Exercise takes mental effort, not just physical effort. Everyone’s mind handles the challenge differently, but some things are common. I find some people feel silly or awkward about their thoughts.
More than any other thoughts, I think about fractions of the way finished I am. For example, a lap of Central Park is six miles. I know roughly where each mile is. The first mile is one-sixth, or about sixteen percent. The next mile is one-third, then one-half, then two-thirds, then the next marker has one-sixth left. I generally note when I pass the seventy-percent mark, since in grade school seventy percent meant passing. I also note ninety percent, since that’s where you get an A.
I do twenty-six burpees every day. Many burpees have a unique feel that leads to similar thoughts about each.
One: Since I steel my nerves to do twenty-six but can only do one at a time, the first burpee feels easier than I expect since it’s only one and I’m still full of energy. My joints crack when I do it. I check my form.
Two through five: I don’t notice these much because I haven’t started running out of energy.
Six: My sixth burpee has a claim for being the hardest mentally, or most demoralizing. I’ve lost the energy that made the first five easy, but I still have twenty to go. Twenty feels like almost the whole set, so I’m qualitatively more tired than when I started but still feel like the whole set remains.
Seven and eight: I don’t notice these as much because I’m approaching nine, which is more than one-third.
Nine: One-third done. Now I’m a substantial part of the way there. I feel good despite the growing fatigue.
Ten to twelve: Harder, but approaching halfway.
Thirteen: Half done. I usually feel like I’ve used more than half my energy, but somehow feel like I can make it. I know the second half will take more fortitude than the first. I have to pay attention to my form more since my body wants to contort to make it easier.
Fourteen and fifteen: Harder. Approaching sixteen, which is where, since I have ten left, it’s a major milestone. I don’t know why, but passing the ten-left mark feels like an accomplishment. Maybe because I have a single-digit number left.
Sixteen: Feels good, but I also realize I’m going to have to work hard for the last ten. They’re different than the first ten. The first ten, though hard, I can just choose to do and my body does it. The last ten, I have to draw on different mental reserves than just to do them.
Seventeen: This one passes fast, despite being hard, because I’m approaching two-thirds.
Eighteen: I pass the two-thirds mark doing this one. It feels great. Only eight left, significantly less than one-third.
Nineteen: Feels a lot like the seventeenth.
Twenty: In the home stretch. Although I have six left, I feel like I have four left since my last two are different, as I’ll explain when I get to them.
Twenty-one to twenty-four: These all feel the same. They’re hard, I have to concentrate on form, my body moves slowly, I sometimes lose my balance, but I’m also nearly done. Nothing to save.
Twenty-five: On my last two I make sure by thumbs touch during my push-ups, which makes them harder. I can’t help but do them slower, with an extra breath. Maybe because of the changes, maybe because the end is so close, maybe because I do them slower, they feel easier.
Twenty-six: Sometimes I jump extra high, sometimes I barely jump for the last one, but it’s a relief. I already start feeling satisfaction and accomplishment as well as exhausted. Until maybe six months ago, I would rest to recover my breath after the twenty-sixth. Sometimes I couldn’t talk for ten to thirty seconds after finishing as my lungs gasp for air. Recently I made a challenge to get on my butt and in position to stretch my hamstrings by the next inhale after I finish, meaning I have to get ready while I can barely think.
I have similar thoughts while rowing and lifting. I imagine everyone has their patterns, but I presume they aren’t that different. In no case can I imagine that people just quiet their minds and push, like they may appear from the outside. Everyone has doubts and temptations to stop or not start. The mental exercise of overcoming that resistance is as challenging as the physical exercise of overcoming physical resistance.
Learn to make Meaningful Connections
with a simple, effective exercise from my book, Leadership Step by Step.
- Step by step instructions
- Video examples of me and Marshall Goldsmith
- An excerpt from my book