Last week we focused on the week on increasing the amount of time we spend doing deep or cognitively demanding work. The goal of the week was to increase the amount of time you spent in focused time every day for five days.
This week we are going to focus on pushing past your perceived limit – that is, the spot where you think you need to stop. In doing so, we hope to expose ourselves to the great reserves of energy that exist largely untapped by the average person as philosopher William James states:
“Compared with what we ought to be, we are only half awake… We are making use of only a small part of our possible mental and physical resources.”
James goes on to describe in his writing, “The Energies of Man” that the belief that we have reached our limit causes us to quit before we need to:”
On usual occasions we make a practice of stopping an occupation as soon as we meet the first effective layer (so to call it) of fatigue. We have then walked, played, or worked “enough,” so we desist. That amount of fatigue is an efficacious obstruction on this side of which our usual life is cast.”
We all have a line in the sand at which we decrease our effort and ultimately quit because the discomfort and exhaustion have become too great. The goal of this week’s workouts is to push past this “efficacious obstruction,” recognizing that it is only a “first effective layer of fatigue” and experience the deeper reserves of energy and ability we possess.
In doing so, we will move the line in the sand further out. The effect this experience will have on us will not be limited to the specific exercise we use to explore our limits either. Once we learn that we can push past what feels insurmountable, we know that all such similar experiences are likely movable as well. We’ll be able to have the difficult conversations we shrink back from at work. We’ll be able to tackle the difficult problems our organizations are facing and not give up until we have a solution. We’ll be able to keep going in the face of discouragement. Extending your limits in one domain can extend your limits in all domains.
The point is not to burn ourselves out, but to make available to us our full set of resources so that we can use them when we need them.
Day 26-30 Willpower Workout:
- Pick an endurance exercise like running, walking, biking, hiking, or rowing.
- Pick a distance and pace (e.g., mins/mile) that is doable for you, but a challenge. It’s important that you ensure this is a challenging distance and pace.
- Do the exercise from step 1 for the distance and pace decided in step 2 on Monday or your first day of doing this workout.
- Every subsequent day for the next four days, increase either your distance or pace or both.
Evaluating Your Workout:
Try to make a mental note of when in your workout each day you reach what James calls the “first effective layer of fatigue” – that is, when do you feel like stopping. Determine if your first quitting point gets further out as the week goes on.
Also, keep track of how far you go and at what pace. How much are you able to extend your limits?
As you push past your limits through this workout, consider when you may have stopped short during a task because of a perceived limit rather than a real limit. Given what you’re learning about your new, extended limits, how much further could you have gone in those instances?
Willpower Workout in Action:
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This is day 26-30 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:
- Day 1: Overcoming Boring Tasks
- Day 2: Concentrating While Taxing Your Body
- Day 3: Overcoming Offense
- Day 4: Staying Productive When You’re Not Seeing Progress
- Day 5: Pushing Past Feeling Depleted
- Day 6: Focusing Amid Distractions
- Day 7: Cold Water Challenge
- Day 8: How to Do Your Least Motivating Task
- Day 9: Going Beyond Failure
- Day 10: Asking For and Giving Constructive Feedback
- Day 11: Beating Disgust
- Day 12: Resisting Bad Habits
- Day 13: Stretching Your Habit-Forming Muscles
- Day 14: Going Without Sleep
- Day 15: Dealing with Discouragement
- Day 16: Enduring the Physical Discomfort of Fasting
- Day 17: Overcoming Temptation
- Day 18: Ending Bad Habits
- Day 19: Doing Very Easy Tasks
- Day 20: Memorization Challenge
- Day 21-26: Increasing Focus Time