Up or Down? How do you count?

Count Up or Count Down? Which Will Help You Get More Done?

How you count can make it easier to hit your goals

Ellen Goodwin
3 min readSep 22, 2022


If you were to suddenly find yourself back in 4th grade Phys Ed class, and the teacher told you to do 10 jumping jacks, would they count your repetitions up to 10 (1, 2, 3…), or would they count down from 10 reps (10, 9, 8…)?

Fast forward to you today. You don’t have to do 10 jumping jacks right now (a gigantic sigh of relief), but I want you to think about them. How would you count the reps?

Up from 1 or down from 10?

Up or down? Isn’t it sort of the same thing?

Not really.

Researchers have found that the choice of counting up or down depends on the goal of your task and what kind of experience you want to have. Do you want to feel motivated to accomplish your task (in this case, the 10 jumping jacks) or feel like you’re getting the jumping jacks done more quickly?

The answer is not always the same because how you count is, more often than not, context related.

Does it motivate you to see the reps (of any kind, for anything you need to count) accumulate or go away?

Counting down might feel better when time is involved or you want something to be completed, such as 30 seconds of pushups or 15 minutes left of a mind-numbingly boring meeting. But counting up when completing something repetitious, answering 10 questions, doing 8 squats, or painting 13 fence posts could make you feel more motivated.

How you count is a personal thing.

While one counting method will feel more comfortable for you, don’t completely dismiss the other one. Sometimes it will be best to count up; other times, counting down will be the winning plan.

For example, when I’m swinging a kettlebell (one of my favorite workouts) I start with my desired number of reps, usually 20, and count backward to zero. I’m more motivated (and relieved) knowing I have fewer and fewer reps to complete before I get to rest.

Counting up to 20 tends to feel like I’m working harder even though I’m doing the same amount of work.



Ellen Goodwin

Productivity Consultant, TEDx Speaker, Podcast Co-host, Author of DONE: How To Work When No One Is Watching. Learn more at Ellen@EllenGoodwin.com