This is an account of day 8 of the 21-Day Daily Stoic Freedom Challenge, for accounts of other days please click here.
The task for day 8 of the 21-Day Daily Stoic Freedom Challenge is to do your max amount of pushups, situps or pull ups, wait for 1 minute, then see how many more you can do. Rather than simply being a physical test for building strength and endurance, it’s more about the metaphor for life. It’s what Epictetus called called “profitable difficulty”: making routine out of seeking out difficulty, things that get you just outside your comfort zone, to open yourself to possibilities otherwise left dormant.
Today’s email from Daily Stoic explains further:
That’s what today’s challenge is all about. To free yourself from self-limiting beliefs and prove to yourself that you can do more than you thought you were capable of. To hear that voice, but then shut it up. Whether it’s push ups, sit ups, or pull ups, do as many as you possibly can. Get yourself to the point where the thought of one more rep seems great, but it just isn’t physically feasible. Where your body is shaking and laying on the carpet was never so comfortable. Where you get off the pull up bar and your arms dangling by your sides even feels like a task. Where you’ve really, truly, and fully reached your limit. Then start the stopwatch on your phone. Wait 1 minute. And do it again. As many as you possibly can. While you do, think back just a minute ago when you believed 1 more rep wasn’t conceivable. When you believed you reached your limit. Yet here you are, just 60 seconds later, stomping on those beliefs of what you’re capable of. Free at last from the thoughts that keep you tethered from your potential.
Again, it’s not about a one-off show of physical prowess, it;s about progress:
Progress precedes excellence. And progress, by definition, requires raising the bar above what the past you knew to be possible. If you never push the limits of what you think is possible, you’ll never realize just what you are capable of. Today, we get in the habit of silencing that little voice that says we can’t with actions that prove we can.
The important thing about today’s challenge was to keep in mind that it’s as much of a mental test as it is a physical one. As someone who is into sports and fitness, my natural reaction to a challenge like this would usually be an immediate feeling of competitiveness – how many push ups will I do? How many will others do? But I know that today’s task, like the other days, is an internal one. It’s about pushing your own limits, comparing yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who others are today.
“Dig deep within yourself, for there is a fountain of goodness ever ready to flow if you will keep digging.”Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 7.59
Coincidentally, I’ve been finishing most of my recent workouts with 20 push ups so I knew I had to go past that otherwise I was falling short of my capabilities. With that mental determination I was able to do 44. After waiting 1 minute and trying again, I did 25. The fact that I resolved to beat the amount I was comfortable with was the important thing, not the numbers themselves. I also realised that I’ve been going easy on myself in my recent workouts. 🙂
In the challenge’s group Slack channel, César summarised the intention of today’s exercise nicely:
Day 8: My least favorite exercise is sit-ups, so that was my choice for today’s challenge. Training and exercise has been very important for us at home and I believe there are so many micro life lessons that can be learned from physical activity, like patience and fortitude. I managed to do 90 + 36 sit-ups
Today’s challenge was a worthwhile lesson in the power of the mind. I’ve been doing 20 push ups to finish my workouts thinking I was making it hard for myself, but sometimes you don’t know what you’re capable of until you push the limits of your comfort zone.