How to do twice as much as you think you can

I can still remember the feeling of the hot sun on my back. Sweat pouring down my face. My arms feeling like cement. And we wouldn’t even be half done.

Growing up on a farm, that was life sometimes. The work needed to get done one way or another. It didn’t matter if you felt like quitting after just an hour. All the hay needed to be baled and put in the barn no matter what. The weatherman said it could rain tomorrow.

I hated it at the time, but the lesson was a good one—we constantly underestimate how much we can do.


I recently stumbled upon an article about the 40% rule. The life motto of a Navy SEAL named David Goggins, the rule is simple: when your mind thinks you’re done, you’re really only at 40% of what you can physically do. In other words, our mind constantly sells us short.

Once pointed out, it’s amazing just how many situations this rule applies to.

We walk for 20 minutes and feel exhausted, but could actually walk all day if we had to. We sprint all out for 30 seconds and feel like we might collapse, but if we rest for a minute or two, we can actually sprint for 30 more.  

The warm-up in spin class feels like a marathon, but somehow you keep spinning for the next 40 minutes. The first 30 seconds of hot yoga feels like an hour, but somehow you get through the entire class.

Baling hay. Cutting grass. Swimming lengths. Running long races. Hiking. Snowshoeing. Kayaking. It’s always the same – we tell ourselves that we’re spent, that we have to quit, that we’ll never be able to make it to the end. But if we force ourselves to keep going, it never turns out to be true. We overcome the mental obstacle and suddenly, we can do more.


Though David Goggins uses the rule to boost his mental toughness, I think there are some other important takeaways here. Namely:

1. Don’t underestimate yourself

It’s surprising how easy it is to get in a mindset where you tell yourself you can’t. You can’t walk that far. You can’t run that fast. It’s important to keep in mind that these limits are often just our mind playing tricks on us. Don’t sell yourself short. You can.

2. Put yourself in situations that push you

Group fitness classes are awesome for this reason. Surrounded by other people and an energetic instructor, we always push ourselves harder. It’s such an amazing feeling to get past that initial mental hurdle. To silence the voice inside your head that says you haveto quit.

Look for similar opportunities. Workout with a friend you know will motivate you to do more. Plan to go for a long hike, or to walk places you would ordinarily think are too far. Challenge yourself to complete all 150 activities on the 150 Play List. Bale hay for a day.

3. Take a break, a few deep breaths, and then listen to your body, not your brain

It’s easy to panic when you start an activity. The first 30 seconds of jogging can feel overwhelming. The first hour of baling hay is always the worst. That’s why it’s important to relax with a few deep breaths and really ask yourself if your mind is just worried, or if your body really can’t.

For me at least, often the anxious thoughts pass and I settle into a good groove.

4. Just do 10 minutes

Doing more doesn’t have to mean running marathons or even exercising for an hour. Sometimes it’s just about making it to the 10-minute mark.

Science tells us that 10 uninterrupted minutes is all it takes to contribute to the recommended 150 minutes per week. So, tell yourself you can quit after 10 minutes. Just 10 minutes. Because once you get there, you might be surprised how you feel. You might even find yourself asking, what’s 10 more?

5. Do double for you

This rule sticks with me because twenty years down the road I don’t want to realize that I’ve been doing less than half of what I was capable of. I constantly ask myself, “Am I only doing 40%?”

At the end of the day, you don’t need to force yourself to do more all the time. Sometimes when your mind tells you to quit, you should.

But you also don’t want to spend your life living within limits that are lower than they should be. Once in a while, it’s important to test those limits to see what you’re truly capable of.

Maybe you can only do 10 more seconds. Maybe you can do double. That would be pretty amazing, wouldn’t it?