Can push-ups be a metaphor for life?

by | Health, Productivity

Marcey with Presence Book

This story is about push-ups and how they changed one woman's life by igniting a fire she didn't realize needed oxygen.

About seven months ago, I received my first client in four years who wanted nothing to do with me. Most people see my coaching as a gift if their company provides it. No one has ever said I was a waste of time and money.

Unfortunately, part of the issue was the gift delivery, which made her feel like she was being punished or was subtly being told she needed help. I was presented to her in a way that wasn't ideal, making her feel self-conscious and embarrassed.

After the first session, when I convinced her she was great at her job and that's why they wanted to give her the opportunity, she warmed up a bit. She felt like she exercised enough, was at an ideal weight, made healthy food choices, and very productive at work.

In reality, she lacked physical strength, didn't get enough protein in her diet, and worked long hours, finishing up when she got home at night and was on her laptop every weekend day.

Operation Push-ups

My client wasn't doing any strength training, and based on her resistance to my coaching for her and the team, I felt like she may also lack confidence. I asked her to see how many push-ups she could do and start them every morning when she woke up. She looked at me like I was crazy, and then the next time we met, she told me she was astounded that she couldn't do any push-ups. She was only able to do 10 off the kitchen counter. Her elderly mother was able to do more than she was.

She did them every day and never missed her streak. She was up to 25 and feeling stronger. She started noticing her arms being toned, was making muscle poses in the mirror, and telling people about push-ups. Within a month, she was alternating days with diamond or triceps push-ups.

Feeling stronger translated to more confidence. Making muscles is a power pose and helps us feel more assertive.

On vacation, she introduced her young niece to push-ups, and they did them every day at the beach. This didn't stop once they returned home. Her niece continues to do push-ups every morning like her aunt. She is becoming stronger and more confident at an age where girls start to close in on themselves and lose their feeling of power.

After three months, she added 25 bodyweight squats to her morning movement opportunity. She was down 20 pounds from two years ago, feeling fabulous and telling everyone she could do push-ups. Strength, weight loss, and happiness, all in less than two minutes in the morning and without breaking a sweat. She had also progressed to doing ten push-ups off the second step of her staircase.



Around this time, I asked her to read the book Presence: Bring Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy about how our posture affects us physically and mentally. The results were profound, and she put them into action immediately in her life.

She was fortunate enough to have an adjustable standing desk, which others in the company had begged for and not received but never used it. I asked her to spend 30 minutes at the desk standing four times daily. She was initially embarrassed and self-conscious, but it has become her standard to stand about half the day.

Standing increases productivity by creating a sense of urgency. It tells the brain, “I'm working,” whereas sitting is leisurely. Sitting puts her in a weak position when people stop in the office and make requests.

I pushed her to start doing walking meetings with her direct reports and colleagues. She admitted that this allowed for a couple of conversations that may not have happened if they had been sitting at a desk or table. It helped her get outside and more exercise, and she noticed a difference in her mood.
Walking side by side reduces real or perceived hierarchy when sitting across a table.

A week before our six-month program ended, her doctor cut her blood pressure medication in half with the plan to cut it completely. She hasn't lost her streak in push-ups or squats since we started. She rarely works on the weekends or evenings when she gets home and leaves at a more reasonable hour at the end of the day. She is doing more for fun and revisiting hobbies she had in the past. And her work? She is more proud than ever of what she and her team have been able to accomplish and achieve. She made a big ask to the company and received it without going to battle.

Why did all of this work?

How did push-ups make this happen? What we do in the morning sets the tone for the day. She made push-ups a keystone habit. It didn't matter if she was running late, not feeling well, or on vacation. She did them. As she grew physically stronger, she became mentally stronger. She looked for other opportunities throughout the day to move. She captured the knowledge and then shared (this is key!) with other people around her how this simple act has changed her life physically, emotionally, and mentally. Now, she is a role model for the people she interacts with.

Other keystone habits can be making your bed (creating order first thing), meditating (focus and calm), expressing gratitude (positive spirit), any physical activity (physiological and mental benefits to great in number to list), and eating a healthy breakfast.

Read the full case study about this client here.

What simple change can you incorporate into your daily life that will increase your strength, assertiveness, and confidence that can become your keystone habit?

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