Ten Things I Learned From Doing 10,000 Push-Ups

Do you ever make a New Year’s Resolution and get only a few days into January before you give up on it? I know I have many times. Three years ago, I was determined to not let that happen. I challenged myself to adopt a new behavior both for the intrinsic benefit itself—a stronger upper body and core—and the satisfaction of knowing I could successfully adopt a new behavior. 

So, I set a New Year’s Resolution to do 10,000 push-ups and here’s 10 things I learned:

1. Doing 10,000 push-ups was more of a mental accomplishment than a physical one

Making myself do push-ups required self-discipline and self-control. There wasn’t a single day that I didn’t have to direct myself to do them. They never spontaneously happened, I had to will myself to make them happen. While doing the push-ups increased my physical strength, I became aware that it was my mental strength that benefited more.

2. Breaking big goals into small parts works

I didn’t fall on the floor and do 10,000 push ups in January. But by doing 40/day, I’d done 10,000 by September. You can accomplish big results when you break a goal down into small parts that you can make progress on every day.

3. Just because something is easy to do, doesn’t mean you’ll do it

You may have noticed adopting new behaviors that are good for you isn't something that occurs easily. It’s as if there is a conspiracy against you. It doesn’t actually take very long to do push-ups—less than 5 minutes. So, from that standpoint, it’s easy to do (and make time for). But, since very few people actually do push-ups every day even though it’s easy to do, it's also easy not to do.

4. If you really want it, you cannot just “set it and forget It”

In the pursuit of a goal that will take a considerable amount of time to achieve, continued awareness and presence is required.  Even after I did 40 push-ups a day for 250 days, it was actually easy to forget I had the goal. This is how people typically deal with New Year’s Resolutions. They make them and then forget they made them in a very short period of time. Posting your goals where you will see them every day helps. I posted my goals next to my bathroom mirror. Otherwise, out of sight is out of mind.

5. New habits stick better when they are attached to existing ones

Behavior design expert, B.J. Fogg, PhD, suggests anchoring a new behavior to an existing habit that you already do every day. For me, I just don’t get into the shower in the morning without doing push-ups.

6. You have to make time

If you don't make room in your day for the new behavior, it's unlikely to happen. The rest of your busy life will crowd it out. And because our lives are already so busy, we have to consciously carve the time from somewhere else—ideally take it from a behavior that you'd like to stop doing.

7. Put yourself in position

Putting yourself in position is the best way to make the action happen. Once I get myself in push-up position, it’s very unlikely I won't do them. The same thing can be said of other behaviors. For example, joggers who don't feel like jogging, but who put on their running shoes and make themselves go outside are more likely to run, than ones who stay shoeless and inside.

8. You get what you tell yourself and others to expect

Accountability is important, but everyone relates to accountability differently. Author Gretchen Rubin, in her book Better Than Before, created a distinction called the "Four Tendencies Framework". She discusses the tendencies of people to either meet or resist expectations.  She calls the 4 types: "Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels". I’m an upholder. I meet outer and inner expectations. But if you’re a rebel, and resist inner and outer expectations then you need think differently about the goals you set. Follow this link to take her quiz and learn your tendencies.

9. Your goal needs to become part of who you are

I learned this from James Clear who said, "The key to building lasting habits is focusing on creating a new identity first. Your current behaviors are simply a reflection of your current identity. What you do now is a mirror image of the type of person you believe that you are (either consciously or subconsciously). To change your behavior for good, you need to start believing new things about yourself." I made my new goal part of my identity. I decided I was someone who did push-ups everyday—that’s who I became.  

10. Willpower and determination are musts

I couldn't have achieved the goal without willpower. But, it's not just willpower that was needed. According to Kelly McGonigal, PhD, in her book The Willpower Instinct, "want power" and "won't power" are also important. I wanted to be someone who did this and continued to tell myself I couldn’t miss a day. Each morning I declared, "This won't be a day I’ll miss." 

The bottom line is you can achieve any goal you set your mind to with the right motivation and ability.  Audrey Hepburn said, "Nothing is impossible, the word itself says I'm possible."