Willpower Workout 2

Willpower Workout #2: Concentrating While Taxing Your Body

August 25, 2020

In the lead-in to willpower workout #1, we described three dimensions we consider when designing a willpower workout. Today, we want to introduce another part of the framework for understanding how to stretch and grow your willpower. Willpower, as we define it, is the ability to do things you don’t want to do. There are a number of reasons you may not want to do something. The task can pose a negative cost to one of three parts of your being:

  1. Body
  2. Mind
  3. Emotions

In the first willpower workout, we taxed both our minds primarily and bodies secondarily. Typing is a fairly easy physical task, but re-typing something quickly and accurately requires a high degree of concentration. In this second workout, we are going to tax your body primarily and your mind secondarily.

Day 2 Willpower Workout:

Do 500 consecutive step-ups. 500 may be too high for you. If you know it is, then pick a lower number. Regardless of what number you pick, make sure you decide in advance and make sure it will stretch you.

Count each step manually. If you lose count, start over.

  1. Find something you can step up onto. I ended up using a chair with a seat 17.5 inches high. Since I’m 6 feet 2 inches tall, the step-up was almost 25% of my total height. If you’re not used to this kind of physical activity, you may want to choose a smaller step.
  2. Start a timer (on your phone is fine).
  3. Begin stepping up!
  4. If you lose count, start over.
  5. If you can do it without losing count or stopping, use the stopwatch feature to keep track of how long it takes you to do each set of 100 step-ups on the way to 500 (giving you 5 times and a total time).

Evaluating Your Workout

The difference between this workout and just another physical workout is the counting. Our tendency is to distract ourselves when doing something unpleasant physically, but the requirement to count makes this impossible. Consider these questions:

Did your mind try to wander? If so, what did you do to refocus it?

My guess is that everyone’s mind would begin to wander in this exercise, particularly as the body begins to tire. The key is noticing that it is wandering quickly and refocusing before you lose count. How quickly were you able to notice your mind wandering?

How did you keep track of how many step-ups you had done?

At work, we often ask our brains to do work that technology or other tools can do for them (e.g., keeping track of what we have to do). This needlessly tires our minds out while leading us to make mistakes and slow down. If you try to keep track of step-ups by counting every single one in your head, you’ll experience the cognitive fatigue that comes from making your brain work in ways it doesn’t like to. I discovered another system as I got into (you can check it out in the video below).

Did your pace remain constant?

It’s fine if you reached muscle fatigue part way through and had to push the rest of the way to the end slowly, particularly if you have never done a workout like this. However, you want to think about how you pace yourself. You may have a tendency to leave the starting block too fast, causing yourself to lose energy before your work is done. Do you start projects energetically, but coast into the finish?

Willpower Workout in Action:

The step-ups were a good workout, but what I really loved about this workout was the addition of the counting requirement. It forced me to innovate in real-time, to use routines to help my mind, and to develop systems to sustain myself.

Check it out below:

Are you starting to get what these workouts are exercising? Let them push you to new limits.

This is day 2 of a 40-day journey to explore your limits. If you’d like to receive a daily email with the willpower workout of the day, you can sign up here to start at Day 1 with the first workout:

If you’d prefer to jump in where Matt is right now and then make up the other workouts on your own schedule, sign up here: