We’ve all heard the saying “Making a mountain out of a molehill” – literally meaning that we can often make a small problem seem much bigger than it is in reality. The problem with this is that it implies that we must forget the mountain because it isn’t really there, it’s just a product of our imagination. But to whoever is standing there in front of their mountain, to them it is very real. To tell them to ignore it will not help; to say just forget it will not help; to tell someone they have made a mountain out of a molehill often will not help. As myself and the SSPC Staff near the end of the 25th day of “The Push Up Challenge” for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, something that I learned very early on in the challenge is that the mountain does in fact matter, but even though ignoring or pretending it doesn’t exist doesn’t help, focussing only on the existence of the mountain is just as unhelpful.

Before I go further, I should say that obviously I am not a psychologist, so the idea of this blog is just to relay my experiences and thoughts. What I learned, and what I found helpful may not help others, but I hope it does.

When I first saw The Push Up Challenge advertised, what attracted me was the opportunity to bring some awareness to mental health and suicide prevention, two topics that have closely impacted my life. It wasn’t so much the fundraising, it wasn’t the physical challenge, it was more the chance to say to others who are struggling: we are trying to learn, we are trying to understand, we are happy to talk publicly about it, and most of all – we are here for anyone that needs to talk.

When it came to The Push Up Challenge, my/our mountain was 3,315 push ups – in 25 days. Even working out the required average of 133 push ups per day didn’t help much for someone that was lucky to do 2 sets of 20 push ups a week (in a good exercise week). And seeing some days in the challenge that went well over 200 push ups per day even made the mini daily mountain seem unachievable.

So the cause excited me, even if the mountains and mini mountains standing in front of me seemed unattainable at first thought.

Day 1 of the challenge loomed large and quickly, and without any pre planning my goal was just to “do what I could”, which ended up being one set of 30 push ups. It was amazing after that first set how good it felt to have started. I wasn’t fussed by the thought of 100 push ups to go for the day, or 3,275 for the 25 days, it just felt great to have made a start. And an hour later I felt ready to go again – another 30 done, and a few hours later another 30. All of a sudden, by just focussing on the “molehill”, which was simply whatever I could do at that point in time, the top of the day’s mountain was within sight. The next two molehills were less – two sets of 20, but the day was done – 130 push ups. When I look back on that day, even more important than the molehills was just the choice to get started. The mountain wasn’t even a consideration, and I didn’t even know what my first molehill would be – just starting was the key!

And so the days went by – each day making the point to simply get started as early as I could, and get a few molehills out of the way. And this was another key learning factor – it is so easy to look at the day ahead, and be daunted, and be scared, and procrastinate, but if you can just get started it can be like a domino effect – one molehill follows another molehill – all you need to do is start. And when you start, just do what you can – you don’t even need to know what your molehill is, you just get done whatever you can get done. Starting and achieving the first molehill gives such a sense of satisfaction, and it is incredible how that little bit of satisfaction actually leads to motivation. And with the motivation and the completion of a few molehills comes belief – belief in yourself and belief that you can actually achieve a target that in isolation seems so impossible.

Day after day went by – 130 push ups, 105, 142, 180, 120, rest day. Gee you look forward to those rest days. 148, 209, 135, 195, 170, 143, rest day. But believe it or not, into week 2, and certainly into week 3, the molehill itself became the challenge. I knew I could do each molehill as I’d prove it in week 1 by breaking it into “mini molehills” – but it became a bit boring and a bit monotonous. And this is where the mountain becomes important. The mountain itself (the overall goal, the desired outcome) is what can drive you when these molehills themselves become a problem. By keeping the mountain in mind, it can drive you forwards on three reflection fronts – how far you have already come (what is behind you), how close you are to the summit (what is in front of you), and the overall achievement that is waiting you at the end (the outcome). 

It was only today I was treating an ultra distance runner (yes, one of those crazy people that runs 200km+ in one go) who had completed 525 laps of a 400m athletic track (210km) in 24 hours – yeop, crazy! Without even mentioning this topic, this runner described how he had to break the enormity of the task down to a “one lap at a time” mentality (his version of a molehill) because it was just too mentally challenging to know how far there was to go. But at times you also need to think about the exhilaration of scaling the 24 hour mountain, and that drives you to do another lap!

So the Push Up Challenge has been fantastic, but even this fun challenge (if you can call doing over 3000 push ups fun) has had its obstacles. But it doesn’t matter whether it is push ups, running events, work demands, mental health issues, or whatever your challenge is – if you can break your mountain into molehills, and perhaps even mini molehills, whilst at the same time keeping one eye on the mountain ahead, you will stand there victorious in the end.

Finally, to the SSPC staff who joined in, and to all who donated I say a massive thank you. We are still a fraction short of our target of $1000 for headspace Bentleigh, so if anyone is able to donate, please head to the following link (and remember you get a free copy of our SSPC Recipe Book for doing so): Can you support us with a donation: https://www.thepushupchallenge.com.au/donate-to-17091-sspc

Anthony Lance

SSPC Physiotherapist