Overcoming Inertia in Research

Overcoming Inertia in Research

A simple law of physics states that a non-moving object has a tendency to remain immobile. Conversely, an object in motion is easier to maintain in its current state of movement (Katsikadelis, 2015). Newton’s Law of Motion also applies to researchers. Maintaining motion helps balance the range of emotions commonly felt throughout the research process, including motivation, frustration, excitement, and boredom. The key to a successful research journey is finding ways of maintaining momentum while decreasing the possibility of reaching a state of inertia.

Getting Started

Starting a research project requires a series of tasks that focus on generating movement. Zhang (2014) recommended that researchers should “design a project with an ultimate paper firmly in mind” (p. 1). The goal is to create a solid foundation on which to build the project, as the researcher moves through the process. Read on for suggestions on getting started.

Select a Topic Wisely

Choosing a research topic starts with reading the current scholarly literature related to the topic of interest. It is important to find out what is currently known about this topic and what problems or questions remain unanswered. Researchers should make a point to read the Suggestions for Future Research section found in every journal article. Exploring topics that are of interest helps to sustain attentiveness during the normal ups-and-downs experienced during any research project.

Develop a Support Network

A support network can help sustain and even increase motion. Agilar et al. (2013) conducted personal interviews with 84 participants, posing questions related to mentoring, collaborating, establishing professional networks, and the effects of these resources on research productivity. Results indicated that researchers with a diverse network of contacts favorably increased access to materials and increased the potential for new skill attainment. A further caveat gleaned from the results was that it is important that the contact network include not only experts providing professional knowledge, but also include family and friends providing the needed emotional support (Aguilar et al., 2013).

Joining one of the 10 University of Phoenix Research Centers offers each of the key support option: mentors, collaboration, and a source to build professional networks.

Set Short-Term Goals

Setting goals directly affects motivation. “When people are committed to goals, they focus attention on those goals, exert effort, develop strategies, and persist in pursuit of their objective” (Bateman & Barry, 2012, p. 986). In his classic work on leading change, Kotter (1996) emphasized the need to set short-term milestones and celebrate these goal achievements. This recommendation also works for the research process. Create specific, measureable goals for every stage of process development: creating the proposal, securing IRB approval, recruiting participants, collecting data, analyzing data, and writing the article or dissertation. Reaching each milestone should maximize the feeling of accomplishment.

Choose a Mindset

Combining a positive self-fulfilling prophecy with one component of the FISH™ Philosophy – Choose Your Attitude – becomes the cornerstone for creating an optimistic mental outlook (Inspirational Coaching, 2016). Remaining upbeat, enthusiastic, and confident make the research journey a more pleasurable experience. In a blog about maximizing potential, Canfield (2016), author of Chicken Soup for the Soul, recommended the use of daily visualization and affirmation techniques to accelerate achievement.

Maintaining Momentum

While launching a research project can seem like the most daunting aspect of a project at the outset, researchers often get held up in the day-to-day maintenance of continuing and completing research, otherwise known as momentum.

Similar to our everyday lives, the research journey rarely moves on a straight path. There are always steep hills, hairpin curves, and monotonous stretches to overcome along the way. Some proven ways to keep the momentum alive are included below.

Generate Contingency Plans

Seminal research by Axelrod (1967) provided clear confirmation for the existence of Murphy’s Law: if something can go wrong, it will. Validity of the principle continues to this day, as evidenced by speaking to anyone who has ever attempted a research project. It is therefore very important for researchers to have contingency plans in place. Proactively developing contingency plans allows the researcher to quickly and effectively handle unwanted situations that potentially impact research outcomes. A few situations that require contingency plans are poor recruitment results, research venue changes, inability to secure permission for survey usage, and change in the researcher’s availability schedule.

Establish a Daily Writing Schedule

Working adults manage multiple priorities in order to achieve balance in their lives. Incorporating research into an already busy schedule creates challenges. One way that some researchers attempt to overcome the challenge is to become weekend warriors – relegating the writing aspect to the weekend period. As a rule, this does not work; the tendency is to procrastinate and choose to do almost anything else other than writing, leading to even further delays. A better choice is to set aside a small amount of time each day to devote to writing. A simple comparison shows the advantages of this choice: writing for one hour a day for five days equals five hours of work with a reduced daily time commitment. It is probably rare that a researcher would prefer to allocate five hours of a weekend day to writing. Referring once again to Murphy’s Law, if the researcher chooses to defer writing to solely on weekends, the meteorological chances of Saturday and Sunday having beautiful weather exponentially increases with the time commitment allocated to writing on those days.

Create Balance

Tayfun and Çatir (2014) explored the possible correlation between work/life balance and organizational commitment. Their findings established a positive correlation between having a greater commitment to the organization if the employee creates a healthy balance between work and personal life. These results may also apply to work/life balance and commitment to a research project. Researchers who allocate sufficient time and balance in all of their life commitments will most likely not experience burnout in any one area. Flexibility should be factored into the mix, so that time for total relaxation is available.

Focus on the End Goal

While setting short-term goals is important, as noted above, it is also important to find comfort in the positive impact of the long-term outcomes of your work. Long-term goals arguably are at least as important as short-term goals in their ultimate consequences for individuals…” (Bateman & Barry, 2012, p. 1002). A marathon runner once noted that by focusing on the end goal rather than the foot pain and other discomforts, she was able to finish the race (Holmes, 2011). Researchers need to heed the same advice. Focusing on the completed research and the resulting article or dissertation makes the current irritations more bearable.


The initiative and stamina needed to begin and ultimately complete the research journey successfully is sometimes daunting. Overcoming inertia and maintaining momentum are vital requirements. While there are no guarantees regarding the research results, following the guidelines presented here can serve as a blueprint for crafting a successful research process.



Aguilar, S. M., Ynalvez, M. A., Kilburn, J. C. Hara, N., Ynalvez, R. A., Chen, K-H., & Kamo, Y. (2013). Research productivity of East Asian scientists: Does cosmopolitanism in professional networking, research collaboration, and scientific conference attendance matter? Asia-Pacific Social Science Review, 13(2), 41-62.

Axelrod, J. N. (1967, September). A validation of Murphy’s Law. Journal of Advertising Research, 7(3), 45-47.

Bateman, T. S., & Barry, B. (2012, October). Masters of the long haul: Pursuing long-term work goals. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 33(7), 984-1006.

Canfield, J. (2016). Visualize and affirm your desired outcomes: A step-by-step guide. Retrieved from http://jackcanfield.com/visualize-and-affirm-your-desired-outcomes-a-step-by-step-guide/

Holmes, T. E. (2011, May). Runner’s high. Black Enterprise, 41(10), 112-114.

Inspirational Coaching (2016). What are the 4 FISH principles? Retrieved from www.icoachu.com.au/fish/fish-principles.php.

Katsikadelis, J. (2015). Derivation of Newton’s law of motion using Galileo’s experimental data. Acta Mechanica, 26(9), 3195-3204.

Kotter, J. P. (1996). Leading change. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Tayfun, A., & Çatir, O. (2014, January). An empirical study into the relationship between work/life balance and organizational commitment. The Journal of Industrial Relations & Human Resources, 16(1), 20-37.

Zhang, W. (2014, January). Ten simple rules for writing research papers. PLoS Computational Biology, 10(1), 1-3.


Raymond	Delaney Jr.'s picture Raymond Delaney Jr. | December 20, 2016 3:30 pm MST

I enjoyed this blog. Easy read and a refresher. 

James Rice's picture James Rice | December 6, 2017 9:06 pm MST

Hi Pam,

I enjoyed the post. The discussion on short-term goals was valuable for me. I can sometimes get "stuck" because the task is large enough and the path fuzzy enough that I don't always take the time to make the small and steady steps in the right direction. Short-term goals is key to making progress and the plan is an essential enabler to making steady progress without getting off on tangents.

Thanks for the great post.