Doing Hard Things (Thoughts on 1,000 Burpees)

Ireland Photo

Lately I have been trying to train my mind for better concentration through activities like meditation and, more recently, memorizing a deck of cards which Cal Newport talks about in his book Deep Work.

Something I have been intentionally practicing for a longer time is training my mind to do hard things. To keep going through the slog, even when short term payoffs are abound. To find something physically demanding enough that my mind gets frightened and tries to rationalize it’s way out of the task. Then doing it anyway. What Steven Pressfield calls conquering the “resistance”, and what David Goggins refers to as “callusing your mind”.

This takes many micro forms mainly through daily habits, but sometimes I like to throw caution to the wind for a full accomplishing “hard things” reset.

This past week my brother, my partner, and I set a challenge of completing 1,000 burpees. We predicted it would take 1.5 hrs; it took 2 hours and 28 minutes. I thought about quitting at least 5 times, probably more. Each time that resistance telling you to quit is conquered it loses more power, and your confidence in being able to do hard things grows. This spills into all areas of life. The more you do, the more you can do. The confidence you build sticking with something hard outside of work, helps you stick with something hard at work.

The practice is straightforward:

  1. You find a task that has been accomplished within a day before by other people with a similar skill set, but this something has to be outside of your comfort zone. Use fear as a compass to find your activity.
  2. Find a partner to do it with, or establish stakes of completion / incompletion for yourself.
  3. Complete the task. Consider using a mantra that you can repeat when the resistance is trying to get you to stop (mine is simply: “do not quit”).

Examples of this type of “hard things” overhaul from my past:

  • 2016 – running far; for me this was a half marathon in D.C.
  • 2017 – camping in below freezing temperatures in the Delaware Water Gap.
  • 2018 – The Maryland Challenge
  • 2019 – 70 mile hike in Ireland along the Wicklow Way
  • 2020 – 1,000 Burpees


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