I think I’ve pretty much identified the reason for hitting that mental wall: every task seems daunting, and, piled on top of a growing list of other such chores, represents an almost insurmountable burden that I can’t even get myself to start chipping away at. I’ve tried prioritizing tasks, but my brain inflated the scope of the work to the point where even a shorter list of three or five things to start with seemed like three or five huge rocks on my plate.
Then I read a motivational article recently, I can’t remember where—perhaps a Facebook link to a blog in the cloud. The blog post itself claimed to have taken inspiration from yet another one, and in fact the simple, yet wondrously effective insight appears to have fueled a number of similar articles, virally spreading a solution to the millions of us looking for a jumpstart to productivity.
The basic premise and advice of the concept is this: challenge yourself to do just one push-up.
Push-up? One? OK, where is this going?
The original author of the challenge used it to motivate readers who were trying to get in shape, but were overwhelmed by the goal of doing X number of repetitions a day in order to get to a Y level of conditioning after Z weeks. The advice was simple: Forget your goals, your workout plan. You want to get fit? Do one push-up.
What the author implied, and what readers discovered, was that after doing one push-up, they were already in a prone position on the floor, so they did another one, and maybe three more. Whatever. And felt good about themselves. So they stood up and perhaps did a pull-up. Just one. That turned into five. And by choosing to do exactly one thing at a time in their mind, they quietly laid a foundation of satisfaction and accomplishment that nudged them to gradually embrace and execute a comprehensive training routine.
The author of the second post on the push-up challenge took the premise beyond fitness and into the realm of everyday business and personal life. Don’t get overwhelmed thinking about everything that’s on your plate. Don’t even obsess with the details of the first of many tasks on your to-do list. Pick your first target and say to yourself, “I’m just going to open my planner and read the first item scheduled for today.” Or, “I’m just going to walk over to my in-box and pick up the first document in the stack and read it.” Or, “I’m just going to walk into the bedroom and hang up the shirt that’s lying on the bed.”
I tried this simple bit of advice after reading it, and damned if it doesn’t actually work. I wrote a post a while ago about “turning the key,” a mental trick I came up with to skip the agony of thinking about a seemingly monumental task and dive instantaneously into it. The problem with that method was that the perceived effort was still huge, and I simply delayed turning the key. But one pushup? Heck, I don’t need a key to do one measly push-up.
The “one push-up challenge” works because it addresses a quick, easy task that can be accomplished and immediately filed away, leaving one feeling better and inspired. We’ve all read Lao Tzu’s ancient quote that “a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” One step is simple, as is one push-up. But don’t think about the excellent shape you’ll be in after one thousand push-ups. Just do the first one.
What motivational techniques do you use to get yourself going?