January 27, 2015

7 Life and Money Lessons Learned from Physics

Read more about Financial Literacy Month

The term "applied physics" can take on a whole new meaning when we look beyond the textbooks and formulas. There is more we can learn from the laws of physics by applying them to our daily lives. By transferring the discipline to a host of everyday matters – our well-being, our financial situation, our workplace – we can look for ways to make improvements and live a better life.

Here are a few life and money lessons we can learn from physics.

Newton's Cradle.jpg
Newton's Cradle.jpg © Sheila Sund (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

1. Objects at rest stay at rest.

In the 1600s, English physicist Sir Isaac Newton wrote his influential book on three basic laws governing bodies in motion, the first of which was: A stationary body will stay stationary unless an external force is applied. Take this concept literally, and you’ll suddenly feel a need to check your waistline and think about that dormant gym membership. Not exercising is habit forming; take a couple of days off and before you know it, you haven’t done it in months. Fortunately, there are tips, offered by psychologists, for fighting inertia and making exercise a habit instead.

2. Momentum is mass in motion.

On the other end of the spectrum from inertia is motion. The mass of the object in motion and its velocity determine its momentum. Financial analysts have latched onto this scientific term to describe stocks that are hot and on a rising trend. Active investors always try to capitalize on any upward trend, but it presents many risks unless you know what you’re doing and are careful. Experts say there are five things to consider about momentum stocks, including planning for an exit strategy.

Related: Compound Interest

3. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

This is another of Newton’s laws. The idea that an action sets off a reaction is not just true in physics, it’s true in the stock market as well. It’s what leads to precipitous plummets when investors overreact. While it’s a fool’s game to try to time the market – and try to make sense of how the bulk of investors are going to react to every piece of news that companies report – it does pay to regularly adjust your portfolio depending on the overall state of the market during a stretch of time (not on a day-to-day basis).

4. Friction

Friction causes objects that rub against each other to slow down; it’s a force that holds back movement. No wonder we use that term to describe conflict, especially in the office where conflict among team members can bring any project to a slow or sometimes swift halt. Be aware of the potential for needless stalls to important projects by trying to resolve disputes before they come to a friction-filled peak. These 10 tips for conflict resolution will help keep everyone back on a smooth, frictionless track.

5. Hot air rises and takes up more space.

When something is hot, it expands because its molecules are further apart. Hot air takes up more space. We’ve all experienced this in meetings, when the office know-it-all talks on and on, sucking up all the oxygen in the room. Using traditional meeting management techniques can be helpful, but there’s a whole other thinking that can keep everyone in the room feeling cooler: the standup meeting. Stanford Business School professor Bob Sutton suggests some meetings run no longer than 15 minutes; with everyone on their feet, they have more incentive to keep their words to a minimum and focus on the task at hand.

6. There is a boiling point, and it is predictable.

In the simplest of terms, the boiling point is the temperature at which a liquid boils and turns to vapor. We all have our own indicator when we feel our stress level begin to rise and the boiling point is imminent. Once the boiling happens, we may say crazy things we regret later and all hopes of making progress – particularly in a work setting – dramatically decrease. It’s a complicated matter to identify when each person’s boiling point is about to rise, but most of us can predict when our own is about to be reached. The trick to stopping the bubbles from forming is diversion. Once you get that feeling, focus on other matters – such as by using these tips garnered from yoga – and you’ll be able to keep your wits about you.

7. Potential energy is stored energy waiting to happen.

Physicists refer to the force in a compressed spring as “potential energy.” If you release the spring (think of a Jack-in-the-box), you release a burst of energy. LinkedIn is an example of potential professional energy, but you have to harness it before you realize its potential. Use these tips to avoid LinkedIn blunders and optimize its benefits for your professional image.

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