The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. I would like to propose a similar but much more accurate statement: The successful get more successful and the rest can’t generate enough momentum to get out of the gate.
It’s all about momentum.
Momentum is very difficult to build. But once the human hamster wheel is spinning fast enough, it no longer needs as much force to keep it going. It’s physics. And it applies to our lives just as readily as it does to the lives of rodents. Unfortunately, some people’s hamster wheels are harder to propel than others.
Want a great example of momentum? Watch this video starting at 2:30:
Titan James Jean-Louis grabs the heavy ball and chain and builds the momentum to smoothly glide it across the floor. Derik Scott, on the other hand, tugs and tugs on it and the thing doesn’t budge. This is the perfect analogy for creating momentum in life. In essence, if we don’t keep pulling the ball and chain after the first bit of momentum is built, we end up tugging incessantly and never getting anywhere.
Now imagine if one of these titans has a 100-pound ball and the other has a 250-pound ball. It wouldn’t be fair then, right? Well, that is exactly what happens in life. And this is a fact that the self-improvement world does not adequately address.
So many self-improvement gurus dole out blanket encouragement and advice as if all people’s situations are the same. They are, by far, not. Here are two factors that can affect a person’s likelihood of success. If you happen to be a self-improvement writer (or if you know one), I encourage you to consider addressing these the next time you offer up advice.
Let’s imagine two people in Los Angeles are attempting to eat healthier. They both hope to string one day of healthy eating after another so they can become more mobile and less addicted to sugary foods. One person lives with a healthy roommate who stocks the fridge with organic vegetables. The other person lives with someone who buys gummy bears and Pringles in bulk at Costco.
It’s obvious which one of these people is most likely to be more successful. Sure, both could be successful and there are probably a few instances where the person in the unsupportive environment would succeed over the person in the healthy environment. However, for the most part, the person in the environment conducive to achieving their goal will be the successful one.
And what if the unsupportive roommate is also a Negative Nelly? It becomes even harder. In Psychology Today, Dr. Steven Stosny says, “Although we tend to think of them as purely internal phenomena, emotions are more contagious than any known virus and are transmitted subliminally to everyone in proximity.” So, if you don’t have a physically and emotionally supportive group of people around you, you’re less likely to achieve your goals.
In the example of our two people attempting to consume a healthier diet, if one spends most of their time around optimistic people, they’re more likely to persevere than the other who might spend most of their time with people who are angry, critical, or negative.
The people around us create an environment that can either help us build momentum or add weight to the ball and chain we already have to drag.
Struggles to overcome socioeconomic status
“The greater one’s income, the lower one’s likelihood of disease and premature death. Studies show that Americans at all income levels are less healthy than those with incomes higher than their own.” This quote is from a substantial document put out by the Urban Institute about how income is linked to health and longevity. I will summarize it in two words: It is.
Let’s revisit our two people working hard to eat a healthier diet. According to studies, if one of them has a higher income than the other, they are more likely to live longer and be healthier. That’s a difficult baseline to surmount.
Indulge me as I expand on this example: Let’s say Person A lives in a low-income neighborhood like South Central Los Angeles and has little to no access to healthy, fresh food.
Person A must travel 10 miles north to downtown Los Angeles to acquire fresh and healthy food. Unfortunately, Person A does not own a car and must bike three hours to the store 10 miles away to buy that food (1.5 hours each way). What if Person A works from 8 am-5 pm six days per week? That means this person must either leave their home at 5 am to get groceries before work or return home at 8 pm. What if it was dangerous for this person to be out in their neighborhood when it’s dark?
And what if this person were a caregiver for a younger sibling while a family member works a night shift? What if this person doesn’t even have the extra income to pay for the more expensive healthier food? What if this person lives in an environment where their cohabitants are unsupportive of healthy food choices? This is all assuming that this person has been educated in how their diet affects their health.
This is a long example, but this is important. The odds of any kind of success are stacked against those who don’t have resources.
In contrast, if middle-class Person B lives in the West Hollywood area of Los Angeles and wants to eat healthier, they can drive their car to a grocery store less than one mile away from their house, order delivery groceries, or hire a nutritionist.
The point is that Person A’s ball and chain weigh 250 pounds, while Person B’s ball and chain weigh 100 pounds, and they are competing at the same time in the same city.
Self-help gurus turn a blind eye
One problem with much of the self-improvement advice out there is that this inequity is not addressed. Self-improvement has a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality that many authors and gurus seem to apply equally to those with very different circumstances.
People who are lucky enough to have a community of positive and supportive friends and can afford a personal trainer, fresh, organic, healthy food, time off work to go to Pilates or go for a hike, electrolyte-filled alkaline water, supportive sneakers, and childcare are much, much more likely to achieve a goal of health than those without these resources.
The self-improvement industry is very, very biased. I have been guilty of this oversight as well (and I won’t be anymore). It’s not all about just getting up early and slaying the day. Some people wake up and drag a 100-pound ball and others wake up and drag a 250-pound ball. All things are not equal at the starting line.
These are just two factors that can influence a person’s trajectory to success. There are so many more. I can’t stress this enough — I encourage all of us to discuss all of them. All journeys are not the same. And no one person’s journey is the same as another’s.
It’s all about momentum. If we want to succeed, we must pile one small success on top of another until we reach the destination we have envisioned. I believe that, no matter what, we all can get to where we want to go. However, I urge you to understand that generating momentum does not look the same for everyone.
If you are a person in Los Angeles or anywhere else in the world who thinks you might have an easier time than others pulling your success ball and chain, reach out and take a few pounds off someone else — whether it’s helping out financially or simply offering a bit of emotional support. We are all in this together. Let’s try to make sure everyone gets to the finish line.