of a person. We tend to remain on the task (or on the absence of the task), unless we are stopped (or launched) by significant external force or an incredible effort of will. This also applies to the beginning of the task or to stop what you are doing.
Inertia refers to both very small movements and vast areas. A person with inertia can “get stuck” by performing a movement in half, for example, pouring something into a cup, and as a result spill everything. Such a person can also repeat the same movement many times, for example, swaying, knocking his leg or waving his arms. Inertia also refers to the concentration of attention. Such broad concepts as the main area of interest, and such specific fixations as the wheels of a toy car, can be the result of inertia. Symptoms of inertia include the following difficulties:
– the inability to start the task, the inability to start body movements;
– problems with switching attention or changing current activities;
– difficulty adapting movements to a changing environment;
– performing the task without understanding what needs to be done and why;
– inability to disconnect attention from something (attention “moves” by itself);
– inability to start or stop certain movements;
– problems with switching attention;
– problems with changing tasks;
– inability to do something, even if a person wants to do it and knows how to do it.
Inertia can be one of the most disabling features of an autistic person, even if otherwise he is a highly functional one. Despite high intelligence and motivation, inertia can prevent you from doing anything. It can even become a major obstacle to independent living. On the other hand, even inertia has its advantages. The ability to hyperfocus attention allows you to work for long periods of time – very often the work can continue at night and for several days. Inertia, focused on a particular topic, can lead to a deep understanding of a particular subject. If the inertia is directed to the desired direction, then it literally does not stop. If the disabling aspects can be overcome or adapted to them, then inertia can be a huge plus.
Inertia is an explanation of why it is so difficult to do something, and not a reason not to do it. If you blame yourself, it will only be harder for you to deal with something. So even without scientific evidence of the existence of inertia, it will at least help you feel better. In addition, if you perceive this problem as neurological, it will help people with inertia to develop strategies to increase motivation. The perception of this problem as a manifestation of disability, and not as a lack of character, allows you to choose a new and more benign approach for your difficulties.
Inertia seems to be a combination of problems with shifting attention and scheduling a sequence of movements. It seems that its cause is neurological, and does not come from depression, stubbornness, laziness or postponement for the last moment. Although this is not an exhaustive explanation, there are factors that can affect the degree of inertia.
– MAKING DECISIONS. Many autists find it difficult to prioritize and organize incoming information and internal desires to make a decision. If you cannot decide, then you cannot and begin to act.
– PERFECTIONISM. Perfectionism definitely plays a role in inertia, although it is associated with the usual lack of motivation. If you want to complete the task perfectly, the mere thought of it can cause strong negative emotions.
– DEPRESSION. Although inertia may increase as a result of depression, it may also be independent of mood. If the apparent inertia manifests unexpectedly or worsens, then a possible cause may be clinical depression or dysthymia.
– DISORGANIZATION. This may be a problem of priorities or of planning and accounting for consequences. In this case, it is difficult to determine what is now better to do, in what order, or what is more important.
– POWERFUL EMOTIONS. Sometimes the complexity or size of the work ahead causes intense emotions, and therefore it is impossible to deal with it. In this case, it is hard to even think about how to proceed with the task, let alone to do it.
– ADD / ADHD. Like inertia, attention deficit disorder causes difficulty in controlling and shifting attention. However, in the case of ADD, attention tends to wander, while in the case of inertia it is “stuck”. There is a certain intersection of their symptoms, and although they do not seem to be the same phenomenon, ADD can worsen inertia.
– MOTIVATION. One of the defining characteristics of inertia is that it takes place, even if a person is very strongly motivated by possible rewards or threats. A person with inertia often wants to do something else, but simply cannot do it.
There is no cure for inertia problems. The only opportunity is to work with her and around, not against her. None of the sentences below is a guarantee; some of them may even seem contradictory. Just try to choose what may suit you, and try to adapt this advice to your own needs.
– REAL TIMETABLE. If you do something in accordance with a regular schedule, then inertia will be spread to the schedule rather than to a separate task – the tasks are easier to accomplish if they are part of a regular routine. However, try not to focus on scheduling itself instead of executing it.
– BEGIN FROM A SIMPLE. Select a task that is not the main problem. Make the task as simple as possible, taking into account possible sensory problems, divide the large task into small, easy-to-follow steps. Try not to give it an excessive value and avoid excessive pressure.
– SHOCK. Some people should be pushed rather than pushed to change the center of attention. This can help alarms or timers. Other people, including irritated parents or partners, can also provide good “shock therapy.” Probably too frequent shocks are not good for health (moreover, the effect of shock will gradually evaporate), but this method is quite reliable for emergency situations.
– TIMER SETTING. In addition to the schedule and shock, setting the timer will help you remember that the execution of the same task cannot last forever. Timers can help your brain get used to the idea of switching attention. Timers can also be useful for short and unpleasant tasks. If you know how much time you have to do something, then this can help cope with the initial resistance. Timers can also prevent exhaustion due to too long a task.
– ACCOMPANIMENT. Sometimes it is impossible to do something if another person is watching you. In such cases, it is better not to tell anyone, so you do not answer to others. On the other hand, to some people, on the contrary, it is easier to do something if another person is nearby. Some people need this other person to do something else, while others need only to sit next to them.
– AWARDS. Some people are helped by rewards for performing certain tasks. Rewards will not work for a long time, but they help to establish a new daily routine. A good reward should not be hard to reach, and it should be obtained immediately (at least at the beginning), be very desirable, but not too much. Awards do not necessarily need to be planned in advance, they can be invented on the spot. Punishments usually do not work and can reduce motivation. If you use rewards, don’t give up. Postpone the receipt of the reward until you finish the selected case. You can get what you want – when you’re done.
– LISTEN TO YOURSELF. If something does not work or stops working, change it. Always listen to your body and your feelings when they tell you that you need something else, such as eating or sleeping. The sensation of pain is a signal that something went wrong and something needs to be changed.
– USE YOUR MOTIVATION. If you push your inertial tendencies, they will usually be pushed back. It is much more important to do only those things whose reasons you understand and which are supported by your motivation.
– DO NOT SAW. Sawing (repetitive, annoying and useless reminders) is likely to cause resistance to the strategies you are trying to implement. A periodic reminder from another person can help you not to be distracted, but it should exactly match your personal difficulties and desires.
– MEDICAL TREATMENT. If you have a physical or mental illness that causes lethargy, it must be cured before you try to make progress. Take all your prescribed medications and rule out treatable diseases.
– STOP ATTEMPTS. If you just can’t start, then start doing something else. Try to do something completely different, if it is not something that you are stuck on again. Just do not forget after a while to try the previous task again.
– EASY TRANSITIONS. Highlight special short intervals of a certain length (for example, reading 3 more pages of text) before moving on to the next task.
– USE TRANSITIONS. Catch yourself in moments of transition so that you don’t have to completely stop doing something to start doing something new. (For example, start putting dishes in the sink when you come into the kitchen to drink).
– SELECT SMALL STEPS. Try to divide the task into parts, with each of which you can easily handle.
The above material – translation of the text Inertia. Personal experience.