A mental model for understanding why it’s so difficult to get started.
I just finished reading the book Zero to One by Peter Thiel. His argument in one line: It is harder and more valuable to go from Zero to One than it is to go from One to N (any number more than One).
Now, Thiel’s book is about the difference between creating new technologies and business models (Zero to One) versus replicating them once created (One to N). But I found the concept to be enlightening for another reason:
Zero to One also explains why it’s so hard to create new habits, overcome procrastination, and get momentum toward our goals.
THE FIRST STEP IS THE HARDEST
Could you run 70 miles in one week? What about every week?
A lot of people do, yet the vast majority of people would dismiss the idea without a thought. 7 miles yes. That’s just one mile per day. 14 miles probably. But not 70. 70 is too many.
Actually, there is very little difference between 70 miles and 7 miles to the people who do it routinely.
There is a saying amongst long distance runners, “Anyone could run 70 miles a week. Most people just can’t get out the door.”
Or to frame it in Zero to One terms: It’s not hard to go from step one to step “70 miles.” It’s going from step zero to step one that’s difficult.
We tend to imagine difficulty as a straight line. The more we do, the harder it gets. And there is some truth to that, especially when it comes to exercise. It is more tiring to run the last mile of a long run than the first. It is more challenging to do the 30th push-up than the first push-up.
But the sneaky reality is the first step is always harder than the last. Because so much more goes into it than just a step.
If you want to go for a run you have to make a plan, get dressed, get to wherever you want to workout, and then actually get started. That’s a lot of work for the first step! But it’s pretty easy to keep going once you’re out the door.
Just like it’s pretty easy to do a set of push-ups once you’ve done the first one. And it’s pretty easy to finish the workout once you’ve committed to actually starting.
And it’s not just exercise. How much harder is it to sell the first copy of your book than the Nth copy? Before you can sell the first one, you have to write a whole book!
The same goes for starting a business. It’s so much harder to get the first customer than the 100th. The time spent designing, refining, making, marketing. All of that goes into making the first sale.
Or how about dating? How much harder is it to get the first date than the fifth or sixth? Searching for someone, presenting the best version of yourself, making a good first impression, asking for the date… On top of being difficult, it’s terrifying, too!
The truth is, the first step is by far the most difficult.
TWO STRATEGIES AND ONE OFFER
There are two strategies you can use to break through this Zero to One problem.
The first—and by far the best—is to create a habit or routine. It’s always hardest to do the first one, but when you’ve conditioned yourself to doing it everyday, it gets easier. The stronger your routine, the easier and more automatic that first one becomes.
How long do you have to do something to make it into a habit? It can take up to two months. A lot depends on where you’re starting and how big a change it is. But that’s ok. Because what that means is you just need to muster the extra discipline once a day for a couple months. After that, it gets easier.
The second strategy is to make your commitment as small as possible. Don’t overcommit to do a big workout or a big project when you aren’t sure you’re ready. Just commit to getting to One each and every day. Give yourself the option to stop there if necessary.
You no doubt already see the genius of this approach. If you commit to doing one sit-up, then you’re essentially committing to go from Zero to One. The rest is easy!
If you do that first one and don’t feel like continuing, that’s fine. Just stop. You’ve accomplished your commitment for the day. But odds are you will have overcome the most difficult part and you’ll be happy to do more.
Commit to do just one step and you’ve essentially committed to do the whole run.
Make it a routine, and start as small as possible. Those two strategies will get you from Zero to One.
Now here’s the offer.
We’ve organized the Just One Challenge, where our community all does “just one” a day for 30 days. You can do a just one challenge for anything: just one push-up, just one mile run, just one minute planks, write just one line…the possibilities are endless.
I’ve posted Jon’s video about it below. We’ve also set up an Instagram account (@justone.challenge) and a private community group on Facebook where we share videos, encourage each other, and build a healthy habit together in a truly supportive setting.
You can read about what the Just One Challenge has done for me, and I am sure it can do the same for you.
Please join us for the simplest, most effective system for creating a new habit. And really, how hard can it be? We’re only asking you to do just one 🙂
Bryan Green is the co-founder, Editor, and COO of Go Be More. He teaches classes on the topic of mental models to university students. There’s a good chance Zero to One will be in next year’s curriculum.