The Disproportionate Advantage of the First Step

Two steps are easy. One step is hard.

The first step requires effort while what follows flows from inertia.

By taking the first step in any endeavor we give ourselves a disproportionate advantage for every step thereafter. The tracks have been laid and keeping the tracks going is much easier than getting them started.

All too often we ponder the second, third, tenth, and hundredth steps before ever taking the first. The complexity of eating the elephant keeps us from ever taking bite number one.

Entrepreneurship. Writing. Projects. Passions.

They all require a first step, and it is always the peskiest of the bunch.

But conjure up the effort and courage required to take it and our paths fundamentally change by the shape we’re giving them.

In the act of creation, the disproportionate advantage of the first step is our biggest ally, inaction our biggest enemy.

Fear as a Signal

Fear can be a perplexing state. It can render us powerless. It can propel us to act. It can freeze us. It can motivate us. It’s a state that we all face on a regular basis, yet it‘s also one of the most misunderstood.

The roots of fear come from our innate desire to survive. We have the ability to fear because it keeps us from danger, and in turn, allows us to live for another day. This is a good thing. But when most of our days are spent running from deadlines and objectives instead of predators, the fear that stays with us is misplaced. We fear rejection. We fear failure. We fear inadequacy. In short, we fear things that aren’t worthy of our fear.

Fear, in the modern context, should be a signal for us. Nothing more. It should trigger us to a moment of introspection where we can respond to the fear in the manner that is appropriate.

When our fear is derived from a situation in which there isn’t any danger, this is oftentimes, nay all the time, an opportunity for growth in an area where we’re unsure of our abilities. Public speaking, the gym, a new relationship. In these situations the fear is a signal to grow. It’s simply our misplaced survival instinct trying to dampen our inner-self shouting “This is a good thing. Dig a little deeper.

By shining even a moment’s light into the space of the perceived fear, that fear will either be rendered powerless or it will empower our ability to take action and grow. That tiny moment of light leads the fear to irrelevancy and leads ourselves to say “Is this what I was so afraid of?

Fear is a signal. That signal creates a moment in time. And in that moment there is the opportunity for growth. It’s on us to make the most of that opportunity.

Why 100% is Easier Than 95%

In most situations in life, doing less is easier. Cleaning 95% of your laundry is easier than cleaning 100%. Running 95% of a mile is easier than running 100%. Doing 95% of a project is easier than doing 100%. It is a simple math equation, and for most things, it’s true. Emphasis on most.

There are certain things in life in which the opposite becomes true and doing 100% is actually much easier than doing 95%. There are areas where going “all in” is substantially more attainable than going “mostly in.” For example, not eating any chips and salsa (aka 100% all in) is much easier than just eating a few chips (95% in). Because we all know the moment we have that first chip, we’re bound to just keep going. The 95% slips to 90%, the 90% slips to 80%, until eventually we’re full and dinner hasn’t even come to the table yet. It’s not just certain foods that create this scenario either. It’s habits we’re trying to build. It’s habits we’re trying to break. And it’s identities we’re trying to create or diminish.

These things in our life that require us to be 100% committed tend to have a snowball effect. We give them an inch and they take a mile. You know this to be true if you’ve ever told yourself that you’re just going to have one drink and you end up having several. You know this to be true if you’ve ever told yourself that you’re going to work out three days per week, and you end up failing one week only to fail the entire next month. You know this to be true if you’ve ever tried to do or stop anything in moderation. Because when it comes to habits, moderation can actually be our enemy.

It would seem logical to think that the blame is on ourselves when we fail at moderation. We are, after all, the ones that are doing the thing, whatever that thing is. But this would be inaccurate, or at best incomplete. What we’re battling is our willpower, and as much as we don’t want to believe this, our willpower is actually limited. Very limited.

We tend to think that we have an unlimited supply of willpower if we simply try hard enough. If we just grit our teeth, clench our fists, and buckle down, we will be able to will ourselves to victory. But what inevitably happens every single time? We lose. We lose because the war against willpower isn’t actually winnable. The deck is stacked against us. Willpower is like a gas tank. With every big and small decision we make as we go through our days, we steadily consume that gas tank of willpower until it’s gone. And once it’s gone, it’s not coming back for a while. All it takes is one situation when our willpower tank is empty — a scheduled workout that we’re too tired for, a tasty snack in the fridge, an extra glass of wine in the bottle — and before we know it we’ve broken whatever promise we made to ourselves.
This is where 100% is the better option. Certain things in life require us to go all in, and here’s why.

I have to write every single day. If I decide to take Sundays off from writing you know what will happen? That Sunday will stretch into Monday, and that Monday will stretch into Tuesday, and before I know I find myself having not written for months. In effect, that 95% goal that seemed logical upfront has suddenly diminished to nothing. I offered 5% and it took the other 95% with it. So instead, writing for me is a 100% activity. I’m either in, or I’m out. Interestingly enough, I never have to put any parameters on working out. I have worked out so consistently for so long that it is simply embedded into my person. It is a part of me, and I couldn’t separate it from myself any more than I could separate brushing my teeth or drinking water. If I’m above ground, I’m consistently working out.

And therein lies the key.

When we are trying to create or break a habit, 95% doesn’t cut it. We have to be 100% dedicated to that habit. Because when we do that, willpower is removed from the equation. I don’t have an option to not write each day because I’ve committed to being all in. And when something isn’t an option, I don’t have to rely on willpower to do it.

Where in your life do you need to be 100% all in?

It’s different for everyone. But it starts with asking yourself what you struggle with control over. It’s in these things, in these moments, that we need to change our frame of reference from “some of the time” to “all of the time.” When we do this long enough we fundamentally shift our identity. By writing every single day, my identify shifts to truly being a writer, not just someone who writes sometimes when inspiration hits. And once our identity shifts, we have won the war.

Do you want to be someone who runs sometimes, or do you want to be a runner?
Do you want to be someone who eats healthy sometimes, or do you want to be healthy?
Do you want to be someone who writes sometimes, or do you want to be a writer?

If you’re struggling with something, don’t fool yourself into believing moderation is the key. If it requires your willpower, you will lose. Go 100% all in until it’s a part of your identity. If 95% is a struggle, give 100% a try. It might just be easier.

My Best Reads of 2016

Hello and happy new year!

I’ve always been a reader, but 2016 was the year I committed reading to habit. It went from a passive activity to an active part of my daily routine. It became my nightcap while laying in bed, and my break activity throughout the day. In total, I read 55 nonfiction books, across a range of topics from health to habits to religion to evolution. You can view the entire list here.

Below I’ve compiled that short-list that was the best of the best, and more importantly, ones that I believe others would find benefit in reading.

So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport

This is a book about how to be remarkable at your work. The title comes from a quote from comedian Steve Martin – when asked the secret to success he answered “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” This book provides practical application to what that looks like in reality, and leaves the reader motivated (and equipped) to go out and be the best that they can be in their craft. Not through fleeting passion or inspriation, but through being the best you can in your field.

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert

There have been 5 mass extinction events throughout history, where the vast majority of species on the planet were wiped out from various cataclysmic events. This book explores the path we’re currently on, and the possibility that we’re creating a 6th extinction event in front of our eyes, and at a rate that history has never seen before.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Racism has tainted the United States since its earliest days, and it still runs rampant today. This book is a blunt reality check about what life in poor black America is really like. The author wrote the book as a series of letters to his son, who was growing up in middle class America, but merely one step removed from the reality of life for millions of black men and women across America. This book is important. Please read it.

Faith & Doubt by John Ortberg

Rarely do you see a person of faith, in any religion, talk openly about the doubt that accompanies their faith. This book is an incredibly refreshing read as the author spits his personal inner journey onto paper, asking the questions that many of us have (and will continue to) struggle with.

Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Tim Ferriss

Tim Ferriss is arguably the the best person in the world at deconstructing success. He digs into the “why” of success, and extracts the actual formulas that lead people to being the best in the world in their field. This book is a recap of over 200 interviews with insanely high achievers, and he pulls out the most actionable nuggets from each interview. It’s a mammoth of a read, but should be a staple on a lot of bookshelves.

There were A TON of other incredible books that didn’t make this short list. If you see one on the complete list that sounds interesting just shoot me an email to adam(at)adamgriff(dot)in and I’m happy to let you know my thoughts on it.

In 2017, I’m creating a system of note-taking for the books I read so that the information is committed more to memory and habit than passive reading allows for. I’m excited to share that process with you after I’m comfortable with it.

What books did you read this year that you can’t stop recommending? Shoot me an email and let me know!

Cheers to a health and happy 2017, with continued learning and creating the best version of ourselves possible.

Kill your goals. Do this instead.

Kill your goals. Do this instead.

It’s here. The time of year when new goals replace the failed goals of the previous year. A burst of energy. A shot of inspiration. “Let’s do this new year!” we shout from our notebooks, calendars, and social media pages. Yet the little voice in the back of our head knows it’s likely in vain. A hint of doubt from somewhere in our subconscious whispers,

Why are we doing this again?

We know it’s never worked before, but the energy and inspiration of the new year override our practicality and logic, believing that we’ll somehow surmise the willpower to do it this time around. The problem? Our willpower is really good at failing us.

The good news?

It’s not our fault. We’re all subject to the same faulty willpower.

The even better news?

It’s fixable. If you want to truly change the trajectory of your life, ditch the goals and create systems instead.

You see, creating the best version of ourselves possible actually has nothing to do with the goals we set. Instead, it has everything to do with the systems we put in place to make being at our best as easy and frictionless as possible. This is something high achievers have always known – make succeeding easy, and make failing difficult. If you do that, you don’t have to rely on willpower. You simply rely on functioning within systems that make succeeding in whatever you’re trying to accomplish simpler and easier. I’ll give you a few examples of how to use systems instead of goals over the coming year.


Let’s say you’re a sales rep. Tradition might tell you to set some high sales goal for the year – maybe it’s to be the top sales rep at your company, or maybe it’s a certain dollar figure. The problem is that this goal tells you nothing about how to achieve it.

Using the systems method, you wouldn’t focus on the end result, and would instead focus on building systems that make being a high achiever attainable. You would create a system that says “I will set a timer for 60 minutes at the beginning and end of each work day, and I will do nothing but make sales calls during that time.” When the timer is up, then you can get back to the other parts of your day. By doing this, you’re giving the action and system priority, not the goal.

Become top sales rep in the company.

Set a timer for 60 minutes at the beginning and end of each work day, and do nothing but make sales calls during that time.

The same goes for any type of work. Whether you’re a doctor, administrative assistant, sales rep, or plumber, ditch the goals and instead build systems that make success inevitable.


A traditional health goal for the new year might be something like losing 10 pounds. Without systems to achieve this goal, the goal itself is meaningless. If we instead focus on building systems, the person wanting to lose weight would set a rule for themselves that they won’t keep any junk food in the house – only meats, fruits, and veggies allowed. When willpower would historically falter as we reach for the bag of chips in our cabinet, our system has set us up for success by making the lack of willpower a moot point.

Lose 10 pounds.

Remove everything but meat, veggies, and fruit from our house, and only buy these items at the grocery store.

Goals, skill attainment, success, progress, and outcomes are all lag measures. At best, they’re rough guesses at the future, and at worst they’re distractions that deter us from making any real progress. By setting up systems for success, our progress is inevitable. We likely will end up achieving what we would have historically set as a goal, without ever even focusing on the outcome.

Creating the best version of ourselves has nothing to do with the goals we set. It has everything to do with the systems we create to make that possible. By aligning our environment (our systems) with our intentions (where we want to go), success goes from being a friction-filled uphill battle to a mostly frictionless stroll. We simply have to show up and do the work.

This year, do yourself a favor. Kill your goals and create systems instead. Your future self will thank you.