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A Challenge in Push-ups

Posted On November 17, 2016 @ 8:15 pm By: Kellie Cowles

In October I was challenged to participate in the 22 Day Push-Up Challenge, which serves to raise awareness of how many service men and women commit suicide (though the number is now said to be 20, rather than 22 per day.)  I wrote this post to help me fully process the journey and now I share the lessons learned that they may encourage someone else’s journey

I agreed for two reasons; first it seemed like a good cause and second, I never walk away from a challenge if there’s even a small possibility of succeeding.  So I swallowed hard and stepped up to a journey that has had a major impact on my self-awareness, perspective of my broader community and most importantly, the lives and challenges of our military veterans.

The response on my Facebook page was wonderful.  So many folks took the time to compliment, cheer and support me, that it was quite surprising.  Receiving all that attention forced me to drill in my focus to keep it on the cause and not make it about me. That was why I never “liked”, replied or wrote anything beyond the most minimal comments on my video posts. Normally, I find it rude to not acknowledge someone speaking to me, even with an online forum, but these were extenuating circumstances. For the record… I read all of your comments and greatly appreciated them, so thank you for taking the time to voice your thoughts!

Early into the challenge I called on a veteran to join in.  Instead, he took the time to enlighten me of the flaws of the program.  His information was important to understand, so I took a day to research his links and become better educated.  When I resumed the push-ups the next day, it was with a fire in my belly to really make something of this unique time and opportunity.

The problem of veteran suicide is far more complex than can be solved or even helped by mere awareness and support via social media.  As one article humorously noted (paraphrased), veterans may be struggling in many areas, but PT isn’t one of them.   For the rest of the challenge I made sure that not only did I post the obligatory and often painful push-ups, but that I also provided a link to a practical way that anyone can also be of service to our veterans. Now that my friends, was a game changer!  There are some incredible organizations out there, doing invaluable work, and I’m overjoyed to now be part of a few of them.

There are a huge variation of push-ups available to those capable.  What I call “standard push-ups”, others may call “tricep push-ups.” I use my version because they place less strain on my shoulders and are more conducive to achieving full depth. It is the standard that I was taught early on and it serves me well. (This is also the primary push-up I teach my own clients, for the same reasons I perform them myself.)

Until this challenge, I had never done 22 standard push-ups consecutively, and certainly never for multiple days.  I had watched a number of people (in Facebook) do all sorts of fancy push-up variations, and while I knew that was unrealistic, I could at least draw the line at dropping to my knees. I was quite curious to see how I would perform over the long haul. I knew that would mean doing broken sets and possibly presenting less than perfect form, but I still couldn’t walk away from such a powerful challenge.

It was HARD.

I’ll repeat… it was hard AND it took much longer than 22 days to complete.  To do this challenge, I had to walk through a host of other issues and learn a number of lessons along the way.

Logistics:  Videoing… a skill I’d managed to dodge for years, suddenly because essential. Being a novice, I opted for keeping it super simple; crop off the ends, kill the sound and increase the speed. The daily results were occasionally humorous… from one clip being almost entirely comprised of my rear end, to being photobombed by one of my cats. Other times they were simply painful to watch as I’d fail reps or have to peel myself out of the bottom.  Making this commitment quickly taught me to not judge my performance and just stay focused:  1) It’s not about me,  2) Finish the set, 3) Post the clip with a new idea to help vets.

Fatigue:  The cumulative effect of the daily push-ups along with my regular training times occasionally became unmanageable, forcing me to reduce my upper body workouts to prevent injury.  My energy also peaks early and by night I’m at half power. On my rest days I’d often wait until evening to do the set, which was never a good idea… as was apparent in a few of the videos.  Overall though, I’m quite pleased to discover that I can do 22 push-ups for multiple days in a row.  My personal fitness has always been a tough journey and my strength slow to build, so this is was a cool milestone to achieve.

Discipline: This was the greatest challenge.  To do the push-ups day after day after day, while managing some major commitments, proved more than I could handle for 22 consecutive days.  Here was how the days actually broke down: 7 on, 1 off, 5 on, 1 off, 5 on, 12 off, 5 on, done.  The upside of those unplanned breaks were that they provided me the grace to finish on Veterans Day.  That positive note has gone a long way to offsetting the annoyance I feel for not completing the challenge as designed, especially since my body wasn’t the limiter.

Self-Awareness:  This project has brought to high clarity two major areas:

When I manage too many things at once, I invariably don’t make my best decisions. Instead, I end up reacting to the area of greatest internal pressure rather than the true priorities.  This tendency has become even more apparent with the growth of my business and recent life changes. As was reflected by the  three breaks in the challenge.

Being only minimally motivated by high performance and physique (even though both are important to my beloved career) exercise easily becomes unfulfilling on its own merit.  To hold engagement, it’s best for me to also maintain an intrinsically motivating reason for the daily routine… Worthwhile goals and causes, personal challenges and community involvement that deeply resonate, will keep me coming back long after the novelty is gone.  This was why I finished the challenge outside of the timeframe.  Accepting this about my nature requires more creativity, but it also brings the liberty to do things my own way for my own reasons. This is my personal path to sustainability and fulfillment.

It’s now been a week since I completed the 22 Day Push-up Challenge and I’m already missing the disciplines that it required.  Tomorrow I begin a 3-day immersion course in the Landmark Forum, where a whole new layer of self-discovery and internal resources will be revealed and hopefully embraced.  Growth is slow, uncomfortable and sometimes messy. Not everyone is willing to go there, but I am and I love helping others learn to do the same.


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