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How Pushing Yourself to Your Physical Limits Promotes Happiness

Updated: May 1, 2023

Do you push yourself, in the gym or a sport and now it's good for you in your heart, but can not put it into words?

man gripping a barbell getting ready to lift it in a gym

Here are my reflections on why we should exceed our physical limits and how it promotes happiness.

I was raised around sports. Never pushed into it, but they were all around me.

The day I was born at the hospital they put a football in my crib! Ever since I had a major passion for sports and was competitive too. I was wanted to be the best and work the hardest.

As a kid, this is natural. You want to just have fun and win! As I aged, my passion was still there, but often I was training (lifting, running) to become better at those sports.

Then one day, the dream of the NFL or NBA had left me. I never stopped playing ball - but those dreams were in the rearview. Still, I unconsciously kept the habits of training. But why?

I knew it was healthy and good for you - but I was training hard for no reason.

My friend Jason Heyn had a similar experience when he was asked by a trainer at the gym what he was training for himself and he couldn't even conjure up an answer!

But… as I grew older, like many of us, I also started to focus on the negative sides of training a little bit.


Gets tiring.

I’m so sore.

So I took the time to really reflect… why am I doing this? My dad prompted the question with me a few times.

When reflecting, I remember something vividly from college.

Running Sprints in High-School Basketball, when Coach Griffen said…

“Sean, stop pacing yourself! The only way to train is to run as hard as you can, as long as you can, and get better every time.”

I couldn't believe, I, the one winning every sprint, was getting yelled at. I always finished first.

But then I realized… it was more about the “way” than the outcome. He wanted to see me practice putting out my best effort, hitting a brick wall, and overcoming it. Regardless of the outcome (knowing this is also the best way to better yourself physically too - but that is actually secondary.)

This changed my paradigm.

Exercising is a tremendous way to practice for life.

Daily Workouts

Going to the gym daily… is a chance to make a decision to put the sword in the fire, every day, to harden it… as David Goggins would say. Daily workouts (hard ones) help you practice enduring stress as the workout gets harder, remaining calm under stress & pressure, persevering through the pain… calmly and even-keeled, and practicing optimism. Why optimism? Well… you can’t push as hard as you can on the bench press, have the bar just barely get up, and think, “I got one more” without being very optimistic.

This is why my daily gym “grind” is so meaningful to me. The gym helps me practice the same tool that makes me happy!

Cold Showers

Cold Showers every day do too, besides the tremendous tangible benefits they give us. When you get into an ice-cold shower first you start breathing heavily and you need to…

  1. Get a grip! Just stay calm.

  2. Then, you need to learn to function… can you take a good quality shower while under that ice-cold stress?

  3. Then, you can redirect your attention to what the positives are. Yes, you feel frigid and tense… but you also feel alive, energetic, and fresh!

Cold showers are a great way to practice the discipline of happiness.


The strongest I ever felt the ability to overcome my sense, my feeling of pain and redirect my awareness and consciousness with so much strength that my feeling & emotions changed dramatically were when I ran my first 50 miles run.

I was alone, in the woods, with no phone, watch, or other people, running for 10 hours and 12 minutes. On a cold, wet day in the late fall of Wisconsin, I had no one and nothing to rely on besides myself.

If you have never done an ultramarathon, or something similar, you could still probably imagine the reason for feeling discomfort. Legs are tired. Boredom. Hungry. Cant eat. Chaffing. Cold. Just to name a few.

But, I was once told to never negotiate with yourself while doing something. So I stuck to my plan… to finish 50 miles.

Sean Greenspan crossing the finish line of an ultramarathon

Every step was a challenge until, at about mile 30, I decided to let go. Let go of all the pain and simply focus on the positive.

Bored? How can I be bored with the beautiful scenery… with the fact that I was experiencing feelings I have never ever encountered before. I became curious!

Tired? Try numb! But numb was good - it let me keep going.

Every single step became a new adventure - time slowed down - the trees became greener than ever - oxygen was felt down to my toes electrically coursing through my veins.

I was alive. I was experienced a lifetime of emotions in 10 hours. I learned to remain calm and positive when stress was at its peak.


Life is full of unknowns… but two things are certain (besides death & taxes)...

  1. Everyone one of us will get throw curveballs, things that can be unnerving, stressful, and disrupting. But how you handle them is all that matters.

  2. Everything has a bright side to it and/or has something you can learn from it.

With that in mind, and considering that we don't know what the future holds, how could we judge something that happens to us?

If we get fired? We don't know if that's a good or bad thing… how many stories do you hear of people where that becomes that spark they need to start a new company!

Think about the story of the old Chinese farmer (YouTube it if you haven't heard it) and just let go of control and stay faithful in the positive… you will feel a rush of liberation if you can accomplish this.

Also, make sure to check out one of my latest articles, "Guilt: My Limiting Belief."

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