The Getting Started Principle

My friends want to start companies, build apps, write books, and start blogging. But they don’t.

We read so many articles about “how I did X” and they all end the same way: “just take this action to get started.” But we don’t.

Instead, we wait. We bookmark those how-to articles for later. We put our blog ideas in a folder somewhere in Evernote. We sketch out a landing page for our app idea for when we should build it. We wait for the perfect co-founder, the right time, until we hit 3000 followers, until we get that project finished until we hit inbox 0.

But waiting has a mortal enemy: Starting. As soon as you call your own bluff that all of the excuses you’ve imagined (lack of time, energy, money) aren’t real, something magical happens.

If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced. — Van Gough

Going from 0 to 1 is so much harder than going from 1 to N. At 1, your imagined excuses turn into tangible challenges: skills needed, how to practice, and what getting “better” looks like. And what is known is no longer feared.

So, back to that thing you want to do. Build an app, write something, create something. Right now. Here’s a list of tools that require no other skill except a few minutes of attention:


I’ll stop it here, but I have a list of about 45 more cool sites like this I can send you).

I’ll stop it here, but I have a list of about 45 more cool sites like this I can send you).

On Starting

With those tools laid out, starting is easy. But not really. Because I’ve read a bunch of ‘how-to’ stuff before. And here’s how it goes every time:

So don’t do that. Instead, look for the signs of fear and recognize them. I read something about this in a good book called The War of Art:

“Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”

About three weeks ago, I decided that I wanted to start playing basketball again. I really enjoyed it when I was younger, and as a tall skinny guy it was about the only sport I had a relative advantage in. But as soon as I thought about playing, the fear and resistance swept in. “Those outdoor courts are full of people, and they will laugh at how bad you are.” “Remember how you sprained your ankle playing basketball in college? That sucked.” “A pickup game will mean you have to talk to new people, and as an introvert, we don’t generally like that.”

But eventually I went out there, focused on getting from 0 to 1, and ventured out there. I joked with a few others on the court about getting back into it, and even though I missed a lot of my shots and one guy got a concussion, it was a lot of fun. Now I go all the time, and those anxious voices in my head are silenced.

Those anxious voices in our heads usually sound pretty similar. They are the voices that have been trained by evolution to keep us alive. They kept us from getting kicked out of tribes a few thousand years ago, kept us from getting the plague, the list goes on. And that was great, but now they keep us from trying cool new things.

What have your voices told you, and how do you quiet them?

1 Comment The Getting Started Principle

  1. Paul

    Thanks for the kick in the butt! Is the “Van Gough” spelling meant to imply this is not actually a quote from the famous painter?


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