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Newton's Third Law

By Michelle Shires
Posted on: 4/1/2008

Michelle Shires explains how a simple law of the universe, one that actually exists and you have probably heard of, can be an extraordinary self-development tool. Trust me.

Be Careful What You Wish For: Using Newton’s Third Law to Enhance Your Life

When I was in my mid-twenties I developed a debilitating disease. It hit me like a ton of bricks. And the doctors told me they could find no cure.

I lay in bed in a stupor. Now what? What would I do? My nose leaked a disgusting fluid. When it wasn’t coming out and down my face, I could feel it sliding down the back of my throat.

There was a blockage in my lungs and a pressure on my chest. No matter how hard I coughed I found no relief. I felt hot and then cold. I could not regulate my body’s temperature. And I ached. Even my skin hurt.

I finally had to admit it to myself. I was sick. I had to take that in. I had to own it. I felt a deep depression begin to well up inside. It started small but grew like a tsunami. The Earth had slipped. I was sick. And now the tsunami of understanding what that meant was rising inside of me. I lay in bed and cried. I wallowed.

Friends and family visited. Well-wishers. They begged me to stay positive. Eventually, however, I found myself alone again with my illness. I could only swallow liquids by this point; my throat was swelling so much.

On the fourth day of my illness I found acceptance. “This is real,” I told myself. I am sick. My job could go to hell. My friends and family could go to hell. I am sick. I stopped trying to get up to get the mail or any other small task. I would just lie in bed; wither away. I slept a deep and peaceful sleep.

On the sixth day I woke to find that I could eat and swallow toast! My throat was no longer swollen. I got out of bed and knew that my lungs were clear. My temperature was normal. I was cured!

I could not comprehend the miracle that I had stumbled upon. I was thankful, of course, but confused also. My confusion soon turned to curiosity. I decided to take the rest of the week off from work in an attempt to decipher just what had happened in the last six days of my life.

I studied the ways of shaman and the mystics. I studied chemistry to see if the combination of chicken soup and Sprite had caused The Cure. I sought out others who had been sick and survived, but they had no answers. I was completely lost, incapable of understanding what I knew to be a great power at work. I gave up.

By complete accident I came to learn about the great Isaac Newton. I was watching television and a show came on about this physicist who studied motion. He was the one with the apple. Forbidden Fruit. As I watched, I felt all the locked doors of the Universe simultaneously opening. But it was not until I learned about his Third Law that I fully understood.
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Newton’s Third Law of Motion

Newton’s Third Law of Motion states: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Think about firing a gun. The action of firing the bullet forward results in the reaction of the gun and your body jolting backwards. Simple mathematics. With this in mind, I also realized that the act of my wishing, for example, to be out of debt can only lead (by the pure fact of the laws of physics) to even more debt. The harder I wish, the more debt. We have all experienced this. We have all wished to be out of debt only to find ourselves further in the hole. We’ve had the best intentions and have even pictured what we would do in the future to stay debt free. But are we?

According to Newton’s Third Law of Motion, just the action of wishing to be out of debt will worsen our debt. The action of wishing will cause an equal and opposite reaction of Not-Getting.

Wishing: Not Just Useless but Dangerous

Sometimes we see that the harder one wishes for something, the worse the results will be. There is an old tale about a couple that is visited by a fairy that promises to grant three wishes. Actually, they wished her into existence, so really they should have only had two wishes. But, one for practice, the fairy gave them three wishes. The couple blundered it so much that at one point in the story the wife views her future rich, but wearing black pudding on her nose.[1] If the universe (symbolized by the Fairy) was all knowing, a wish (even three) wouldn’t be necessary. But the universe is Not-Knowing. (And Fairies are tricky business). So our wishes become confusions in their results. The more energy put into confused wishes, the more of a mess our lives become.

The Iroquois have a saying that translates roughly, “the hardest wishes are heard by Old Terra Muckyhawk.” Old Terra Muckyhawk[2] was a Trickster. He was bitter about his marriage to a Pighead Turtle. Not only was his wife not attractive to him, but also she lived most of her life in water. Old Mucky Terrahawk was made of mud. He had a wife who was unattractive and he couldn’t make love to her for fear he would dissipate in the water of her life. Because of this, he was committed solely to screwing up any wishes that came his way.

Wishing for something actually causes great detriment to your own progress. I am not suggesting that magical thinking is problematic. Denial, for example, is often given a bad rap in therapy. However, denial is a spectacular form of magical thinking, and one of the hardest to achieve when you set your mind to it. Wishing is not only useless, but dangerous, because of the very real physics involved. Remember: every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Do you really want to set that law of physics into motion against you?

An example of how simply you can see Newton’s Third Law of motion in action; try this: Remember the last time you had a great disappointment. Perhaps you worked very hard for an entire month on a project. You never missed a day’s work. You took work home with you or you stayed late in the office to finish. Coworkers gave you high fives and congratulated you on your brilliance. You believed them, and knew that the next promotion was yours. You went to sleep every night for a week visualizing your new position, your new car, your new life. And on the day of reckoning, a colleague not as good as you, got the promotion. Hmm. What came of your positive thinking, and your intentions, huh?

It’s simple. All of your thought, in fact, all of that action forward toward your future caused, through Newton’s Third Law of Motion, the equal and opposite reaction. This is the recoil of your endeavors. This is not the result of some Iroquois Trickster working. Your own positive thinking and action got in your way.
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Flailing in Space

There are moments in our lives when we find ourselves lost. Sometimes we expect to feel a bit lost, like when we are learning a new skill or when we are traveling to a new place. But other times these moments sneak up on us and we feel even more lost because of the sneakiness of it all. We may feel momentarily lost or we may feel demonstrably lost. In that place, there is an existential truth that we all must face. When we are lost we are all just flailing in space.

There is an order to the universe and to the Earth and even to the roads that we travel. But when we are flailing in space, we can’t seem to find that order. Everything seems to be working against us and we can’t seem to get a foothold to save ourselves. It may seem very difficult to locate an inner compass to find our way. It happens to the best of us. No matter how hard one prepares for life, life is often different-headed about things. This is because life follows the same laws as the universe. Life really is the universe, you know.

In 1966 a very educated and prepared man got in a rocket ship and was propelled into space. He had trained for years for this very moment. Others had been in space already. But in space they played. He was going to try working up there. When the rocket ship entered a safe orbit, Gene Cernan[3] left the ship, tied with a rope and attempted to work on the ship from the outside. I have seen films of this. The rope looked like a white umbilical cord. And Cernan looked like the Michelin Man floating in the blackness of space. He said he felt like “a million bucks” upon his initial departure from the ship. But very soon things changed.

In the film that I saw it was obvious that Gene Cernan, as determined as he was to work in space, was actually flopping around and banging against the side of the ship. It looked awful.

He spoke about it later and described the experience. He said that when he turned a knob his body began to turn and wouldn’t stop. If he tried to brace himself against the ship he was pushed away and floated out of reach of the work that he was trying to do. Every action that he made caused an equal and opposite reaction that left him lost and out of control in the vast, cold universe. I’m sure we can all relate, in one way or another, to Cernan’s frustration. No matter how he tried he did not have enough control to do the slightest thing.

Upon his return to Earth a team of specialists were assembled to determine the exact nature of the problem. What they found was that they had forgotten completely about Newton’s Third Law of Motion. These great scientists had underestimated the universe and the importance of observing all of its laws. Cernan had demonstrated perfectly the Third Law. Every action that he made towards his progress caused an equal and opposite reaction against that progress. He was literally flailing in space. Usually, on Earth, we have a little helper called Gravity that buffers us, to an extent, from the Third Law. But in space, there is no gravity to help, so Cernan was like a little marshmallow ball in a pinball machine. Each time he hit something he moved until he hit something else. Had he not been pulled in I imagine he would still be up there bouncing off of all the stars in the galaxy.

Dean Kamen, physicist, engineer and inventor of the Segway Human Transporter, put it best when he said, “The greatest idea in the world; if it requires that you violate Newton’s Laws; that great elegant idea is going to see the brutal reality of the laws of nature. It won’t work.”[4]

Even the most brilliant scientists and successful inventors, in the end, find themselves bowing to the Third Law. But just what makes these people brilliant and successful is not only that they observe the Third Law. It is that they use it to further their own inquiry and inventions. They don’t just view the Third Law passively, simply acknowledging its power. They harness the power of the Third Law and use it to more fully understand the universe and to create brilliant things like the Segway. These people aren’t willy-nilly about the Third Law. They understand its intricacies and its behavior and they respect it. This is why they receive awards and accolades.


So often small things happen to us that are disappointing or even hurtful. These things are painful and we would like to cry or smash someone’s car window. When we express our confusion to our loved ones they say, “it will all be ok,” or “suck it up,” or “keep a stiff upper lip.” I don’t even know what “keep a stiff upper lip“ means, because it’s the lower lip that shivers in the wake of crushing blows. But in any case, has it ever worked? Have any of these statements, or frames of mind, actually worked to make you feel better? If you have ever said these things to another, have they ever come back to thank you later?

We are taught to belittle our sufferings. So many suffer more than we do, after all. People are starving in Darfur; war is raging in Iraq. These tragedies are real. But so are our lives. We cry and suffer alone, in silence. The we of our sufferings are not heard. On a personal level, and on a cosmic level, this is not OK. No one should be ignored. This ignore-ance is the root of so much that is wrong in this world. Most civil liberties leaders will tell you that ignorance is the root of all intolerance, prejudice and suffering in the world.

Instead of belittling our suffering, as we have been taught to do, we should embellish. Catastrophize your suffering!

If you have a headache, imagine it is an aneurism. It is encephalopagy. It is an incurable disease that you will have to live with until you die. Except, while you wait to die, you will have to be studied and probed. You will endure many invasive and nasty tests. Your privacy will end. Every sex partner that you have ever had will have to be found, interviewed and surveyed regarding your personal sexual habits and abilities.

When one puts all of one’s thoughts and energies into the terrible things, symptoms, diseases, aneurisms, that are occurring in one headache, according to Newton’s Third Law of Motion, greater health will result. This has been shown over and over in so many real life circumstances that I cannot list them all. I am sure you have experienced this in your own life. You were sure that you had a serious ailment. You thought about it, worried about it, and found out it was only a yeast infection. It happens all the time.
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
For all the amount of the action of worry there is the equal and opposite reaction of relief. It’s true. I have just illustrated how this occurs. Catastrophize any event and you will find great relief in the occurrence of the actual event. Thus a headache, imagined as an aneurism, will result most often, as not an aneurism.

Lower Your Expectations

Have you ever known someone who found something wrong with every single person that she met? Single people often find themselves missing out on possible mates due to their high expectations of what they want in a mate. He’s too tall. She’s too fat. He doesn’t make enough money. She’s got a screechy voice. All this nit-picking only leads to one thing. We find ourselves alone and wishing we weren’t.

But the more we wish we weren’t alone, the more we will be. In fact, the more we fantasize about “The One,” the less likely we will be to find that person. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. If we wish to marry Johnny Depp[5], we most certainly will not.

You know this instinctively to be true. You have had that awkward moment when your friend comes off as desperate and you have to witness the train wreck that occurs. Sure, it’s kind of funny. Sure, it’s entertaining, and makes you feel better about yourself. All that aside, his over-the-top actions are what pushed the possible mate away. If positive thinking worked, stalking would be considered valid and appropriate courting behavior. But it is not. And positive thinking doesn’t work. So what does?

Lower your expectations. Actively search for someone who is less than attractive, not such a smarty and unemployed. Just this action alone should jump start that old Third Law into motion. Date a short man. Look for a baldy. Maybe you can find a woman who is missing some teeth and has a couple kids.

I knew a couple when I lived Borneo[6] who were desperately trying to have a baby. Sarah and Thomas had been married for four years. Both had amazing careers. She was an ethnobotonist. He was a cryptozoologist. They met each other on a lark, both attending a lecture on the cultural downfall of the Bonobo apes[7], which really had nothing to do with either of their fields. They fell madly in love and have been together ever since. No one on this Earth deserves to be parents more than they. But unfortunately, nothing much was happening for them. After trying for two years, after numerous doctor visits and fertility treatments, Sarah and Thomas had to accept that they could not have a child together. They decided to adopt, and found a beautiful little girl who they named Neplokho, which means “not too bad” in Russian[8].

But their story does not end there. A few months after I had dinner at their home to meet little Neppi, I received a lovely card from Sarah and Thomas. Sarah had become pregnant and would be due in six months! I called them immediately: “But I had thought that Sarah’s cervix was damaged due to a bout of Chlamydia when she was in her teens,” I said.

“It was! It was!” Thomas said excitedly. But somehow, they were able to conceive. The baby was healthy, and in six and a half months Neppi welcomed her little brother Todd into the world, with open arms.

After months of fertility treatments and disappointments, most couples who adopt find themselves pregnant very soon after. The amazing thing is, a whopping 89% of couples become pregnant within three months after they adopt![9] Is this an example of the universe and it’s abundance? No! These couples had simply lowered their expectations. There was no more pressure to conceive. Not expecting much from each other sexually yielded brilliant results!

When we lower our expectations we actually create more potential for positive change in our lives. The action of lowering our expectations creates an equal and opposite reaction of raising our possibilities.

When we are in debt we naturally feel that our possibilities are limited. We cannot buy a new car because of our debt. We cannot buy a new house because of our debt. Thinking this way is just the first step in observing the Third Law, and we do it automatically! Just applying oneself a little further can make a world of difference.

Instead of expecting that one day you will be debt free, realize you will probably never be debt free. Accept where you are now financially and expect to be in even worse shape by the end of the year. With that attitude you can see you are actually doing pretty well right now. It’s a relief, isn’t it?

When debt collectors call — don’t screen those calls. Answer! Get to know these people by name. Consider them Newton’s Angels calling to keep you focused on the mess you’ve made of your life and your spiraling downfall. But don’t be ashamed. Shame signals to the universe that you expect more from yourself. To fully observe the Third Law we must keep our expectations for ourselves low. It is only from lowered expectations that we are able to rise.

The great guru, Rama Rishi[10], once said, “If you are standing on a mountain the only place to go is down.” You can see the wisdom in this, I’m sure.

It’s Not Just a River in Egypt

Popular thought dictates that we need to be aware and in the moment all the time. There appears to be some sense of urgency to “Know everything” on a cosmic level — to Know with a capital K. The wisdom of denial is thrown out, and it becomes a dirty word.

But think of all the things you know. Do it. Right now, think of all the things that you know. It isn’t pleasant, is it? I bet there are plenty of things you wish you didn’t know. That’s understandable. Knowledge is overrated. All the things you know can make your head heavy. Like Wobbley-Headed Bob[11] you go through life weighed down by all the things you know. You become distracted. You bump into things.

Seeking not to know goes against everything we’ve learned, right? Right. But think of this: when we were at our most pure we were babies. As babies we knew nothing. And when we die we will know nothing again. We are closest to the Universe at these two points in our lives. The Universe also knows nothing. To be at one with the Universe we must join it in its Not-Knowing.

Just as there are times you must clean out your computer’s hard drive, there are times to purge your own knowledge of things. This is one of those times. The ancient Mayans practiced this. They would write the stuff that they didn’t want to know anymore on pieces of paper and then burn those pieces of paper in a big gold pot.[12] There were very wise people in the 1960’s who achieved Not-Knowing by simple uses of various drugs.[13] Vikings sent their thoughts out on boats specifically designed for their forgetting.[14] Meditation can be good practice towards Not-Knowing. It doesn’t matter how you achieve Not-Knowing, just that you do. Don’t worry about things you don’t know you know. Eventually, with enough work you can reach the clarity of mind that will comfort you.

With this in mind, what do you do if new information comes your way? Don’t accept it. If a coworker suggests that you read a book that changed her life, don’t read it. She may insist on lending it to you. Take it home. Bend a couple of the pages. Give it back to her a week later. If she wants to discuss it say something like, “where do I begin?” and walk away. Most of the time the less you say the more it seems you know. Most likely your coworker doesn’t really want to discuss the book anyway. She wants to seem “in the know.“ Allow her that place. Honor that need. And walk away.

The famous magician and philosopher, James Randi, once observed that when one earns a PhD, he loses the ability to say, “I don’t know.”[15] This is tragic, but, oh so true. The endeavor to become an expert in any field results in one of the purest of stupidities. Does being educated make anyone happier? Of course not! There is nothing in physics, or anything else, that guarantees that knowledge will make anyone happier. Ignorance is bliss.

Buddha said, “the wisest people in the world know nothing.”[16]
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
The Not Caring Universe

The universe, as we have already established is a Not Knowing universe. It does not know you, your intentions, your wishes or your situation. Brace yourself: it also doesn’t care. I’m sure that if the universe met you at a party it would find you to be quite fascinating and relevant. But the universe will never meet you at a party. The universe is weighty and has a lot of stuff going on. It is not a snob or anything. It just really doesn’t have time for you or the party. And it’s not apologetic about it. The universe is just busy. It’s nothing personal. Since it doesn’t really know you, the universe doesn’t really care about you, either.

The universe cares about laws of physics, mostly. It cares about the things that are relevant to the universe. You can understand that. I don’t really care that much about Parcheesi[17], for instance. I don’t know the game, have never played it, actually, have never even seen it played, and it has little relevance in my life. So, I don’t know or care about Parcheesi. I have not made a judgment here. I am not saying that Parcheesi is not important. I’m sure it is to some. Just not to me. And that’s how the universe feels about us.

The ironic thing is, we care a lot about the universe. It is pretty darn important to us. Strangely, even if we don’t understand it, we care about it and hope, for instance, that it continues to do well. We hope that it is healthy and that it is excelling at it’s job. Things we hope for our friends, we might hope for the universe. Which is pretty funny considering how much it really doesn’t give a damn about us.

Learning the laws of a powerful entity can only make you more powerful. The entity doesn’t have to know or care about you at all. What is most important to understand here is that wishing to the universe has never worked. But the universe works. So using the laws that the universe uses will work. We do this every day.

A philosopher named Bob Proctor[18] pointed out that “no one” knows how electricity works but we use it all the time. Now, of course, he was exaggerating. Lots and lots of people know how electricity works. For gosh sakes, tons of kids that don’t even finish high school go to trade schools and become brilliant electricians. And get big bucks to fix the light socket thing you can’t get to work. But he was correct in pointing out that we don’t have to have an understanding of all the laws of the universe in order to use them.

So when you use Newton’s Third Law understand that the universe is just continuing its motion. There are no judgments, compassion, or understanding coming back at you. Go ahead and respect the universe. That’s nice and all but it doesn’t respect you back. Don’t use the Third Law expecting that the universe understands your intention. It doesn’t. If it did it wouldn’t care. The universe is like the DMV.[19] It just recognizes the rules. It really doesn’t care about how you intended to pay for your registration on time. You didn’t. You got a ticket. Pay. That’s like how the universe works; like the DMV.

So if you begin to use the Third Law in what some would call “bad faith” that’s your own business. If you’ve decided, for example, to kill your landlord with kindness, fine. If you think it’s best to catch flies with honey, good hunting. Just be aware that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The universe doesn’t give a flip about them. But there is one caveat that must be considered: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Think about that for a minute and you will understand what I am saying. Be careful with the Third Law. It rules planets and moves mountains. Be careful, then, with how you put this law into motion. The recoil of the recoil could be devastating.

The Recoil of the Recoil

I first wanted to create an understanding of Newton’s Third Law of Motion. Every action causes an equal and opposite reaction. I wanted this to be fully understood; it’s meaning and it’s possible use in our lives. But there is another part of this law that must be understood as well.

Remember the firing of a gun that described Newton’s Third Law? The action of the bullet fired caused an equal and opposite reaction of the gun and your body to move backward. But what happened after that? You stepped forward. The action of the recoil set your body into a forward motion in response. Because you were thrown backwards slightly, you steadied yourself (in an equal and opposite reaction) as not to fall.

Everytime you set the Third Law into motion there will be an equal and opposite reaction. Your reaction becomes an action that creates an equal and opposite reaction. Its real, its physics and it is powerful. This is why the Third Law can’t be practiced willy-nilly. It requires years of observance and cogitation. Many of the most brilliant minds have not yet been able to put this law into motion in their own lives. Once you put the Third Law into motion in your life it is never ending. Your change creates another’s change which then changes you again. It becomes almost obnoxious. You must fully be willing to except the changes that the Third Law will bring before you bring it into practice within your own life.

There are ways that we can take Newton’s Third Law of Motion and use it to our advantage. Using the Third Law we can live life in joyful abundance as so many have before us. The principles of the Third Law are so simple that they can be applied to everyday life — relieving debt, helping us to find our soul mate, achieving sound health. By following simple laws of physics we unleash in our lives the powers in the Universe that literally move mountains and govern the planets.

  1. The Classic Fairy Tales, by Iona and Peter Opie.
  2. WuName Generator.
  3. Newton’s Third Law of Motion: Astronauts in Outer Space.
  4. Segway Technology: What’s Newton Got to Do with It?.
  5. Johnny Depp.
  6. Borneo: Island in the Clouds.
  7. What Is a Bonobo?.
  8. Anastasia’s Eng-Rus Phrasebook.
  9. Pregnancy after adoption.
  10. Child of the Commune.
  11. Meet Wobbly-Headed Bob.
  12. Mayan Civilization.
  13. The Molecular Biology of Paradise.
  14. Secrets of Norse Ships,” by Evan Hadingham.
  15. James Randi in Dallas,” by Daniel R. Barnett.
  16. buddhanet.
  17. Hasbro.
  18. The Secret.
  19. Welcome to the DMV.

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