The Second Step is Easier
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” – Chinese Proverb
The first burpee is the worst one. More specifically, the first push-up on the first burpee is the worst one. Sure, they don’t get more pleasant later in the set, but then it’s just fatigue. On the first one you have to clear the hurdle too.
I do these burpees at 6:15 AM, when the tightness in my shoulders stubbornly refuses to go quietly. Warming up on the erg helps, and some dynamic stretching gets the blood flowing in the old joints, but that first one is always a bear. Just getting on with it, fingers pointing slightly inward to relieve stress points, I shoot my legs back into plank position and slowly descend into the push-up. Creaking old guy complaints ensue and then recede; I’m on my way.
The starting is the hard part. Always. But once you get going it becomes a lot easier. The habit loop makes it easier to get some exercise in the morning, get some reading in, and to do some writing. This morning was particularly foggy and the brain wasn’t completely wrapped around things until I started those burpees. They have a way of focusing you quickly… once you begin.
And beginning is the theme of this morning. Get started already, do what you’ve got to do to move forward. Burpees, writing, work tasks… whatever. Carpe Diem isn’t just a clever quote in Dead Poets Society. It’s a call to action not a poster on the wall. Seize the day already!
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living.” – Annie Dillard
Dillard reminds us to structure our day to make the most of it. And life is a series of days of course, though we don’t always see the forest for the trees… I’ve been guilty of winging it over the years. A scheduled day minimizes the downtime a restless mind carves out for you. But not busywork; productive, planned tasks that move you forward.
I’ve found the scheduled reading time immediately after exercise has been highly beneficial. And starting with a little stoicism before reading whatever book I’m tackling is like finishing that first burpee – I’m focused and ready for what comes next. The Daily Stoic is a good level set for me that I wish I’d discovered earlier in life. Ryan Holiday boils down the wisdom of Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Seneca and other great Stoics into bite sized daily chunks. I wish I’d thought to write this book, but since he did I’m thoroughly enjoying it.
That habit loop got the heart rate up today, but also got the electrodes firing in the brain. When the student is ready the teacher will appear…. and the messages keep piling up this morning. James Clear Tweeted his own reminder to get on with it today:
“Life is short.
And if life is short, then moving quickly matters. Launch the product. Write the book. Ask the question. Take the chance.
Be thoughtful, but get moving.”
And on cue, Mookie starts whipping me with her tail as she murders the birds outside the window in her mind. I haven’t done all the reading I wanted to do this morning, but I can’t ignore the messages. Get to it. I realized that I haven’t had a second cup of coffee this morning. Somehow that fog I walked downstairs with has lifted without the need for much caffeine. And the day is well underway now. Best to focus on the next task at hand.