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4 Examples of One Step Forward Two Steps Back

One step forward, two steps back is an analogy, truism and English idiom that suggests that progress is often illusive such that improvements often have negative unintended consequences. The following are illustrative examples.


The phrase one step forward, two steps back was the title of a 1904 pamphlet written by Lenin that goes into some detail regarding internal divisions in the Marxist party in Russia more than a decade before the Russian Revolution. This may have been inspired by a European folktale about a frog trying to jump out of a well who makes some progress only to fall deeper into the well.

Political Divisions

It is common for political divisions and polarization to create a situation where a nation moves aggressively in one direction only to move more aggressively in the opposite direction when power shifts. This can be destructive and requires civility, pragmatism and compromise to overcome.

Unintended Consequences

Beyond politics, the other major use of one step forward, two steps back is to describe unintended consequences whereby a seemingly positive change creates large issues and risks such that the long term result of the change is negative.

Two steps forward, one step back

More optimistic versions of the phrase include "two steps forward, one step back" and "one giant leap forward, two steps back." These describe the common experience of making an improvement that causes some issues but is generally positive nonetheless.
Overview: One Step Forward Two Steps Back
An analogy, truism and English idiom that suggests that progress is often illusive such that improvements often have negative unintended consequences.
Lenin, title of 1904 pamphlet. Likely based on an earlier European folktale.
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