In nuclear physics Critical mass is the amount of fissile material needed to sustain nuclear fission.
In social dynamics, critical mass is a sufficient number of adopters of an innovation in a social system so that the rate of adoption becomes self-sustaining.
Basically critical mass is the point at which a thing becomes self sustaining. Like a boulder at the top of a hill needs enough force to start it moving, after the first rotation there is enough mass behind it to keep it rolling.
Why is this important? Well it’s a common belief that thinking happy is enough to make you happy, acting like an elite executive is enough to turn you in to one. “Fake it till you make it.” “Think and grow rich.” These things are laid out in front of us as tempting ideals but it’s my experience that this isn’t quite true and the problem is one of critical mass.
One day of exercise isn’t enough to make you fit. A day of clean eating isn’t enough to make you healthy. It’s easy to say that a job that makes you sweat is enough of a workout but is there enough effort in that single act to make actual fitness and health improvements. The results should speak for themselves.
In order for something to actually cause change the forces pushing on an object must outweigh the opposing forces. In order to become happy one can’t just rely on one single mantra or hack. The neural networks in the brain are wired through years of repetitive thought. A thousand I sucks dont just get erased by one I love myself. Just as a thousand bad meals don’t get fixed by going for a run one day.
Critical mass is important in everything we do. Just lifting a weight once is not likely to cause the positive adaptation we are looking for. Is the weight heavy enough? Did you lift it enough times? Did you lift the weight quickly enough? These things are power and power is intensity. It’s something measureable.
The good part of this is that the opposite is also true, enough effort to tip the scales the other way is all you actually need. You don’t have to be perfect at your nutrition everyday, just enough to shift critical mass in the right direction. You don’t have to exercise everyday, just enough.