The Momentum Theorem

Yesterday was another incredible day at a The Catalyst Conference in Atlanta. We heard from Priscilla Shirer, Dave Ramsey, Chuck Swindoll, Louie Giglio, Margaret Feinberg, and Andy Stanley. I also spoke at Backstage Leadership’s luncheon event. Greg Darley, the CEO, interviewed me and then we took questions from the audience on life and leadership.

Photo courtesy of ©, Image #8954821

Photo courtesy of ©

The highlight of the day for me was Dave Ramsey’s talk. He outlined his “Momentum Theorem.” He displayed this as a mathematical formula, but here is the text version:

Focused intensity over time, multiplied by God, creates unstoppable momentum.”

He made the astute observation that “When you have momentum, you look better than you are. When you don’t have momentum you are better than you look.” This is worth memorizing. Trust me, some day you will need this. (Don’t ask me how I know!)

  1. Momentum requires focused intensity. When we get distracted by fear or greed, we lose focus. For example, the average career of a professional football player is 3.7 years. (This is why Dave says “NFL” stands for “not for long.”) Why is it that football players who are paid millions of dollars to do one thing—catch a football—often drop it under pressure? Because they lose focus. They hear footsteps (fear) or get ahead of themselves (greed) rather than focusing on doing the one thing that is important (execution).
  2. Momentum builds over time. We need to go back and read the story of the Tortoise and the Hare. This is a great fable about the importance of perseverance. When we look at success, it is easy to think it happens overnight. Occasionally this occurs, but it is rare. Malcolm Gladwell makes the point in Outliers that proficiency in anything requires an investment of about 10,000 hours. Even if we are slow and ugly—like a tortoise—we will succeed if we just stick with it.
  3. Momentum doesn’t happen without God. We can’t create momentum on our own. We can try; but we will fail. We need God if we are going to accomplish anything of lasting significance. We must plug into Him as our power source. God steps in as we step out. Luke 18:27 says, “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God” (NKJV).
  4. Momentum is unstoppable. Dave concluded by telling the story of Winston Churchill. In 1941, he was invited to give an address at Harrow School, his alma mater. In that brief speech, he said

    Never give in—never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

Dave finished his talk by making Churchill’s words personal and exhorting us to never quit. It was a stirring, powerful speech. It made me realize that the momentum theorem applies to every area of life: personal development, family life, church growth, and business success. I plan to print this theorem out, so I can have it as a constant reminder.

Question: Where have you seen Dave’s theorem at work in your own life?
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  • Debbie

    I needed to hear these words this morning. Slow and steady can sometimes be hard. I need momentum to never give up. And with the Lord's help I will never give up. Thanks for sharing what you've been learning at this conference. Great speakers!

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  • Joe Jenney

    Another good example of momentum is the life of Cornelius Vanderbilt. (See The First Tycoon by T.J. Stiles) Vanderbilt won time after time because he would not give up and eventually his competitors did give up. Of course he also conducted his life in such a way that he was able to avoid vulnerabilities that caught up with his competitors. Vanderbilt was also like the hare; he built his fortune slowly and carefully with incredible vision and ended up about 15 times richer than Bill Gates. His competitors lost because they tried to build too fast and took too much risk for their situation. Vanderbilt took even larger risks but was prepared to see them through.

  • Tasra Dawson

    Dave Ramsey's talk was also a favorite for me. We came home and shared the principles and ideas with our 14 year old daughter who had been reading Financial Peace earlier in the day.

    I love the concept of momentum. As an entrepreneurial family, we all tend to be the hare: excited about the next idea or project, often abandoning or focusing less on the stable of ideas already in progress. It's a challenge to be forging ahead, while fulfilling the role of the committed, focused tortoise.

    I'm thankful for your words and have bookmarked your notes so I can return to them when I start to get ahead of myself and off the beaten path. The experience was transforming for my husband and I. We are excited about the future and how we will implement what we heard and experienced!

    • Michael Hyatt

      I felt the same way about the conference. I was totally energized. It was especially fun attending wih my oldest daughter, Megan. She is a constant inspiration for me.

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  • KarlaAkins

    I needed this! As a 48 year old Mom, Grandma and writer, I need to know that it's okay to keep on like the tortoise toward my dreams! Sometimes the old enemy likes to whisper in my ear that it's taking too long, or that I need to just give up because I'm too old and I'm just wasting my time. But God gives me the grace to keep on one day at a time, one word at a time. I loved this post!

  • Patti

    Thanks for this!! I follow you on twitter and am constantly learning from you. Thanks for tweeting on "Momentum". and the link to your blog.Not being at Catalyst, how precious it is to get these nuggets of life changing wisdom! My husband is unemployed right now and considering his first entrepreneurial venture and I run my own piano studio. Always seeking God's wisdom and guidance. Thanks for "putting it out there"
    God Bless you Michael, keep blogging and tweeting.@happykeys88 (Patti in Portland Or)

  • patriciazell

    One of the biggest enemies of momentum is trying to do too much. We need to be careful of allowing an abundance of activity rob us of success. Setting priorities and continually assessing our progress can help to keep us focused and can help us maintain momentum. Personally, I have just paused in posting on my blog to keep momentum going with my students. I would love to be writing every day, but my students are my top priority. Sometimes, we have to make difficult decisions, but if we want to press into success, we need to clear our paths.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I agree. This is why I encourage people to create a not-to-do list. You can only make space for the things you want by eliminating the things you don’t want.

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  • Meredith Morgan

    Thank you for this. I agree that eliminating things that are not essential is step one. That frees up time and eliminates some areas of potential distraction. The intensity comes from the our desire to excel at whatever we are doing. The perseverance is a spiritual gift.

  • MariaKeckler

    A timely reminder for me as well. Thank you for taking the time to share it. For me, Dave's theorem is most evident in the calling to write and the writing journey and process. When I focus and write with authenticity and integrity in order to communicate a message I believe God has placed in my heart to share with others, I have momentum. When I look around and compare my ability or my platform with others’ that may be ahead of me, I begin to doubt my own message, its value, and my ability to deliver it.

    I too will print out the thereom and the points you have shared as a reminder during the journey.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I thought this, too. I think it really does apply to writers—and publishers for that matter!

  • @theCRICKETtoy

    Thank you so much for your post. With where I am right now with my 'fun little toy', this post could not come at a more perfect intersection.

    I can not believe I'm making notes about a blog post that are notes from someone else.

    This is EXACTLY why I read your blog.

    Thank you.


    • Michael Hyatt

      That is pretty funny! But thanks for your kind words!

  • David Turnbull

    I'm not sure if I agree with the need for "God" to achieve momentum because that leaves out a few million (billion?) people on the earth, but I agree with your other points. You've just got to be a boulder – make that first push, dislodge yourself and then roll. :-)

  • lhanthorn

    I have always enjoyed how Dave can put things that we all know into some real mind awakening, heart pumping words. As I think of the many of us who are seeking to build churches that will most likely NEVER become WIllow Creek or North Point yet by grace we faithfully do what the Lord has placed in front of us, His blessing will build Kingdom momentum. (Luke 9:62). Praise God for all the Tortoises!

  • Kathleen Couch

    Thank you for sharing from Catalyst. I won two tickets from you. I have a broken kneecap, but thought I could still handle going. However, after a few outings, I realized I was still swelling quite a bit, and could sometimes be quite uncomfortable. So I gave my tickets away.
    :( My pastor, and the Philippine pastor that uses our church attended on Thur. Then on Friday, my pastor could not go, so the Philippine pastor went, and took another pastor friend.
    My pastor said it was fantastic, and he was really blessed to be able to go. Even though I would have liked to go myself, it really excites me to think how many people it could touch because of these pastors being able to attend Catalyst 09.
    Thank you so much, and I pray the Lord continues to bless your work!

    • Michael Hyatt

      I'm sorry you didn't get to go. Maybe next year. It was one of the best conferences I have ever attended!

  • @colleencoble

    What a great post! I used to write down goals and that practice kind of fell into disuse. I started it again after the ACFW conference when Debbie Macomber talked about goal setting. It's so easy to lose focus

  • Keith

    3. Momentum doesn’t happen without God. We can’t create momentum on our own. We can try; but we will fail."

    This one is tough to swallow. I'm going to have to tell all my non-religious friends who have made millions on self-started businesses that they're not really successful, they (and their accountants) just *think* they are.

    • Michael Hyatt

      From Dave's perspective and mine, success and momentum involve far moire than mere financial success. I have none plenty of people whose accountants were happy but whose spouse and children were miserable.

  • @davidteems

    This is a very clarifying post. I came to Franklin in 2002, after 20+ years of making a decent living in music (I was also writing and studying the craft of writing, but only in the margins of my life, not the center. Music was in center). In 2001, I decided that the desire of my heart was more literary than anything else. I can look back and see a natural evolution (and am grateful).

    To make a long story a bit shorter, I came here and slowly backed off the road, to pursue a hot nagging dream. I sat for long hours daily to pursue writing as a living, sitting in obscurity, basically broke, hacking away first at a devotional, then a novel, tearing a hole in the typical work/income model, getting whatever income I could make here or there, being driven by raw naked belief (BTW, you feel very alone, and often rather stupid). But Nelson did a devotional of mine in 2005 [TO LOVE IS CHRIST]. I have an agent, another book coming out from Harvest House in June 2010, and two books from Thomas Nelson in 2011.

    The price was costly, but the contentment is deep and satisfying. And I see evidence of the divine as well. For the first time in my life, I can't wait to get at my desk in the morning. I am steeped in anticipation and a kind of joy that somehow finds its way to the pages. I am convinced of that.

    Momentum is right. And when all the finer elements collide and agree, as Dave suggested, not only does God amplify and expand, but gets glory out of it as well. I hope this doesn't sound dumb, pretentious, or anything else, I just know, having experienced it, this post to be true. As one of your own editors might have said, "spot on."

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for this. Wow. You are also one of the finest singer-songwriter's I know. I can't listen to you without tearing up! That's why I SO admire you courage in walking away from that (mostly) to pursue your heart's true passion in writing. And, I have to say you are one of the best wordsmith's I know. I am honored that you are also my friend.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for this. Wow. You are also one of the finest singer-songwriters I know. I can't listen to you without tearing up! That's why I SO admire you courage in walking away from that (mostly) to pursue your heart's true passion in writing. And, I have to say you are one of the best wordsmith's I know. I am honored that you are also my friend.

  • David Teems

    Who makes who tear up? Thanks, I'm ruined for the moment. I guess I'll go walk the dog.

    • IUC 5100

      Yeah, that is always a better option david.

  • Andrea

    this post reminds me of the book I'm currently reading: "The Dip" by Seth Godin.
    "Focused intensity over time" is exactly what you need in a "dip".
    However, the point of Godin's book is that you're not always in a "dip" that will lead you to success, but you can also encounter a "cul-de-sac".
    So, I'd like to ask you: how do you choose the project, the relationship, the job on which apply "focused intensity over time"?

  • Greg Darley

    Thanks Michael for everything this week. I thought the Backstage Leadership lunch was awesome. The feedback has been great!

  • Dennis

    Thank you for sharing.

    Having come from a broken home I find I did not learn a lot about success. Posts like this give me insight and a lot to think about as I look to the future with the hope that what's ahead can be better than what's behind. I have long felt that I was stuck on a treadmill; running but going no place. In this and other posts the Lord has used you to help me see how others move where I have not.

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  • Brian

    This is a interesting topic and I am glad I found it. I am in the long process of starting over after having lost almost everything through an unfortunate chain of events. Sometimes God blesses you with a flood to wipe out your unyielding crop for you so that you can cultivate what will provide true nourishment. I felt as though I had wasted alot of time during my 20's so last year I returned to school to finish my degree and will start grad school in june when I will be persuing my MBA. Because of the fact that I feel I have wasted so much time to begin with I struggle with the fact that I feel no sence of accomplishment, since its overshadowed by thoughts of "well I should have done this already" and of course since comming to Christ I also feel guilty as I am not appriciating God's blessing, although unintentional.

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  • Robert Ewoldt

    Did you ever review Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “Outliers”? I’ve heard a lot about it, including this 10,000 hours theory, and am wondering if I should read it (or is that the only good bit that came out of it?).

    • Michael Hyatt

      It is a great book, but I have not reviewed it here.

  • Robert Ewoldt

    By the way, I love Dave Ramsey. I’ve been listening to him for over a year now, and have been going through his debt-freedom process (the Baby Steps). It is so encouraging to be debt-free, and be working with my wife in our finances, and to have unity of mind in that regard.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Dave is awesome. He is a personal friend. He really walks his talk.

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