By Jake Freeman
My arms were shaking. Sweat dripping off my face onto the locker room floor. As each droplet falls, a new thought of surrender enters my mind, “I need to stop, I need this to end, I need to give up.” The end wasn’t near—not even close. I remember hearing the words “one minute in” and almost puking directly on the spot. “What are we doing?”, I whispered to the person next to me. He glances up at me and struggling to get the words out replies, “I don’t know but I feel like I’m gonna pass out.” Things were only about to get worse.
But really, what were we doing? A man that I had met once in my life walked into our locker room; my locker room, the one I’d made a second home on campus for my entire freshman year of college, and was just staring at us for an awkwardly long period of time. He slowly strolls to the front of the room and has the plainest look on his face, like he’s just about to introduce himself to the team. He quietly says, “all right guys we’re going to do a 5-minute push-up.” Uhm, excuse me? I’m sure you’re thinking the same thing my teammates and I were thinking: “What the fuck is a 5-minute push-up?” No one on the team had heard of it before. He surely explained to us that we were all gonna find an area on the locker room floor, get into a push-up position, and simply hold ourselves up for 5 minutes straight. Sort of like a plank but with your arms extended.
Now, if you have ever done a plank before, you’re aware that planking for even one or two minutes can be a difficult task and a tough exercise. You also know how much slower time seems to move when you’re holding yourself up there. What he was suggesting was going to be for 5 minutes, in a push-up position—no movement, no rearranging, and certainly no break. This was our new soccer coach at a division 1 soccer program. As you would imagine, nobody in that room wanted to be the one to drop.
After coach explained the position and task, there wasn’t much more said. We scattered around the floor, all still confused as to how we’d be able to do this, and got ready. Quickly I hear, “5, 4, 3…” I’ve only really felt butterflies in my stomach before a big soccer game, but there’s no question that I was feeling them in this moment… “2, 1, UP!”
There were a ton of thoughts running through my head. Was I worried? Abso-fuckin-lutely. I had never attempted something like this before. But I didn’t let it show on my face, I couldn’t. I wanted to impress my new coach, and I was terrified of failing in front of him, especially because I didn’t know how he would react if I dropped. Would I lose my spot on the team? Would I have to attempt it again until I got through 5 minutes? I did not want to find out.
We’re up, and I’m trying to stay focused and keep good form, but as we get to what I think is 45 seconds, my arms are already wobbling. “How could this be?” I think to myself. And I’m supposed to stay up for another 4 minutes and 15 seconds? Good one. After what feels like an eternity goes by, I then hear that “one-minute in” and go into a serious mental panic. It wasn’t because I was terribly struggling or in any real pain after that minute, but I just couldn’t fathom possibly holding myself up for another 4 of those.
The second and third minutes go by; and with my arms trembling, lower back dipping and all, that’s when the real terror begins. Those last two minutes brought on the actual pain I was so worried about from the start. My shoulders began to burn; my obliques began to pound and I was completely losing my head. With one minute to go we all start screaming for each other to stay up. “Don’t give up!” “Let’s go boys!” “Last minute fellas!” Sure, this was coming out of our mouths, but every guy on the team was freaking out on the inside. In all seriousness, I just wanted to cry. Every inch of me wanted to drop in that last minute. Every muscle in my body was screaming for relief. My mind was all over the place, “what’s gonna happen if I drop?” “I can’t stay up for another minute” “I cant feel my arms!”
I might’ve blacked out. I don’t know. To be honest I really couldn’t tell you much about the last 30-45 seconds. It was a complete blur. But 5 minutes had passed and I came out alive. I was gassed, I was exhausted, but also thrilled I didn’t let myself drop. I completed the 5-minute push-up. “Thank god I’ll never have to do that again.”
Or so I thought.
Now, is it entertaining for me to tell you about this asinine task that I deeply struggled to get through but ultimately completed? Maybe. Maybe you find others struggling and overcoming a difficult obstacle interesting. Maybe you’re fascinated that this type of ordeal would go down in Harvard men’s soccer locker room.
But that’s not the point.
What was to come in the next few weeks is the reason why I am writing this, and honestly, why it even became something relevant in my life and not just a one-time 5-minute speed bump.
I would surely be doing it again. The 5-minute push up became almost a daily staple in my life for the next two soccer seasons. Something we did as a group before every practice and every game. I know it seems crazy to think about. It’s obvious and reasonable to question if the team should be doing that. Won’t it take energy out of us before the game even begins? Won’t we be putting ourselves at a clear disadvantage? We, the players, had those same concerns week 1 of the season. But those are the type of questions you ask when you don’t understand what the point of the 5-minute push-up is. The type of concerns you only bring up when you’re blinded to what the 5-minute push-up is all about.
The more we did it and the more our coach preached about its real purpose, we soon realized—
The 5-minute push-up, as daunting a physical task as it is, truly is a MENTAL exercise.
Mental toughness is an interesting concept. Until you can fully buy in to its validity, and recognize that it can make a difference, you’ll never be able to demonstrate it. You won’t even be able to attempt to practice it.
As nuts as it sounds, given the right frame of mind, anyone can do a 5-minute push-up.
All it takes is mental toughness—mental strength. And to be mentally strong, you need to believe in the power that the mind can have and you need to use productive, positive internal dialogue.
It’s a conversation.
Think about it: during a 5-minute push-up, all that is present is you and your thoughts. That’s the only voice you can hear. And the story you put together inside your own mind is exactly the reality you’re gonna live.
This can go one of two ways:
One way, the way it would go for most people, is how my teammates and I handled it that first time in our locker room. A feeling of panic heading into it; the words “I can’t” running through your mind, telling yourself you need to drop and constantly wondering when the 5 minutes will be up. That type of inner dialogue is a recipe for disaster. No matter what kind of physical shape you’re in, if you have that mindset during the exercise, you’ll either desperately struggle through it or you will simply fail. Your mind can only hurt you when it’s filled with that type of worry or doubt, and that negativity will make the task even more difficult. In that situation, your mind becomes the greatest obstacle and the thing that holds you back. When the first thought of failure enters your brain, you may have already lost the battle.
The other way, the way that focuses on mental strength and good internal dialogue, you allow your mind to guide you in the right direction. Every person is different, so everyone can practice internal dialogue that best suits them. But the 3 cornerstones in my internal dialogue, that I recommend, would be to make sure you:
- Keep it positive
This is mainly to ensure that your mind doesn’t wander and start thinking about any pain or discomfort you might be feeling. Saying simple phrases like “I’m good” or “I feel great” will keep you focused and confident. Even saying something as silly as “I’m really enjoying the workout I’m getting from this” will help you embrace the task. See the bright side of what you are doing. It’s making you better.
- Keep it motivating
Only YOU can help you reach the end goal— and your own mind can get you there. Using positive reinforcement and pump up phrases will help keep your mind/body comfortably at ease and can help you push yourself at the same time. I tell myself things like “I don’t really even feel anything” and “I can stay up here all day” because I really could stay up even longer than 5 minutes if I needed to. Your body can withstand any of that pain or aching if your mind doesn’t allow it to bother you. Also getting hyped in your own head is effective, saying stuff like “let’s go” or “come on!” can help you get excited about reaching the end achieving the task.
- Keep it moving you forward
And lastly, most importantly, is to have your internal dialogue move you forward. Don’t allow yourself to think about how much time has already passed or how much you still have left. Instead, set yourself a smaller goal to reach and repeat it. I like to break the time frame down into smaller parts. I tell myself “have a great next 10 seconds” or “push through these 20 seconds” then do that again and again while also incorporating the positive and motivational techniques.
And before I know it, using those 3 approaches to help keep me mentally tough and focused, I’ve had a comfortable, stress-free 5-minute push-up that really didn’t take too much out of me, because my mind didn’t let it. The push-up didn’t control me, I controlled the push-up.
The reason I say the next few weeks after that first day made this impact in my life, is because those next ten 5-minute push-ups were when I finally bought into mental toughness. Like most people are, I was skeptical of it at first. But I quickly began to believe. A few weeks of practice can go a long way if you begin to believe that mental strength and internal dialogue can make a difference. Once I was open to it, and began to incorporate it, I became better and better at methodically working my way through each 5-minute push-up. And once I had my process down, and continued to improve it, I felt I could do a 5-minute push-up at any time. Before a game, after a game, even after a 5-mile run. I was confident that my mental strength and internal dialogue could bring me up to the task, regardless of any exhaustion or soreness I was feeling.
It’s a funny thing: after you’ve completed it time after time, mentally working your way through it, the worrying goes away. In your mind, you know that you can get through it even though it’s painful. Even though your arms are shaking, and you feel like your shoulders are gonna give out, you can stay calm and focused inside your head because it’s something you know you’ll get past. The pain is temporary, it’ll be gone soon, so just move on from it immediately. It’s irrelevant if you allow yourself to ignore it.
And possibly the greatest part about all of this, was that after I knew how to mentally work through this kind of difficult challenge, it began to rub off onto other parts of my life. This concept of mental toughness can have a greater role in life than people realize. It changed me in certain ways, and made me a more successful person overall. Having mental strength and good internal talk has helped me get through difficult exam periods, my toughest athletic competitions, and it’s guided me to overcome the most stressful obstacles in my life. And the most significant part has been that it’s made me willing to be uncomfortable. It has shaped me into someone that can accept and embrace discomfort. It’s helped me not shy away from the more difficult moments in life because no matter how uncomfortable or stressful an obstacle, an exercise, or a life moment might get, I know that I have the mindset and the toughness to work my way through it.
Let’s rewind quickly to what I was saying to myself during that first ever 5 minute push-up. “I need to stop.” “I need this to end.” “I need to give up.” I know this might sound very corny, but the truth is that you don’t NEED to do anything, you just don’t. However, you CAN do anything, if you let your mind take you in the right direction.
Seriously, with the right mental fortitude, you can do anything. You’re capable of running a marathon, taking a freezing cold shower everyday, or even overcoming the worst hardship of your life. The list can go on. Any type of challenge or discomfort can be overcome with the right, positive mindset.
The mind is so powerful. It’ll either be your ally or your worst enemy. It can either control you or you can control it.
Turn what is at first your worst terror, into your greatest triumph.
You’re the one who can control that outcome. It’s on YOU.
It always has been.
Getting COMFY, specifically, is a 5-step morning routine to energize the body and soothe the mind.
Getting COMFY, more broadly, is a movement based on Getting COMFY waking up in the morning, Getting COMFY in your own skin, and Getting COMFY with the rest of your life.
Getting COMFY: Your Morning Guide to Daily Happiness, is a book coming out on January 31st that highlights these ideas.
Become a part of the community at: http://getting-comfy.com/
And follow us on Twitter and Instagram! https://www.instagram.com/getting_comfy/