Take The One Push-up Challenge

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 KindlePaperback, 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).

About the Author

I'm lazy, but you can call me Stephen. When you're as lazy as I am, you need superior strategies to live well. My strategies are so effective that I'm productive every single day. As the world tries to figure out how to always stay motivated, I create strategies that don't require it.


Great article and example. It is so easy to become overwhelmed and become a deer in the headlights. We need to constantly be reminded that we learned to walk one step at a time, one smal goal at a time. Thank you for this post.

Stephen Guise

Thanks Joyce. The reason I like this method is because of what you said – we need to be reminded to take one small step at a time. When you’re required to do one push-up every day, you see and experience that small step. Hopefully, in a year, taking very small steps will have become a habit.

Happy New Year, Joyce!

Lisa Marie Mary

I’ve only read the short version so far and so far, I. love. it. This fits in perfectly with the new site and goals I’m about to start for 2013. I will try to remember to come back to tell you about the new site! Before even reading the whole thing, this post ROCKS!!!

Nina Knopp

Stephen, this is great! Just read through some of your previous blogs and couldn’t stop! I didn’t know you were doing this. So much wisdom-keep on giving it to us! Thank you!!


Amazing post! And what a great way to tackle life head on, one push up at a time!


I’ve shared your post over at TribeSports.com, a website that helps to motivate people to work out, have fun, do more sports and get fit. I think you can inspire many people with the great piece of writing. Thanks again for sharing.

Kars Meyboom

I discovered this tactic a while back. It works great with laundry, too. Formerly:

“Ugh, I really can’t be arsed to fold that whole pile. Let’s watch some Doctor Who instead!”


*looks at pile and sighs*

“Oh well. You know what, I’ll fold one pair of underwear and put it away. Just one will do.”

*folds underwear*

“Huh, you know what, I’ll fold all the underwear. I’m at it now, anyway.”

*folds all underwear*

“Cool! But I’ll need a pair of socks with each pair of underwear. I guess I could do those.”

Ten minutes later it’s all done. The hard part is getting started. Think and start small, and once you have momentum, it’s easy! The trick is figuring out what the simplest task is. I hate vacuming, so I trick myself by telling myself I’m only hauling it out from the closet, nothing more.

Really, this tactic works with all sorts of daily stuff; chores, work, exercise, etc.

Stephen Guise

I’m glad you love it Lisa! I wish you the best with your 2013 goals, and using this strategy, I think you’ll dominate this year. 😀

Stephen Guise

Hey Nina! So nice of you to visit. 🙂 Yeah, I’ve been doing this for more than a year and a half now. I love it. Thanks for checking it out!

Stephen Guise

Hi Andy. Thanks for your comments and for sharing it at Tribesports.com. I looked it up and that’s a great website! It looks like a lot of people are on board with the one push-up challenge, so I’m excited to hear about their experiences as we progress into the new year.

Stephen Guise


You are an expert at this! It has implications in all of life and I plan on using it extensively to see what I can do with it. So far, it seems like it makes humans unstoppable, because when you’re taking microsteps, the typical excuses are ineffective at thwarting you!

My rule of thumb is: “If the task doesn’t sound stupid and ridiculous, it isn’t small enough.”

For your vacuuming task, if you still had trouble getting started, you could go even smaller with “walk up to the closet and open the door.” There is no step too small to include because no amount of progress is insignificant.

Have a great new year Kars!


Excellent. Simply excellent.

Stephen Guise

Thank you Mark. Cheers. 🙂


Awesome Article It’s Really Motivated Stephen Guise…Looking More And More Articles Like this

Stephen Guise

Vikram, thanks!


I love this idea… this is awesome. You can’t feel like a failure if you do the one but you can feel fantastic if you go above and beyond your goals and in this case that can mean 3 or 4 or 10, who knows. I love it and had to share with my readers. Thanks.

Stephen Guise

Hi Terie!

I’m really happy you like the idea and shared it with your readers! For me, it has been working wonders. When I started, I felt weak and out of shape. But now I can pump out 10 push-ups without feeling like I’ve done anything. I actually started before the new year (because it’s just one push-up!).

My lowest number I’ve done so far in a day is 3 push-ups. The most was about 50. It works!


I’m a professional blogger so I’m stealing this idea (amateurs borrow, professionals steal)! I will of course link back here when I do so. I freaking LOVE this idea. I’m recovering from my second hip replacement and have gotten out of shape in the last few years. This idea of start small, as you said, has become just so much blah blah blah but this is real and it’s eminently doable. Thanks Stephen.

Stephen Guise

I’m glad you see this being as revolutionary as I do! I’ve made significant strides physically because of this one push-up challenge. It isn’t that I’m doing a lot, but that I’m doing a little bit consistently. It seems natural that our bodies would respond better this way rather than overloading them with extreme exercise in between TV shows. Let me know when you post about it – I’d like to read what you say!

Cheers! I’m off to do my one push-up today. 🙂

Stephen Guise

Great! Thank you. I enjoyed reading it and left a comment.


Hi Stephen.

I stumbled across your site through White Dove books. I absolutely love this post because it came at the right time when today I was once again working on the “block” that stops me from getting back into my exercise through using EFT (Tapping). It’s so simple really isn’t it but we make it so hard for ourselves. I started a blog last year and plan to convert it to a dot.com site. Lately it’s been a very easy thought to just give up – a few “likers” and a few “followers” but no comments (which doesn’t worry me) so this post of yours has motivated me to just keep going. I love your writing style, it’s the same style I want to write in but there’s this inner struggle about being proper and being myself – I figure what have I got to lose – no-one is really watching anyway :).

Thanks again. Well it’s 11.35pm here in Australia so this little white dove (or black duck) is off to bed.


PS I just did my one push up before bed. That’s enough for tonight.

Stephen Guise

Hi Deborah, I’m really happy this inspired you to keep going. I’ve thought about quitting a few times myself because I thought the blog should be more popular than it was, but in the end I realized that I really enjoy writing, and I don’t need a huge audience to be happy doing it.

So many bloggers quit in the first year, which makes me think they didn’t get the attention they expected.

And nice job on your one push-up! It’s funny, I’ve done mine IN BED before. It’d be midnight and I’d remember, “Oh no, I forgot to do my one push-up requirement today,” and I’d roll over and do one before sleeping for the night. 🙂


Hi Stephen,
I started One-Push-Up challenge about 2 months ago following the steps. It was a while that I didn’t do regular exercise. Now I’m doing 125 situp and 58 push ups daily, reaching my goal by end of August which is 140 situps and 70 push ups daily. The challenge was amazing, my 3 year old son loves it when I do exercise. He imitates me as well as jumping on my back, making me continue the push ups. I also extended this challenge to other areas of my life, like de-cluttering my office, garage and improving my relationship with my wife doing one small bit here and there for her but continuously.
It’s been invaluable so far and moving forward.

Big Thanks.

Stephen Guise


Those are incredible results. Thank you for sharing them. Your son seems like a natural personal trainer. 🙂

I wish you continued success with small steps! Cheers!

~ Stephen

Vishaun Kistan

Your blogs are very inspiring. It will sure help a lot of people to move forward with their lives in a very challenging way!

Stephen Guise

That’s the goal, Vishaun. Thank you for reading!


This is a great idea! Lately I have been so unmotivated to practise the piano for my upcoming exam and I have been searching for ways to make playing technical exercises interesting. Despite many tries they have never worked. However, I believe that this is the answer! Well done, this is great.

Daniel Wojcik

This made me think of the game Civilization, where players often wanted “one more turn!”. Both easy to do, easy to repeat, easy to want more. “Just one more goal!”

It’s also kinda like facebook’s newsfeed or reddit’s frontpage. “Just one more status!” or “Just one more thread!”. I find that really interesting.

Stephen Guise

This should work. It’s never failed me yet. Cheers!

Stephen Guise

That’s true. It’s very much like that, but those things are generally “time-wasters” while this can be used to do very positive things for your life. Good insight Daniel.

Martin Koss

I love the concept. I had heard of the “One Push-Up Challenge” in something I had read and just started reading your new book “Mini Habits” so, naturally, I clicked the link in the book and here I am… Taking the “One Push-up Challenge” for the first time. And, I hasten to add, am enjoying the book.

Stephen Guise

Thank you Martin! I’m glad you’re enjoying Mini Habits (and taking the One Push-up Challenge)!

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