On October 31st, I announced to my family that we would all be participating in what I cheekily called a "Family Fitness Fun Challenge" for the month of November.
Each of us has an activity we do at least once a week in an attempt to live a healthier life. My daughter Chloë and I both do CrossFit. My son Aidan does Ju-Jitsu. My daughter Charlotte does gymnastics. My wife spends at least 20 hours each week chasing after our hyper-active, surprisingly fast three-year old.
But doing something together was a new idea for us, so everybody was pretty enthusiastic about the challenge before it began. The fact that I bribed my children with the equivalent of $30 each if they successfully completed every day of the challenge probably helped too.
The details of the challenge were simple:
On November 1st, we would all do one burpee*, one push-up, one sit-up, and one squat.
On November 2nd, we would do two of each exercise.
On November 3rd... well, you get the idea.
This all seemed like a very fun idea on October 31st, before the challenge started. But yesterday was the 26th day of our "Family Fitness Fun Challenge", and we all stopped thinking it was fun sometime last week.
Fortunately, fun wasn't really the point.
I hate burpees with a passion. And a big part of the reason I hate them so much is because I'm really not good at doing them. Burpees are known to be one of the most physically taxing body-weight exercises you can do... and I carry around a lot of body weight. I'll often have to do burpees as part of my CrossFit classes, and I can usually only manage eight in a row before my heart-rate skyrockets and I start to feel light-headed.
But a funny thing happened during the course of our challenge: where I expected Day 8 to be really difficult... it really wasn't. I was able to do eight burpees in a row without feeling completely winded.
And the next day, I managed nine.
In fact, I didn't have to break up my burpee-set until November 18th, when I decided I'd give myself a break and begin my set with nine burpees, then end it with another nine. Yesterday I did 16 burpees to start the set, and left just ten until the end of it. (Keep in mind that between those two bookends, there were 26 sit-ups, 26 push-ups, and 26 squats.)
If I tried to do 16 burpees on Day 1 of our challenge, there almost certainly wouldn't have been a Day 2.
It's natural to dislike something you aren't good at doing. And if you don't like doing it, you're less likely to do it... and then you can't get any better. That cycle continues, in perpetuity.
But what if you just increased your effort by a tiny amount every day?
James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, talks about the idea of continuous improvement and introduces us to The Power of Tiny Gains. I'll save you a click: Clear illustrates that if you got just 1% better at something every single day, you'd be 37 times better at that thing at the end of the year than you were when you started.
By this point, I trust you've already figured out this post isn't really about burpees.
Day 1 of our challenge seemed like a joke.
But it wasn't. It was the necessary foundation for Day 2.
There's no shame in starting small and building from there.
In fact, if you want to achieve long-term success, it's the only way to do it.
* If you don't know what a "Burpee" is, it's the exercise the young woman is doing in the GIF at the top of this email. If you've never done one, give it a try. Or just trust me when I say she's making it look much easier than it actually is when you're the one doing it.
P.S. I'm already planning a December challenge. But my family would only consider it if I promised there would be absolutely no burpees involved. If you're up for a challenge next month (which starts on Tuesday) and you want in, just reply to this email and I'll send you the details. To be clear, you won't get $30 from me if you succeed... but I can almost guarantee you'll end up with something much more valuable.