Showing Up

I’m sure you’ve heard the Woody Allen quote that 80% of success is showing up. While merely showing up — to work, to an audition, to a date, etc. — won’t guarantee success, it’s certainly a prerequisite.

A few months ago I began training in kempo, a martial arts style that could be described as a cross between karate and kung fu, plus some weapons training. I’m currently an orange belt, still very much a beginner but far enough along to grasp the basics. By showing up to the studio again and again, I learn self-defense techniques, get an interesting workout, and have a lot of fun. If I simply continue this pattern, I’ll gradually learn kempo and advance in belt ranks.

Is this easy? No. I don’t always feel motivated to go to class, and sometimes I wrestle with the time commitment. Is this on autopilot? Yes. Attending kempo classes is a habit, so it would actually take some effort to quit. All I need to do is keep showing up, and the rest is on autopilot. If I show up to class, I know I’ll put in the effort when I get there and feel good about it afterwards. Showing up is always the limiting step. Showing up doesn’t guarantee I’ll become a black belt, but it will get me about 80% of the way there if I stick with it.

Situations where showing up gets you 80% of the way to your goal are golden. In addition to martial arts training, here are some other examples:

  • Show up to class — get an education and/or earn a degree
  • Show up to work — earn income and build a career
  • Show up to the gym — get a workout and build fitness
  • Show up to Toastmasters meetings — overcome fear of public speaking and develop communication skills
  • Show up to the grocery store with a healthy shopping list — buy healthy foods and improve your diet

You can also stretch this concept to apply to other areas:

  • Show up to your relationship — set aside time for your partner, go on dates, etc.
  • Show up to your spiritual practice — meditate, read, attend services, etc.
  • Show up to success — make decisions, set goals, commit
  • Show up to give — volunteer, share, help others, etc.
  • Show up to opportunities — write a book, start a business, create a web site, etc.
  • Show up to growth — read, journal, take time for introspection

If you allow abstract concepts like health or love to remain abstract, you won’t move forward in these areas. Abstractions are wonderful tools for thought, but eventually you need to turn them into concrete physical actions. Your abstraction must eventually become a process of showing up.

For example, the abstract concept of fitness can be turned into the physical process of going to the gym, going running, or attending martial arts classes. The abstract concept of expanding your consciousness can become the practices of daily meditation and journaling. The abstract concept of continuing education can become the habit of reading for an hour a day.

Turning an abstraction into a process of showing up requires an initial effort of time and energy. You have to sign up for the class, join the gym, or do something else to get the ball rolling. Once the system is in place, you’re on autopilot. Keep showing up, and the results will take care of themselves. My favorite process for making this transition is the 30-day trial plus the method of overwhelming force. By making a 30-day commitment instead of a lifetime commitment, it’s easier to get moving, and by the end of the 30 days, it’s hard to stop.

It’s amazing what the simple practice of showing up can achieve over time. You don’t need to be fancy or clever or brilliant if you can be consistent. A simple daily workout with a simple diet can produce a high level of fitness. Simple relationship habits like staring your partner in the eyes and saying “I love you” every day help build a bond of closeness. And simple awareness-raising practices like meditation and journaling can develop a deep sense of inner peace. But these results only accumulate if you keep showing up. A single workout, a single “I love you,” or a single meditation won’t do much for you — it’s the long-term habit that makes the difference.

Choose an area of your life where you’d like to make real improvements, and brainstorm ways to turn it into a process of showing up. You can find a list of areas to consider here.