Only One Way to Make Progress

May 9, 2013 — 13 Comments

We want things to happen. We know what we need to do solve our problems or overcome our obstacles. We’ve got it all figured out. And then we mostly proceed to sit and do nothing.

And the most insidious and disingenuous part is that when we check in on our “progress,” weeks or months later, we’re shocked—SHOCKED—that we haven’t made any.

Of course our wordcount, usercount, cashflow, or understanding are exactly the same. Of course we’re still stuck. We didn’t do shit.

This isn’t to say it’s all about throwing yourself against a wall. Thinking is an action tooand if done right, waiting can be as well. So long as you’re pressing forward, alternating between ideas and exertion until you finally break through.

The breakthrough isn’t coming because you sat back and thought about it a lot. It’s coming because you got up and then stayed at it. Because you took risks and tried things. Because you persisted (and resisted) the impulse to give up.

Let’s ask an honest question: could you be doing more? You probably could, there’s always more. At minimum, you could be trying harder. You might have gotten started, but your full effort isn’t in it—and that shows.

Is that going to get you the results you want? Obviously not.

So get moving. Give it everything.

Ryan Holiday

I'm a strategist for bestselling authors and billion dollar brands like American Apparel, Tucker Max and Robert Greene. My work has been used as case studies by Twitter, YouTube and Google and has been written about in AdAge, the New York Times, Gawker and Fast Company.

13 responses to Only One Way to Make Progress

  1. This is true, but the reason it’s not happening is because it’s uncomfortable and it’s hard. Staying focused is all it takes. We can do anything if we know how to get there. Anyone can run a marathon if that’s their one thing; it’s running the marathon AND starting the next book that gets tricky. That’s when I default to zero and nothing gets done. How do you stay seriously focused on multiple things?

    • You focus on one thing at a time. As you gain in your focus you’ll be able to single-task more often and purposely (which is essentially what multi-tasking is), and then you’ll be able to stay seriously focused in multiple things.

      For example, Ryan didn’t start of writing a book when he was 19. He devoted everything he had to his media career, and then later, many years later, he wrote his book. When he wrote it, he focused entirely on it. When we look back at his life, we look and see “Ryan’s done so much with his life!” but all he did was single-task effectively.

      To Ryan: Interesting time to post this. This really speaks to the students in your audience, because we have finals just around the corner. Looking forward to whatever you have planned next.

  2. Well said. It reminds me of a Thomas Jefferson quote: “It is wonderful how much may be done, if we are always doing.”

  3. Yes, what got you here won’t get you there….

  4. The classic action vs inaction story.

    Reading this reminded me of one of my favorite quotes:
    “Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.”  - Abraham Lincoln

    Great article Ryan

  5. Direct and to the point.

    Thank you. I enjoyed this post.

  6. I see this in my own progress. I know I could be doing A LOT more and more. I have to work on it. You’re responsible for you own success and failure.s

  7. I am a university student buying time. Thanks a lot, this helped me get more real with my self.

  8. “.. how to be self-critical and self-aware, humility..”

    When I first visited your webside I did so with a few, I must admit, preconceptions.
    Then I read the text you´ve written about yourself and thought, maybe this guy seems really cool. The PR/comercial/advertising-business isn´t ALL about money and big egos but also about creative people.

    The reason I came to visit your blog is because of the criticism you´ve got for American Apparel. And no, it´s not about one of the sex scandals, lawsuits or girls being fired from retail stores because suddenly they weren´t pretty enough to work for the AA.
    No, I understand that those problems should be solved by someone else.

    People have criticised you for making sexist ads. And now, one can think, why do I bother writing this to you. Because; “We know what we need to do, solve our problems or overcome our obstacles. ”

    I don´t need to tell you this because you already know but women are being raped. Across the globe, all the time. Women are less paid. There are domestic violence, causing pain for so many girls and children everyday. In Steubenville teenagers raped an unconscious girl, filming it, putting the video on Youtube and people still feel BAD for the boys and blaming the girl for drinking underage. I mean, WHO didn´t drink underage?

    When things go wrong we need to blame someone. The society. The media. There are so many reasons to why all those problems are still problems, today 2013.
    I don´t think that the media (or you personally) should take all the blame but there are a few things that scares me.

    The ads for American Apparel screams sexism. That I think you know too. http://www.metro.se/nyheter/swedes-criticize-american-apparel-for-sexist-ads/EVHmeo!jjUbxnbwJX8po/

    And this one:
    http://www.americanapparel.net/presscenter/adarchive/Ad.html?i=2397
    Or the second picture here:http://www.fashion-law.org/2013/04/american-apparels-legal-scene-overview.html#.UZSL879ly8o

    Or this one:
    http://bygonebureau.com/2010/05/17/american-apparel/

    Okay. Point taken?
    The way media “gives people what they want” is a way of wagging the dog. And as I said, the media can´t take ALL the blame for young (and sometimes old) boys having sick ideas of how to treat women but these objectifying images surely doesn´t help.

    I understand if this isn´t a problem for YOU. Last summer I had a boss telling me I only got the job because of how good I look in shorts. He said that as a compliment but not as a joke but with a disgusting look on his face. When I was walking home from work that day I saw one AA-poster with a half naked girl in bed and I got pissed.

    Replying to all this with a “it´s an artistic shoot ” isn´t good enough.
    American Apparel doesn´t do ART. You do commercial clothes for young girls.
    And you distribute to society´s way of looking at women and mostly, how a woman SHOULD look and act .

    I don´t think this comment will make you change your way of working. I don´t think American Apparel will start shooting women looking like strong, beautiful, independent individuals instead of sexy but helpless victims on a bed.

    Advertising is about selling something. And you sell something by making the consumer think that he or she either NEEDS it or will feel BETTER by buying it. AA-posters just makes me want to puke.
    Is that going to get me the results I want? Obviously not. So I´ll keep going. Giving it everything.

    If you didn´t get tired of reading my short comment I also have a video for you;
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KTvSfeCRxe8

    Have a nice day Ryan.

  9. I’ve been reading this blog since Ryan started it, and I haven’t seen such an obnoxious commenter like you, Natalie. Good job. And yeah, American Apparel is responsible for rape.

  10. Mark. Do you disagree when I say that AA is responsible for objectifying women + sexism?

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