Step One is Showing Up

My roommate was trying to get in shape. He talked about the goal often, so I offered to help him stay motivated. However, on the day that we were going to exercise, he was procrastinating.

Finally, as it got later and later, I told him out of frustration that he said he wanted my advice, and, “Step one was to get to the gym before it closes!”

He laughed at my exasperation and we did go to the gym before it closed. Since then saying, “Step one!” has been an inside joke for whenever someone fails to put in the basic effort for a goal they supposedly care about.

Forgetting Step One

I had my own moment of forgetting step one. When I moved to Vancouver, one of my main goals was to meet as many people as possible. I wanted the same rich social life I had built in Winnipeg and in France.

One of my strategies for doing that was to use the site to join interesting groups and attend their gatherings. But after a few weeks, I had registered for a dozen groups, but hadn’t attended a single meeting. I had forgotten step one.

How often do you forget step one? Wanting to be a successful blogger, but failing to write regularly. Wanting to get in shape, but not showing up at the gym. Wanting to learn a language, but never having conversations with people who speak it.

There’s No Excuse for Skipping Step One

Step one is interesting because it only requires effort. Writing a bestselling novel requires some luck and skill. Writing a novel requires only that you show up to write every morning.

Because step one isn’t dependent on any external factor, it is also a good measure of how committed you are to a goal. If I professed a desire to be a great writer, but I never wrote anything, I’m simply not committed to that goal. There’s no excuse for failing step one.

What was funny about our comment, “Step one!” is that it immediately pointed out the obviousness of our blunders. Wanting to be in shape, but not going to the gym or wanting to meet people but not leaving the apartment were clear failures.

If I had been going to events to meet people 3-5x per week and I still hadn’t made any progress building good friends, that wouldn’t be a step-one failure. From that point, I could honestly say I was putting the effort in, but my strategy or tactics might be off.

Step Two

Step one is definitely needed for any goal, but it’s rarely enough. As I wrote about in last week’s article, just showing up to the gym wasn’t enough for me to make gains. I needed to be obsessively focused on fitness for a burst of time.

The same is true of any goal. Just showing up and putting in the prerequisite effort won’t necessarily get you there. It requires a good strategy, tactics and often an intensity you don’t get just by showing up.

However, all those things are step two. Unless you can honestly say you’ve completed step one, step two is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter what writing technique you use, if you never sit down in front of a blank page.

Having Your “Step One!” Moment

A new rule I’m trying to enforce is that I’m not allowed to complain about anything unless I’m completing step one. Before I make a comment about being frustrated with a situation, I need to ask myself if I’ve honestly showed up enough.

If I have done step one, then the patient process of experimenting, changing strategies, researching, introspecting and looking for a solution comes into play. But all that mental effort and debugging is a waste if step one remains unfinished.

Reminding myself of step one is also liberating. It short-circuits the unhealthy over-thinking of simple situations. If you aren’t showing up, then there’s no need to carefully think through the situation—just follow step one!

When have you been stuck on step one before? Are you stuck there with any pursuit now? Share your thoughts in the comments!

  • David the Philomath

    This was a great article. People often don’t realise they haven’t acted on the first step, because It’s real easy to allow the voices in your head to have a dscussion, which can then result in a conclusion (often negative) before taking any action.

  • Majda

    Really interesting idea! Tough it seems a lot like “Just Start” advice, I think it’s more structured and defined.

    By the way Scott, why don’t you add share buttons at the bottom of the blog post, to enable us to spread your great content more easily. So often I want to share your articles but don’t do it sometimes because it requires more time/effort (lazy me!). I think it would encourage more people to share 😉

  • Rick

    Much like last week’s post, this one hit me right between the eyes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been fired up about a project, only to procrastinate and/or talk my self out of taking action because of imagined negative outcomes. If I can get myself to take that first step, however, the enthusiasm returns to melt any pessimism away.

    Here’s an example: I’m a landscape photographer. Much of my best work has been captured during the “magic” hour of sunrise. I love being out there shooting, but many times, when the alarm goes off at 4:00am, I tell myself, “The sky’s supposed to be overcast today” or “the last two times I’ve gone out the light has been lackluster.” If I let them, these thoughts will cause me to roll over and go back to snoozing. But if I take that first step, just get out of bed, I enjoy a great morning in the wilderness, and come home with several good shots, regardless of weather or conditions. It all hinges on that first step. That first bit of action puts all the manufactured concerns into perspective.

    Once again, Scott, you’ve exposed the root of an all-too-common problem. Thanks for your insight.

  • Stefan

    Good point. My experience in the past two weeks have everythin to do with step one. My semester is finished and I had a though two months before my holiday, I’d been extremely busy. As a result, my Internet marketing things (my own blog and some other projects as well). So when the holiday was there I planned to do a lot of things again. But now, I have a lot of problems with step one. I wake up at nine, but don’t wanna get out of bed, I rather watch the Sopranos till noon. But I know I should be working again, I know I should do something again!

    Now, I immediately saw the problem, I just didn’t had a name. Now I do, thanks Scott, I will say ‘Step one’ when I am putting up the next episode of the Sopranos!

  • Sanjaya

    I agree – just showing up (although important) is definitely not enough. Some think that’s all it requires and wonder why they fail in the endeavor they undertake. One of my pursuits is to manage my day a better – devote 3 two hour chunks of hard core focus – on work, my blog, etc with a half hour in between for personal growth and productivity – exercise, meditation, etc. I could say i have thoroughly mastered step 1 but more often then not i find myself sitting at the computer, thoughts fading away getting nothing done. Its funny because i thought just getting step 1 – (setting up plan) was all it takes and the rest would fall into place – how naive.

  • Will

    “80% of success is just showing up.” Woody Allen

    I’ve read around this topic before, but it’s never been as clear to me as it is now. Thank you! 🙂

  • Jim

    Good post. Sounds like the old Nike commercial, “Just Do It!”, whatever “it” is. I’ve been stuck pre-step one my whole life when it comes to starting things for myself. I been meaning to join Procrastinators Anonymous, just haven’t gotten around to it.

    Madja’s idea about the share button is a good one. I’d put it on my website when I create it.

  • Dehlia

    LOL, I always do this, but reading this has made me realize how stupid it looks. I am actually trying to lose weight and shape up as well, and I see how dumb it looks to want a goal but not put in the effort to even exercise — which is a complete must if I want to lose weight! Thanks for the eye-opener!

  • ah

    as Majda pointed out, eg, adding a “facebook share” button or twitter something would help spread ur articles LINKs out……

    I believe some bloggers afraid of putting their presence in facebook, because they would not earn any income if the fans browsing there.

    so, it need care not to over-do for facebook presence. i would guess, spreading article URL (with a short summary) to facebook but linking back to this website would be safe.

  • Julija L.

    I am only fourteen, but I really love this article and can relate to it!
    Sometimes, before practicing my instrument, I get distracted & don’t even take out my music or pick up my Violin. It’s the little things that should keep you moving forward. keep up the amazing tips!
    – A follower –

  • El Dorado

    Gr8 one Scott, just learned that great achievement start with the very first Step… The challenge however depend on our willpower… Thanks

  • Peach

    Very nice article and a new way of encouraging others. Sometimes, when planning, we got too excited and planned step 2 3 4 5 before we realized the missing step one. The problem about this is how long we realized we missed step one.

    Thanks for such great insights.

  • Elang

    This is what I always been missing. Step one.
    Can’t say that my strategies and approaches failed if I miss the first step.

    Thank you for making this very clear.

  • Fredrik Weisner

    Thanks for interesting thoughts. I find that the reason i often never do step 1 is because i havent defined what it actually condists of. If you have a project you really want to do defining step 1 is a really good way to get started and make the project feel easy to take on. If you dont it just feels like a heap of time requiring “stuff”.

  • ami

    well scott, i want to be more social.well what sort of a step 1 will be for it?

    i normally love a solitude life
    but i want to change myself!!

  • Scott Young


    Go outside and meet people. It’s hard to push yourself, but it’s definitely step one!