The 40% rule

Episode 046 – The 40% Rule

“Spreadsheets are hard. Asking people for help is hard. Dispensing with self-critical talk, meditation…incredibly hard for me. 1000 pushups? Not hard.”

Spreadsheets are hard. Asking people for help is hard. Dispensing with self-critical talk, meditation…incredibly hard for me.  1000 pushups? Not hard.

Have you ever aspired to run a marathon or climb Mount Everest? If the answer is yes, you’d do well to acquaint yourself with the 40% Rule.

The Navy S.E.A.Ls use it to push past perceived mental and physical limits and if it works for them, there’s gotta be something in it for the rest of us.

In this episode, I talk about the time I took a S.E.A.L. challenge to do 1000 pushups. You’d be surprised what you learn when you attempt the impossible.

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Until next time… Be nice. Do good stuff.

Hey everyone. Welcome to 46. I wanna begin today by shouting out you guys, the listeners. You’ve emailed with wonderful feedback and comments and you’ve left some amazingly heartfelt reviews over on Apple Podcasts. Thank you.

I had a listener email me recently to tell me about a bit of success she was having and I wanted to share it because it’s pretty cool. 

Back in December, I published Episode 23 called Resolutions. In it, I suggested that you try replacing ineffective New Years Resolutions with a list of 10 questions.

Shortly after it aired, this listener reached out to me and said that she’d never been much of a reader and always kinda regretted it. She said her goal for 2023 was to read two books. Of course, I told her she was a badass and would absolutely crush that goal.

Well… after I posted Episode 43, Inchworm where I talked about celebrating small victories, I heard from her again. She wrote to tell me that she just finished her 27th book. 

How about that. 

She set the goal at 2 and as we just passed the year’s halfway point, she’s surpassed it by over 1000%. 


March 1, 2023 5:15 am.

I’m laying in bed. Frustrated that I did not sleep well and by the looks of things, was not going to get any more sleep.

So… I got up, put my shoes on and went for a long walk. My fitbit recorded 7,800 and something steps.

The sunrise was fabulous. It was quiet. I was alone with my thoughts. It felt really good to walk.

So good that I did it the next day. And the day after that. And then, I wondered what would happen if I walked 7800 steps every single day for one year.

Well, today is August 2 and I’ve not missed a single day of walking. 5 months. 154 days, 7800 steps per day comes out to approximately 1,170,000 steps or 557 miles.


In order to explain, we need some context. 

Several years ago, my wife Melody turned me on to a guy named Mark Divine – former Navy SEAL – (Founder of SEAL-FIT). He was talking about mindset.

And how we as humans underestimate what we’re capable of achieving. 

His program is called 20x your potential. 

To explain his program, he used pushups as an example. In modern America, only 11.8% of the population can do 50 pushups. The vast majority can’t do more than 5. 

Mark Divine issued a challenge for the listeners. He gave two challenges actually, one was to take that number 50… pushups that only 11.8% of people can do and multiply it by 20. 

1000 pushups. I think the time limit was 24 hours but I can’t be sure. Option 2 was to hold a plank pose for 20 minutes without touching your knees to the ground. Basically, taking that one-minute plank and multiplying it by 20.

Both sounded ridiculous. And to be honest, both of those challenges still sound ridiculous.

If you took the pushup challenge, which I did, you could do them however you liked. You could do 50 at time, 10 at at time, 200 at a time. Whatever worked for you. 

I chose to do 12 pushups per set. That meant doing 12 pushups 84 times. 

I drove to a small park, found a shady spot and rolled out my yoga mat. I brought a note pad with the number “12” written 84 times and I had a red pen. Every time I did a set of 12 pushups, I crossed out one of the 12s. 

My thinking was, 12 was two more than 10 but not quite 15. Five sets of 12 is 60 pushups which gets me there much faster than five sets of ten – which would only be 50. I’m not sure of my rationale much past that. 

The point of the exercise was not to actually get the 1000 pushups. I mean, who could seriously achieve such a feat, other than a Navy SEAL or the scant few ultra-fitness gurus. If you did it… well, hell… good for you.

The point was to push yourself well past your perceived physical and mental limits.

The SEALs call it the 40% Rule. 

The idea is that when your mind tells you that you are done, exhausted, and cannot go any further, you’re only at about 40 percent of your actual capacity.

The 40% rule explains why marathon runners, most of whom, hit the wall at mile 16… somehow manage to finish the full 26 miles. 

Your brain and body may be trying to quit on you but if you know about this 40% rule, you can push through and well past what you thought was your limit.

I think this is really interesting because if we could transfer this principle across multiple spectrums, it could really serve us well when wrestling with anything we find uncomfortable, right? 

It doesn’t have to be a physical challenge. It can be anything. 

Around the same time I heard Mark Divine talk, I read about a spiritual teacher named Sri Chinmoy. Sri was a musician and a poet who focused on self-transcendence and the triumph of the human spirit. 

Sri didn’t just talk about self-transcendence. He created an event that just might be one of the most extraordinary races I’ve ever read about. 

And in order to complete this event, I think a strong belief in the 40% rule would be mandatory. 

You see, in 1997 Sri Chinmoy organized the first Self-Transcendence 3100 Race and it’s been taking place every year since. The 2023 race kicks off on August 30 and ends on October 20.

What is the Self-transcendence 3100? Well, it’s the longest certified foot race in the world. 

3100 miles. 52 days. 

But there’s a catch. You knew there was gonna be a catch… 

First – the details.

Participants have 52 days to complete the 3100 mile course. In order to do so in the allotted time frame, each runner must average 59.6 miles every. Day.

That’s two full marathons plus an additional 7.2 miles every single day for 52 days straight. 

In 2022 11 runners registered for the race. 6 finished. The winner? That would be Italian, Andrea Marcato. He finished in 43 days 3:20:27. Rounding down to 43 days, that means Andrea did 72 miles per day. A little side note here: Andrea has won this race three years in a row.

The first woman to cross the line was New Zealand native, Susan Marshall. Her time 50 days 16:23:50 seconds. 

Here’s the catch. The race course covers one city block in Jamaica Queens, New York. 164th street, to 84 Avenue, to 168th street, to Grand Central Parkway. 

.5488 miles. 5,649 times around. 

Runners can begin running at 6am and have to stop running when the course closes at midnight. There is no contingent for weather. Rain, shine. 100 degree heat. It’s on.

Durning that time, runners can run, walk, take breaks, whatever, but the streets are not closed off. Runners navigate pedestrians going about their daily activities, cyclists, dogs… whatever. 

Vegetarian meals are provided by volunteers working from makeshift streetside kitchens. 

The race’s creator, Sri Chinmoy said that the Self-Transcendence challenges runners to “transcend their own previous capacity, gain spiritual insights, and overcome the entire world’s pre-conceived notions of possibility.” 

I am fascinated by this race. 

I want to read a little of what Susan Marshall said after she completed the race.  

“Slowly and surely if we put one foot in front of the other we do actually achieve something and that thing – the sum total of however many days – it can be beyond our imagination because generally, these things build slowly and then all of a sudden you have this incredible thing in your life.”

Can you imagine the morning of the second day? Having completed the requisite 59.6 on day one, you have to motivate yourself through, what I imagine to be immense pain and discomfort, and manage another 59.6 miles. 


Well, one mile at a time. One step at a time. For 52 days in a row.

Now, this all circles back to the 40% rule and Mark Divine’s pushup challenge. I know it seems like an impossible task. And… some might be asking why? Why the hell would anyone want to do something like this? 

Why would anyone attempt 1000 pushups? A 20 minute plank or… a 3100 mile road race around one city block in Queens, NY? 

The prize, by the way… the prize for the winner of this race? A t-shirt. That’s right. A commemmorative t-shirt.


Well, I guess some people read self-help books. Some travel to India. Some immerse themselves in spiritual teachings. Some climb Everest and some… run around the block… 5,649 times

Maybe it’s 2 books that turned into 27 books… maybe it’s 512 pushups. 

Maybe… just maybe it’s to prove to ourselves that we can do really, hard things. 

For me, pushups are not hard. Creating a spread sheet is hard. Asking others for help is hard. Marketing myself is hard. Dispensing with the self-criticism is hard. Pushups… nah. 

I guess at some level, I believe that if I can meet a physical challenge then I can certainly implement the same tactics to overcome my fear or reticence when it comes to seemingly mundane tasks… no? One would think.

However it presents itself, doesn’t really matter. What matters… what i find truly amazing… is that while all of these paths travel off in different directions, the ultimately lead to exactly the same place. 

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Alright y’all… I’ll be back next week I hope you will too. Until then, you know the drill.


Be Nice. Do Good stuff.


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