Going First 

What I’ve learned from a 30 second practice in a 2-year experiment.

I’ve spent tried countless techniques and methods to optimise my wellbeing. This is one of the rare ones that has become a mainstay in my daily ritual. Why? I’ll explain. But first, here’s the backstory.

Photo by Jeremy Bishop


2015 was rough. I was fighting to get my first startup off the ground. I worked like hell but nothing was working. I was struggling. Big time. On top of that, I was alone in a new country. I used my self-imposed isolation as a reason for focus. I made the classic mistake of throwing myself in my work in the hopes that I’d find answers.

The beauty about adversity is that it forces us to confront our reality. First there is a crack in the facade. Then the crack grow longer and larger. It gets to a point where it can’t bear the pressure. It shatters. That’s when we are ready to embrace new ideas — stripped bare of stagnant ideas and beliefs.

It was around that time when I heard Gabrielle Reece talking about “Going First” during her interview with Tim Ferriss on his podcast.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Gabrielle, she is the definition of a powerhouse. Among her long list of achievements: first female spokeswoman for Nike, a beach volleyball champion, a New York Times best selling author. She’s also married to Laird Hamilton, legendary big-wave surfer and co-inventor of tow-in surfing.

Photos courtesy of gabriellereece.com

The philosophy of Going First

“I’ll go first. If I’m at checking out at the store I’ll say hello first, if I’m coming across someone making eye-contact I’ll smile first. Not all times, but most times — it comes in your favor.” — Gabrielle Reece

I jumped on a call with Gabrielle to have a chat about Going first, and this is what she had to say on the origins of the idea.

Does it work? After practicing this for the past two years with friends and strangers alike, I’m confident to say yes. In fact, it’s one of the most effective things you can do for your wellbeing right now. Everything is touted as a lifehack these days. But this fulfills the conditions of one.

Today, I want to unpack the inner workings of this idea, and show with you why there is more than meets the eye. If you’re interested in giving it a try, I’ll also show you how to apply it in your own life.

But first, why go first? The question we should be asking instead is: why not? 

Life is short; why hold back?

According to Bronnie Ware, one of the top five regrets of the dying is: “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”

Photo by Cristian Newman


In life, we often hold ourselves back — whether it’s from saying what we mean or doing the things we want to do. For what? Because we’re waiting for the other to make a move first? Because we’re waiting for the rare special occasions to tell others how you feel?

“A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.” — James Heller.

Life is fragile — most of us don’t appreciate the gravity of that truth in everyday life. How fragile? Well, it doesn’t even take much to throw us off our balance. A simple blocked nose or fever is enough to make us long for normalcy.

The truth is that everything can change in an instant. And when you approach life this way, you can’t help but feel a renewed sense of urgency in life. It makes no sense to hold back in life, especially when it comes to the important stuff.

When was the last time you told your parents you appreciate all that they’ve done for you? How about that friend who you’ve drifted apart from, but who was there for you during a tough time in your life?

Everyday, we encounter once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Today, you’ll see people you’ll never see again. Or you might meet your future best friend for the first time. Life is dynamic. What you do in each moment has the power to alter the course of your life. Take a moment to contemplate on how crazy that is.

The question is: What are you doing with those moments?

I’m not saying you should try to tie a friendship bracelet to every stranger you meet. “Man, I’m giving you this bracelet, what’s with all this who are you and what are you doing in my house crap.” But why hold back? Stop waiting. Especially guys, don’t wait until you’re drunk to pour your heart out.

The most important things you can give

For a lot of people, the idea of giving is associated with the idea of money. But that’s one among many ways of giving. In the context of everyday life, it’s not even that valuable. Imagine the next time your partner had a terrible day, and you tell them, Babe that sucks, but hey, here’s ten bucks.

The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer. — Henry David Thoreau

The beauty about this approach is that it’s a win-win solution. If you’re unhappy and you make someone else happy, chances are you’ll be happier. If you’re already happy and you make someone else happy, you’ll be happier as well.

Time, attention, compassion — You have plenty of these priceless gifts to offer.

5 ways Going first is a gift that gives back

  1. Feel good. Think of the last time you were generous, felt good right? Giving is a gift that gives back. Besides, practicing generosity puts you in a state of abundance. When are you generous..? When you have more than enough to give. A mindset of abundance creates possibilities.
  2. Reduce regrets. By acting on your true intentions, you are reducing the chances of regret.
  3. Practice courage. Going first is an act of courage. Strength is allowing yourself to be vulnerable.
  4. Learn to take action. The best ideas and intentions in life are useless unless we follow through on them. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, so don’t underestimate the value of micro-actions.
  5. Be present. Don’t listen me, listen to Gabrielle.

3 lessons I’ve learned from Going First

1. Our priority is to find our tribe

Look, even if you ran a charity for puppies someone out there would have an axe to grind with you. Stop trying to convince people who don’t matter to like you. Spend your energy to find people who energises you instead of those who exhaust you. Going first can cast clarity on this for you.

2. Whatever you do, not everyone will respond.

That’s normal. Even if you had the best intentions behind your actions. That doesn’t mean that they’re against you. The truth is that there are hundreds of reasons of why someone else doesn’t respond. They could be having a bad day, or they might be going through a rough patch in their life. Sometimes, people don’t feel the same connection. It’s a tough pill to swallow but I’m sure you’ve felt the same way about others too.

With people you know, it’s more nuanced. I’ve gotten blanked on many occasions when I least expected it. Friends and acquaintances I thought I had a connection. It used to send me spiralling into self-doubt. But upon deeper reflections, I’ve learned two things,

First of all, everyone is open to the extent they’re comfortable. Some respond in lockstep to your lead, while others take time to warm up. Secondly, everyone has a primary style of expression. Some do it through gifts, some through words, and others through physical touch. And we can cultivate better relationships when we understand their style of expression.

3. Going First works best without expectations.

Ever felt sour from giving something to someone and they didn’t reciprocate? Our reflex to feel unjust when someone doesn’t respond in kind can is a natural human response. Reciprocity stems from our basic human desire for fairness. It enables us to move from self-interest to shared-interest. It allows us to build continuing relationships and exchanges with others.

But when you chain your act of giving to an expectation, you’re setting yourself up for anguish. Why allow something out of your control to deprive you of the joy of giving?

Giving is a gift that we must offer without expectations of getting something in return. Going first has taught me to trade expectations for appreciation. I’m happy to hear that Gabrielle shares the same view.

Go first for the next 7 days

When it comes to my self-experiments, I abide by this mantra: Don’t just go through it, grow through it.

I recommend setting goals that which pushes you out of your comfort zone in some capacity. For me, going first was a way to help me become better at initiating interactions with strangers. Plus, it was also a way to work around a complex I had with my smile.

  1. Go first with a stranger — Smile first. Say hello first. Scream first. Ok, maybe don’t scream. You get the point.

2. Go first with someone you know . Cultivate a practice of going first with your family and friends. Tell / show them how much you appreciate them.

Try this for seven days. It is an easy win, and a powerful one if you make it a practice. It’s ridiculous how nice it can make you feel when a stranger smiles back at you. Talk about real-life instant gratification.

What’s the worst that could happen? With a stranger either you get ignored or at worst you get a strange look back. With closer ones, it never hurts to tell them you appreciate them.


“Those Who Mind Don’t Matter, and Those Who Matter Don’t Mind.” — Dr. Seuss

If the goal have to meaningful relationships, Going First helps you to do this on two crucial fronts.

  1. Discover: When you go first, it creates a new window for new possibilities to occur with strangers.
  2. Develop: When you first, it creates new, meaningful moments in your existing relationships.

In both cases, you’re engineering serendipity.

Last of all, you never know the impact of your actions. What might seem like a small gesture to you might have a huge consequence for someone else.

Consider your own life. Haven’t you ever had someone in your life you are grateful for? A teacher who encouraged you to pursue your passion when you were starting out? Or a coach who pushed you to fulfil your potential when you were unsure?

We all have these stories and experiences. And the crazy thing is that we carry them with us for the rest of our lives. All because someone went first when they could have chosen not to.

If someone can do that for you, you can do it for someone else.

”We’re not who we say we are, we’re not who we want to be. We are the sum of the influence and impact that we have, in our lives, on others.” — Carl Sagan

When you go first you may not change the world in the Elon Musk’s way, but you never know whose world you might change, even if it’s just for the day.

The effect you have on others is one of the greatest gifts you can offer in life. Don’t waste it. Go first, take a leap. After all, when you go first, more than nothing can happen.


Thanks to Gabrielle Reece for the interview.  Listen to the full interview here. 

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