About a year ago I was coming up on a milestone birthday and I thought it would be cool if I was able to do as many push ups as years I’ve been alive. Very Jack LaLanne-like thinking. Unfortunately I performed my last push sometime in the last millennium. But I started anyway, just as I encourage all of you to do in order to achieve your goals.
Over the years push ups and I had drifted apart and had come to an uneasy understanding. They wouldn’t mock my weakness if I would agree to pretend I didn’t care. It was an arrangement that worked well for decades. Avoidance, you see, can be a wonderful coping strategy when thought of as a feature rather than a bug.
So I did overcome my avoidance and I did meet my goal. But much more interesting and more broadly useful is how I did it, which I hope will inspire all of you to achieve your goals.
What it used to be like
I have done push ups daily before. What I did was resolve to do more push ups each day than the day before. As seemingly reasonable as that sounds, my experience with that approach was always the same.
The day would soon come when I couldn’t exceed the previous day’s total. The total number of reps was the focus and when I couldn’t consistently do more than yesterday I would get frustrated, feel defeated, and ultimately quit.
I didn’t realize it but I had set myself up for failure. So consequently I did fail. I stopped doing push ups.
What I did this time
James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, talks about the 2-Minute Rule for forming new habits. I have read his book and something of it must have seeped into my thinking. Because although I wasn’t consciously deciding to apply the 2-Minute rule to push ups, subconsciously I did. Here’s how it was different.
Scale down the goal
Instead of putting my attention on doing as many push ups as I am years old, it makes me weary just reading that, I focused on doing push ups every day…even if it were only one push up.
No matter how tired or busy I think I am, I could do one push up. I mean, how long does that take? How hard could that be? It takes no time at all and it is easy. After a few days I found that I simply didn’t want to break the streak.
Counting what matters
The only metric that matters is that I did push ups today. It doesn’t matter how many I do, it just matters that I do them. I learned that the first push up is the hardest. Two through whatever is easy, but getting started is hard. Once started though the rest just seem to follow. That’s exactly how to achieve any of your goals; get started and let the rest happen.
I also learned to not count them all in consecutive fashion. It was easier and felt easier (Jedi fitness trick?) to break down how I counted my reps into sets of ten or twenty. Even though I didn’t track a running total I never had trouble adding it up at the end.
The takeaway: how to achieve your goals
Since I began in early 2021 I have done push ups every day. Just like the investor who has a little money saved from every paycheck I now find myself with a growing “strength” account. What’s more is the added side benefit of enhanced self esteem born of discipline. This isn’t just something I do, this is who I am.
And if you’re wondering, I did 75 of them today. Five more than I am years old.
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