A Tale of Two Forces

Don't fight force with force.

You've heard that before, right?

For a long time I’ve been intrigued by how on earth to do it.

I don’t know martial arts, so I’ve only spent time trying to understand this somewhat intellectually and not at all physically.


First, definitions.

  • Internal forces: Forces that come from inside you. Your actions are driven from the inside out.

  • External forces: Forces that comes from outside you. Your actions are driven from the outside in.

These forces can lead to three situations:

  • If external forces are greater than internal ones: You are in a reactive stance.

  • If internal forces are greater than external ones: You are in a proactive stance.

  • If the forces are equal: You are balanced.

This gets really interesting when you add some very simple math to it.

  • Scenario 1: Internal forces are at 10, and external forces are also at 10. This is a balanced state, where the total forces at play add up to 20.

  • Scenario 2: Internal forces are at 20, and external forces are also at 20. This is again a balanced state, except this time, the total forces at play add up to 40.

Both scenarios are balanced but the second has more tension than the first.

Ok enough abstract talk, let’s get real.

Let's talk about children having tantrums. Even if you don't have children, you can replace children with adults in your lives and the same rules apply. Adults have tantrums too.

I’ve mentioned before that my wife and I have young children. At the time of writing this they are almost four and a little over six.

On a daily basis, one of them will throw a tantrum. The reasons can vary from me giving one the wrong coloured cereal bowl to one of them not getting enough warning before needing to go up to bed. Apparently 30 minutes is too little warning.

Anyway. A child’s tantrum is the perfect example of an external force.

Quick aside - The constant repetitions of tantrums is most certainly the reason why I’m even exploring this question of forces.

So let’s suppose your child is having a tantrum. What are your options?

Let’s look at this from the point of view of forces.

Option 1: Generate an internal force of equal measure, with the goal of neutralizing the external force, or reaching balance.

For me, this often plays out most commonly as getting angry. My child yells (external force), so I also yell (generate an internal force to match the external one). It’s common that in my attempt to reach a balanced state, I yell at them to stop yelling. Both useless and utterly hypocritical.

If I choose this path, there is a possibility of the force being neutralized, though, more likely, it will only cause the force to increase (child yells more), which in turn, prompts me to increase my own force. A vicious cycle that basically leads nowhere good.

Option 2: Be a tree.

In other words, do nothing and wait for the tantrum to subside.

This can be very, very hard. You basically have to somehow have the patience of a tree waiting for spring, while enduring increasingly strong winds. It's very possible, and again, very hard. Depending on whether this tantrum is a force of 20 or a force of 40, it might make it a bit easier, but it's still hard.

Before I share the third option, I want to note an important point about the forces I'm discussing here.

In this post, I am not referring to the concept of physical forces (ignoring the idea that children might throw things at you or try to hit you if they're having a tantrum).

Instead, I am suggesting that the forces being discussed here are entirely psychological. They may lead to physical actions or reactions, but their root is psychological.

So, option 3: Lessen the force.

So your child is having a tantrum. An external force comes at you. Let's say by the normal definition of a tantrum, this is a bad one. Let's give it a force of 50.

This option involves choosing to remember that despite how seemingly strong the external force is, it is psychological. Which means, as strange as it sounds, you actually have the power to reduce it just by thinking.

Quick aside - I am oversimplifying this a ton and leaving a lot unsaid about thinking. Hopefully it will lead you to ask some important questions of yourself, like how do you think of something as being lesser than it is?

Just by thinking of it as lesser, you could reduce the force of 50 to a force of ... whatever you want.

I'm not suggesting you can immediately get it down to zero, although perhaps, with enough repetition, you could do that too.


The magic of this option, lies in its ability to reduce the overall tension at play. Again, the math here is simple:


Child's tantrum = external force of 50

  • Option 1: Attempt to neutralize by generating an internal force of equal measure = Overall tension is at 100.

  • Option 2: Attempt to be patient like a tree waiting for spring and let the tantrum pass = Overall tension is at 50.

  • Option 3a: Think of the force as being lesser than it is, let's say 20, and then choose option 1 = Overall tension is at 40.

  • Option 3b: Think of the force as being lesser than it is, and then choose option 2 = Overall tension is at 20.

So, where do we go from here?

Next time you encounter an external force, just take a moment to consider your options.