I've always enjoyed doing push-ups. Okay, that's a lie - I used to hate doing push-ups and I was pretty bad at them. At some point in high school I had done enough that all of the little stabilizer muscles that are required for good form began to get built up, and they stopped making me miserable. Once I got into martial arts they became a regular exercise for me, and I eventually came to like them.
One summer in college I was off campus doing physics research, and I had planned on testing for my Black Belt once I got back from my program. Black Belt tests are notorious for being extremely grueling, in fact I remember my instructor saying "first we physically exhaust you, then we try to mentally break you, and then we see if you actually know the techniques you are supposed to know". I wanted to be prepared for my test, so I set a goal for myself to do 20,000 push-ups in the 9 weeks I had to train. I didn't have much time to get to that goal, so I had to start doing a lot of push-ups every day, and increase it rapidly. I began with 200 per day of various types, and by the 9th week I was doing 400+ push-ups every night, cramming it into 1-2 hours before bed. There were some rough nights, getting back to my room at 1:00 AM and having 400 push-ups to do wasn't exactly enjoyable, but in the end I hit my goal. My Black Belt test went smoothly, and the 350 or so push-ups that I did during the 4 hour test felt like a break from the rest of the exercises I had to perform.
More recently I got the idea in my head that it would be cool to do 1,000,000 push-ups in my lifetime. Push-ups are one of the best exercises you can do, especially as you get older, so I figured it made sense to do them consistently. Since I didn't have a good way to track the ones I had done so far in my life (aside from my spreadsheet from the summer of 2006), I decided that I would have to start with a clean slate to make it a truly fair challenge. After doing some quick math I realized that this worked out to a little more than 100 push-ups a day for 25 years. Luckily my 25th birthday was approaching, so I decided to start on that date, with the goal of finishing by my 50th birthday.
My 25th birthday has come and gone (November 19th, 2011) and I am now more than 5 months into my challenge. For the first year I decided to shoot for an average of 50 push-ups a day, with the plan to increase it in subsequent years. I wanted to start with a lower target so I could get in the groove and have a better chance of success. As of this writing I am 235 push-ups ahead of my target, with 7985 under my belt. I'll hit 10,000 in early June - 1/100th of my goal.
This is the first time I've ever created a serious goal with this kind of time horizon, and I have to admit that it is a little scary. What if I get injured? What if I get sick of this halfway through and bail? I have to constantly try to be ahead of my target so I can tolerate missing a day because of some unforeseen complication. I have also tried to structure it so they are always doable - compressing my daily routine into 2-3 sets before bed, and trying to finish in under 10 minutes. Doing them at night removes a lot of excuses that could come up if I did them when I woke up, e.g. "well, I have to wake up early to get on a flight today", or "crap, I slept later than I had planned".
I track all of my push-ups in a Google Doc that tells me how I am doing relative to my goal (when it says "perfect push-ups" it means I used these). Perhaps sharing it publicly will keep me even more on target, since no one likes to declare a goal and then not hit it. This has worked in the past for people who post every meal they eat on Twitter, or simply post their weight every day. I also track all of my push-ups on Fitocracy, for the achievements/quests/levels of course.
At 7985 push-ups I have quite a long way to go, so wish me luck. If you have similar goals, or if you have done anything that took you 25 years to finish, I would love to hear about it in the comments.