I hadn’t worked out in days. I felt bad about it. I was frozen while my fitness goals ran away from me.
Then I figured it out.
I wanted to cram in a year’s worth of workouts (and the results) into one workout. I’m a fool! That’s impossible, folks. Motionless I remained, because I knew I’d never do it.
So I thought, “if trying to do everything at once caused me to do nothing, what can I learn from that?”
A Perfect Solution
I started by considering the opposite of doing a year’s worth of workouts in one session. The answer came in – just do one push-up. Just one? Worthless! Initially, I scoffed at the idea (yes, I scoff), but when I tried to plan a full workout, I felt guilt from my previous inactivity. I also felt out of shape, unmotivated, and made all kinds of excuses to just do it tomorrow.
Trying and repeatedly failing to get myself motivated, I couldn’t get this one push-up idea out of my head, as useless as it seemed. What interested me was that when I considered this “challenge” as opposed to a full workout, it lacked the guilt and weight of my prior failures. I considered doing it just to amuse myself… and everything became clear. The one push-up challenge was the bizarre solution to my problem!
I did my one push-up. That’s all that I required of myself. But then I pumped out 14 more. After that, my muscles were warmed up. I was well beyond my laughable requirement, and I set a new one – just one pull-up. I set up the pull-up bar and like before, did several extra. I kept giving myself these beyond easy challenges, and it was so easy to do more. At one point, I set five goals while doing push-ups. Each 2-5 push-ups would activate another mini-challenge. In total, I did a 20-30 pull-ups and about 50 pushups. Not bad for a hopeless, lazy day.
Since I was warmed up already, I decided to do a 10 minute ab-destroying workout (an accomplishment for me because I hate ab workouts). I completed it and when all was said and done, I had worked out for 30 minutes. It isn’t earth shattering, but 30 minutes a day is enough to transform your physique.
This was the same type of workout I could not get myself to do initially. Challenging myself to do one measly push-up was all it took to get me going.
This Is So Small, And So Big
I weighed this phenomenon against all I’ve learned from books, research, blogging about personal development for several years, and my extensive experience with different motivational tactics. A universal truth kindly smacked me in the face. It’s a truth I want to share with you, because I think it can help you tremendously.
Think small (no, even smaller than what you just thought)… and you’ll conquer the world.
This is something I’ve written about before. We need to start small and blah blargh blech. It’s just that I had personally never gone this small before or heard of anyone else doing it. I mean…it’s pretty stupid. I’m in decent shape as it is, so one push-up feels as difficult and useful to me as clapping my hands.
Person: “Stephen, what are your plans? What are you working towards?”
Me: I am looking to make $1, do one pushup, and get rid of one possession.
Person: “Haha…how nice…wait, are you serious? Why aren’t you laughing? Seriously, what are you really going to do? What’s wrong with you man? You’ve been acting really weird lately. I’m calling the cops.”
In the fake conversation up there, the person’s response to my serious answer is exactly the reason we don’t do it. First, it sounds really lame and unimpressive to tell anyone, and we care about what others think of us. We would rather tell people we’re going to lose 50 pounds instead of one pound. Second, we see it as meaningless, because if one push-up is all we do, perhaps it is in vain.
Here is where it’s tricky. Be careful with this. If you believe that it is worthless unless you do more than the one push-up, you have undermined the power behind what makes this work! This means you need to be willing to do just one push-up and be 100% satisfied with it. Anything extra is in bonus land. You can’t think bigger yet.
Let’s Go Deeper: Why Do Small Challenges Beat Big Ones?
If you want to replace your belly keg with a six pack, that’s quite difficult to do. Actually, no. It’s not! It’s work for sure, but it is very simple and easy to do. Here is why we think it’s hard.
Say you need to lose 30 pounds to get that six pack.
Losing 30 pounds would require a caloric deficit over time of about 105,000 calories. That’s because it takes about 3500 calories to burn off a pound of fat. So for simplicity’s sake, let’s assume you currently consume exactly enough calories to maintain your weight and you need to burn those extra ones to lose weight. Also, let’s just say you’re going to lose them all by doing crunches.
A crunch will burn roughly half a calorie, so the required number of crunches to lose 30 pounds is…
30 lbs x 3500 cal/lb = 105,000 calories to burn
105,000 calories x 2 (# of crunches per burned cal) = 210,000 crunches
Ok, so don’t go out now and do a fifth of a million crunches today. That’s not the point and your abs would die forever. This example is to show the error the mind makes. Your mind may not know the exact number of crunches required to make that dramatic shift, but it knows it’s A GIANT SCARY NUMBER OF CRUNCHES, SWEAT, AND MISSED TV SHOWS OVER A LONG PERIOD OF TIME. AAAAHHHH!!!
But that’s not true. On a day-by-day basis it’s very little work. Your mind’s default setting simply does a poor job at breaking down huge projects into easy steps for you.
Can you do one crunch? Can you do half a crunch? Can you walk? If yes, that means you have the ability to get in really good shape. Not just average…eye candy! You’re only intimidated by the total amount of work it requires, but every moment is a chance to bring you closer, and you have a LOT of moments in your future.
Have you ever heard that starting is the hardest part? Of course starting a massive undertaking is going to be intimidating. It’s more comfortable to never start so you won’t feel the anvil on your shoulders. But if we’re talking about a single crunch…well, that’s really easy and you’ll start that. No anvil involved.
It’s easy to do one crunch (or half-crunch, or flinching upward slightly while on your back). It is progressively harder to do 2, 3, 4, and 5 crunches. Still, what are the chances you’d stop at one? You’re already down on the floor on your mat in position. You only have to do one…but nobody will stop you from doing more.
The human mind fails in this area because it likes to quantify the big picture:
- How much work will it take for me to make a million dollars?
- How much running per day do I need to do to lose 37 pounds by October?
- If I publish one blog post per day, is that enough to make my blog popular?
Each answer results in a huge chunk of work over time – the thought of which wears us out before we even start. These types of thinking patterns have most often left me frozen and frustrated. How about you? I know why.
Overcommitment Killed The Cat
Commitment is great. Marriage? Love it. $100 million sports contracts? Nothing better. All-in bet on red in roulette? Gulp…
Goals are absolutely worth committing to, but they must be handled with extreme care! If you commit to losing 87 pounds, it’s a huge decision and a constant burden until you accomplish it (or fail). You’re overcommitted. But the commitment level of doing one push-up or crunch is almost zero, so there’s no pressure and you’re free to do your best and take life’s unpredictabilities in stride.
Consider your mindset for building the next Apple. There would be pressure to do everything perfectly. But Apple itself started in a garage by two guys who weren’t planning on starting a business. Don’t overcommit to a lofty New Year’s Resolution. It isn’t necessary for success and it will weigh on you. Take the one push-up challenge!
With the one push-up challenge, you’re not committing to lose 87 pounds (though that could happen). Instead, you commit to the direction you want to head – towards better fitness, towards starting a business, towards removing clutter. This direction and the slight nudge of having to do one push-up per day keeps your goal active and makes you mindful of what you want to do.
Now, I Challenge You To Perform One Push-Up!
Look, I know one push-up is a lot to ask for, but if you’ve read this far and what I’m saying makes sense to you, it’s time to take action. Any massive, impossible-looking task can be broken into tiny steps that make it less daunting. If you want to apply this to crunches, weight loss, your business, or writing a novel, you can do that. Just make sure your first requirement is embarrassingly easy.
You’re not committing to anything overwhelming, so your mind doesn’t have the chance to shoot it down. It’s just one push-up for Arnold’s sake!
The Rules: You must perform one push-up per day for the entire year. On days you’re really sore, you can still do a single push-up! No exceptions! You can fit one in anywhere – on the subway, in Subway, in the bathroom, while waiting in line. Anywhere! No excuses! But it’s the days you want/need to exercise that you’ll love this. Your required push-up will give you a boost.
Bonus: If you want to do more than one push-up on any day, you are welcome to do so. Your push-up can turn into an hour of jumping jacks for all I care. If all you do is your one push-up for every day this year, you have completed this challenge, but I encourage you to give yourself subsequent micro-goals that are also embarrassingly easy. Keep in mind that 100 push-ups is just a repeated sequence of one push-up. Using this technique in all aspects of life could turn you into a juggernaut (with the downside of embarrassing-sounding goals).
So…can you handle this challenge? Do you accept? Tweet your pick!
I am taking the one push-up challenge! Tweet this to impress everyone
This guy is crazy. One push-up as a goal? Tweet this to damage my reputation
A year later update: This challenge has changed my life. Today, I go to the gym 3-6x a week, write about 2,000 words a day, and read every day (all habits or becoming habits). I’ve found a way to leverage small steps into powerful good habits, and I wrote a book about it called Mini Habits—you can buy Mini Habits on Amazon Kindle, Paperback, and audiobook!
A year and four months later update: Judging from the reviews, many people’s lives are changed after reading Mini Habits (4.8 star average rating). It will change the way you look at your goals forever (and in a good way). It’s been a year and four months now since I started doing one push-up a day, and I’m a completely different person: happier, more productive, and with a few amazing good habits that will serve me for the rest of my life.
A year and eight months later update: I’ve practiced mini habits for more than 300 days (even longer if you count the one push-up challenge!). I don’t ever miss days and they’re strong habits now (reading, writing, fitness). It’s been incredible to say the least. I’ve created a course on Udemy called Mini Habit Mastery to share the intricacies of this strategy with the world. If you’re reading this, you can save $35 with the coupon code “deepblog” — Here’s Mini Habit Mastery (coupon applied automatically).