One push-up

A friend of mine once told me about a strategy he was using to get himself to exercise every day. He committed to doing one push-up every morning. Just one.

The thinking goes, you can’t really shirk that responsibility. It’s just one push-up! It’s so easy, there’s no reason not to get down on the floor and do it. It takes almost no time at all. Even if you’re nearly late for work, doing one push-up only takes a few seconds. Even if you’re feeling sick, you can probably still eke out a single push-up.

But once you’re on the floor and have completed your requisite single push-up, well, doing another one wouldn’t be so hard. Probably you could even do five or ten, and if you’re not sick or late for work, maybe today’s the day you decide to find out how many push-ups you can do before you throw up.

Separating the idea of starting a thing from the size of the thing you want to commit to is a powerful way to address the two separately. If you commit to doing 20 push-ups every day, on day five you’ll probably look at that commitment in the morning and think, “gosh, that’s an awful lot of push-ups, and I’m really tired. I’ll do them this evening.” and there’s your what the hell effect right there. The decision of whether to do the thing is combined with the decision of how much of the thing to do.

Breaking those decisions apart lets you consider “do I want to start doing this thing” and “how much of this thing do I want to do” separately. It’s much easier to commit to the former decision (effectively removing your own power to choose), and once you’ve started, it’s much easier to keep going.

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