Feb 15

The Problem with the First Step

Footprint-firststepThough not technically Step One in any of the dozens and dozens of Twelve Step programs that exist in the world, it has become widely accepted and shared that “The first step is admitting you have a problem.”  It’s sort of a rallying cry for any tough situation that we go through in this life.  Whether it’s health, relationships, career or any of the vices that we wrestle with, when you seek the counsel of others, it’s kind of “the thing to say”.

During a recent marathon phone conversation turned coaching session, I found myself almost instinctively wanting to say the line.  When you’re trying to comfort someone who is going through tough times, our natural instinct is to want to give them something positive to hold onto.  Almost as if to say, “Yeah… you’re going through it right now… but you’re winning a little.” Every impulse in my head and heart wanted to play the card.  I wanted to give the verbal reassurance that progress was being made.  I think I even started to say it a few times.  It had finally reached the point where I was almost in my own head more than the conversation.  That’s when I had to unload.  I told him… and I’ll tell you…

The first step is NOT admitting you have a problem, because admitting you have a problem is NOT a step.

I know… I know…  Who am I to contradict a credo that has helped millions?  What do I know?

Valid.  What DO I know?

I know that a step has movement.  We step forward.  We step up.  We even step backwards.  But… we move.  The direction isn’t always the right one… but a step always has movement.

Admitting you have a problem doesn’t do anything to solve the problem.  It doesn’t require a direction.  It doesn’t even require an action.

The first step to running a marathon is not admitting that marathons exist.

The first step to quitting cigarettes is not admitting that there are non-smokers.

The first step to eating healthy is not saying the word ‘salad’.

You haven’t taken the first step until you do something that moves the needle.  You can talk and game-plan all you want, but until you take action, you haven’t taken a step.  You can spend hours and hours on what you’re going to do, but it doesn’t mean anything until you spend the first second doing it.

Talk is cheap.  Step up.


Permanent link to this article: http://remodelingclay.com/2013/02/step-back/


  1. I appreciate the message you’re trying to impart, but I think you’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater by trying to discredit Step One. I fully understand the desire to be contrary, to make a point particularly striking by contradicting “common knowledge.” I do this myself all the time.

    But the first step is, “We acknowledged that we were powerless over our addictions and that our lives had become unmanageable.” This is saying much more than “I have a problem.” It’s saying both “I am out of control” and “This matters a lot.”

    I agree that these days, more and more people are finding the first step easier than all of the others — I have at times rested on the laurels of my self-honesty, without doing anything about what I’ve admitted to myself. So thanks for being a voice for action.

      • Clay on February 19, 2013 at 11:57 pm
      • Reply

      Mike –

      Appreciate the feedback.

      While I can certainly see where what I’m saying may come off as an attempt to discredit or just, in general, speak in hyperbole, I assure you that I do see the legitimate value in that phase in the process. Even to use my perhaps clumsy analogy of the marathon, you can’t do anything unless you know that the marathon is taking place.

      As much as the world today wants to give everyone a participation medal, I just want people to put in the work rather than just show up and asked to be celebrated for it. And I only recognize the behavior because I’ve seen it in the mirror.

      Really do appreciate you joining the conversation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

%d bloggers like this: