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Here’s Why (and How) “Something is Better than Nothing”

I’m sure I’ve probably heard the idiom before, but it never struck me until I read it in Jon Acuff’s Start book the other day:

Some Beats None

Something always beats nothing because “nothing” is at a stand-still while “something” is moving.


You have a goal? You have a dream? You have a hope? You have a purpose? MOVE! Don’t allow your personal inertia to keep you stuck on the couch, behind the computer screen, or on a dead-end career path. Change course!

How do you start?

Even if you’ve been sitting in the same position for the past 20 years and your personal inertia is currently holding you in stasis (in which all forces are equal and opposing, therefore canceling each other out), you probably already know what’s required to move. A small change, a spark really, is all that’s required.

  • If you want to lose weight, replace one daily soda with a coffee.
  • If you want more friends, say “hi” and smile to one more person today.
  • If you want to change careers, subscribe to a blog or newsletter related to your desired career.
  • If you want to be fluent in Korean, learn a new word today.

Of course, I’m sure you’re also familiar with the Chinese proverb, “A journey of one thousand miles begins with a single step.” What you’re shooting for here isn’t the thousand mile destination – not yet. Your primary goal at this stage is the single step. Today. And tomorrow. And the next day. Keep your eyes on the single-step “something” and you’ll always beat yesterday’s “nothing.”

Sometimes all it takes is that first single step in order to kick out the pebble from underneath the boulder of your potential energy. Turn that potential energy into kinetic energy!


Now, you’ve got to keep moving

But getting moving and staying moving does require a bit of effort on your part. It’s not quite as simple as “a single step will send you gliding over the next thousand miles.” Never forget that your thousand mile journey also includes all those little steps in between. In order to stay moving, here’s what you’ll need to do:

  1. Make a strong determination of your will toward some course of action
  2. Do something in that direction DAILY (baby steps)
  3. Remind yourself DAILY of your destination (goal)
  4. Remember that something always beats nothing

To give you a few good examples, here are two:

Getting out of debt
  1. DETERMINATION: “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired living from paycheck to paycheck. We’re getting out of debt ASAP!” (the road will be years-long and tiring but I’m determined).
  2. DAILY: I listen to Dave Ramsey’s podcast. It motivates me to keep going.
  3. REMINDER: Everyday, a couple comes on the radio who recently became debt free – their example is my destination.
  4. SOMETHING: While I like paying huge extra amounts on my student loans, I’m happy to pay anything above the minimum.
Studying Korean
  1. DETERMINATION: “I’m sick and tired of being stuck teaching English. I’m getting fluent in Korean and changing my career path ASAP!”
  2. DAILY: I write this blog daily to stay motivated.
  3. REMINDER: Sam Hammington is good inspiration as are other expats who speak better Korean than me. And daily, failing at Korean conversation is an excellent reminder.
  4. SOMETHING: I read, listen, and watch Korean daily. (But I need more speaking practice.)

Here’s WHY “Something is better than Nothing”

So WHY is something better than nothing? Let’s use fitness as an example and start with a very small “something.”

Let’s say you want to get fit and you mentally agree that “something is better than nothing” so you determine in your mind to DAILY do one, single, solitary push-up. And you do it. One push-up. Once per day. For weeks.

What happens? Are you any stronger? Are you any thinner? Do you have any more muscle? Not likely anything noticeable on all counts. So then what do you have? MOMENTUM.

Something builds Momentum

If you can successfully maintain a practice of a once daily push-up for weeks on end, then you will have successfully formed a habit. Habits bring with them incredible amounts of momentum – the stuff that keeps you going. And once you have formed a habit, it’s a simple matter modifying your habit to help you reach your goals.

Now that your brain is on “daily push-up auto-pilot mode,” you can increase your reps to two, then three, then ten. So long as you keep doing “something” DAILY, you can maintain your habit, and your momentum pushes you along (rather than you feeling like you have to drag yourself on).

Momentum feeds Passion

Another interesting thing that habits and building momentum does for you is that it feeds your passion (even if your passion was non-existent from the beginning). Take my writing of this blog for example. When I started out, I was anything BUT passionate about Korean.

It’s easy to get by in Korea with minimal Korean skills, and I found trying to speak Korean to my in-laws or even my wife to be a big pain. I didn’t dread it, I hated it. It wasn’t even that I felt like I wasn’t good at it – I knew I could do it – but it forced me outside my Comfort Zone and I just wanted to be lazy and stick with English.

Eventually, I came to my breaking point and realized that if I didn’t become fluent in Korean (which I hated), then I’d forever be stuck teaching English (which I hated more). That was the turning point for me – realizing that the thing I was avoiding was keeping me stuck in a pattern that seemed to be taking me nowhere. So I determined in my brain from then on to DAILY write in this blog about motivation to learn Korean (of which at that point, I had none).

And a funny thing started happening to me as I wrote. I started really falling in love with Korean. Wow! I was surprised. I thought it was going to be a painful process for the next 3-5 years – like pulling teeth to get me to study. But the more I wrote, the more I wanted to learn.

I started building momentum for a disciplined and consistent DAILY investigation into Korean and how to study it better. And that momentum eventually set a fire to my passion for the language – to the point that I started being a Korean-language enthusiast/evangelist – encouraging everyone else around me to learn more.

**(Actually, the same thing happened to me when learning WordPress. Daily practice built momentum that fueled my passion to convert anyone and everyone over to WordPress.)**

Something -> Momentum -> Passion

What “something” are you doing to get on the road to Awesome and beat the easy “nothing” you could be doing?

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