Non-Zero Days

Take Smaller Steps

Here’s a tip for getting started on a project when you feel afraid: Reduce the size of your fear by reducing the size of your first step.

The thing about courage is that it increases with competence. The better you get at something, the bolder you feel about doing it. 

It’s like the scene from the 2004 Denzel Washington movie Man on Fire where Denzel tells Dakota Fanning’s character, “There’s no such thing as tough. There’s trained or untrained.”

Denzel's character provides important insight into what it means to be ready for something.

“Readiness” is the outcome of deliberate practice. And deliberate practice begins with the willingness to start wherever you are right now. At every moment, you’re ready for some things and not ready for others. But you always have a level of readiness that you can act on today.

When you do what you can do, you acquire experiences that make you ready to do the things that are out of your league. By starting small, you gradually build the confidence to go big.

For example, you may not be ready to bench press 200 pounds, but there’s a decent chance you could lift an empty barbell. And if you put yourself on a regular routine of practicing with the empty barbell, you would gradually move in the direction of being able to lift big stacks of weights.

You can’t force yourself to be bold any more than you can force yourself to bench press an amount of weight that’s greater than your level of conditioning. 

Just like muscular strength, competence and courage are built bit by bit. Don’t try to be fearless—learn to fear less by doing a little bit of what you fear.

If you’re passionate about something, and you can’t motivate yourself to take that first step, then your first step is probably too big. But brilliance begins with the basics. If you keep it simple, the sophisticated will eventually follow.

Reduce the action steps you need to take to the tiniest amount you can. 

Make it ridiculously easy for yourself to start. Find an amount you know you can do. Then cut that in half. If that’s too much, shave off a little more. Then try that.

Forget about gigantic goals. They’re way too overwhelming. 

Instead, invest in the process of building micro-habits that are easy to sustain. Small steps, when consistently taken, will eventually give rise to big waves of momentum. Then you can ride those waves to new heights of creative inspiration and expression.

This is what non-zero days are all about. 

You don’t need to do something that makes the whole world sing your praises. You just need to make sure that you break the habit of not doing anything at all.

Build enough momentum and the big steps will start to take themselves. The power isn’t in the impressive. It’s in the incremental.