Christine H is an early quitter and she’s cool with that.

This time last week, I thought I had my fitness plans for 2021 all figured out.

I had stumbled across a free 12 week program that seemed perfect. A high energy instructor, a plain background, and a progressive program that made sense to me.

It didn’t look *easy* but it looked like I could work up to it. And the fact that the program was all laid out for me took any day-to-day decisions out of it.

I decided to go for it, right away.

I wasn’t even going to wait until the new year, I wasn’t going to wait until the next day, I was going to start that very day.

A black and white GIF  of a 1950s/60s white woman  in a high waisted shorts set using a  piece of gym equipment (handles attached to a pulley  attached to the wall. She appears enthusiastic but unskilled. The text reads ‘You go girl!’
This woman in her high waisted shorts who is enthusiastic, yet out of place, reminds me of how I feel when I try new exercises.

So, I did it.

I joined the mailing list.

I subscribed to the YouTube channel.

I promised myself that I would adjust any exercises that I wasn’t ready for.

I said, aloud, that it was okay if I had to work up to the levels in the video.

I pressed play.

I started with enthusiasm.

I hated it.

The music was jarring. The enthusiastic instructor wasn’t speaking. The exercises were repetitive to the point of (my) frustration.


I tried to stick with it, figuring that it was just that I needed to let it grow on me.

I started to give myself grief about giving up before I even gave it a chance.

But then I remembered that the best exercise is anything you will keep doing. Anything you ENJOY doing.

Exercise is not a punishment.

And, I knew then, 21 minutes into a 30+ minute video that I was never going to want to do this program.

I would dread it. I would avoid it. I would curse it.

I had no doubt the program would work but it would never feel like a fun part of my day.

And this wasn’t about me not wanting to work hard. It was about me being so very, very, very bored.

A GIF in which a kid  wearing summer clothes hangs headfirst off a large flat swing. As the swing moves back and forth the top of their head moves through a  puddle of muddy water.
This kid hanging off a swing, dragging their head through a muddy puddle, definitely has a bored vibe but I suspect someone else will end up annoyed.

Over the past year, I have done a lot of reflection and put a lot of effort into figuring out how to work with my brain instead of fighting it all the time.

Choosing to continue this program would be ignoring all of that effort and going back to battling my brain.

So, I quit.

At around 23 minutes into the first day of a three month program, I noped right out of there.

And it felt GREAT!

It felt right. It felt like a reward.

I had no lingering sense of ‘shoulda.’ I didn’t worry that I was just giving up. Actually, I just keep thinking about all the FUN ways I could move instead.

I haven’t decided on a new program but I am considering a few things. And I will be working WITH my brain while I figure it out.

In the meantime, I’m taking the dog for slightly longer walks each day and I’m doing a little extra practice on my TKD patterns.

I may not have a plan yet but at least I’m not BORED.

A GIF in which a baby is sitting up on a pink couch and falls   safely face first onto the couch as they fall asleep.
This baby doing a face plant on the couch really embodies how I felt during that video.

PS – I am not going to mention the program or the instructor because they have put a lot of work into something they are offering for free. It is a high-quality program but it is just not right for me.


Thinking about quitting: Life lessons from Kenny Rogers and Aristotle

“If you’re gonna play the game, boy, ya gotta learn to play it right.

You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em,

Know when to walk away and know when to run.

You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table.

There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.

Now Ev’ry gambler knows that the secret to survivin’

Is knowin’ what to throw away and knowing what to keep.

‘Cause ev’ry hand’s a winner and ev’ry hand’s a loser,

And the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.”

The topic of this long rambly post is the the virtue of determination versus knowing when you’ve had enough. It’s an important life lesson and one I’m just sorting out.

In favour of working hard and determination: I have three academically gifted children and I’m aware of some of the challenges gifted children face. One of the dangers of the standard school system for them is that almost everything is easy. They can do whatever is asked with little effort. But this means that when they encounter something hard, they haven’t acquired the experience of finding something hard and then learning it anyway. It’s not just work habits that are missing. It’s recognizing that you can be missing skills or abilities and learn them.  Researchers say should never praise bright children for their intelligence as it often backfires.

Instead, parents and teachers ought to commend all children for their effort

From the BBC: “The researchers found children commended for their ability when they were successful learned to believe that intelligence is a fixed trait that cannot be developed or improved. They blamed poor performance on their own lack of intelligence. When children praised for their hard work performed poorly, they blamed their lack of success on poor effort and demonstrated a clear determination to learn strategies that would enhance subsequent performances.” Read more,

This is true too for athletically talented people. Some sports play on our strengths and others don’t. Often we are best at the ones we come to with a great deal of natural talent and then build from there. I love having the strength and aerobic capacity that when I try something new I can focus on skill rather than fitness. But this can prove tricky for gifted athletes in the same way it’s true for those gifted at school. The connection between sports smarts and classroom smarts is the subject of another post, but here’s a heads up: they’re linked, see Elite Soccer Players Are Smarter Than You Are.

My brother was good at most things physical but I remember the first time he put on skates. I was the figure skating older sister and he was the soon-to-be hockey playing much younger brother. He ran onto this ice and fell over. And fell again. And again. He came off the ice and threw off the skates in disgust. “I can’t skate,” he exclaimed. He seemed really surprised. “Oh, but you’ve got to learn. No one can skate right away.” It took a bit to persuade him but eventually he tried again. And zoom! He was gone in a flash. Well, after a few lessons anyway.

So as a parent I’ve urged my kids to get outside their comfort zones, try things they find challenging, and then stick with it anyway. I was very proud of my daughter when she failed one the many exams she needed to take en route to becoming a lifeguard. What I loved was seeing her resilience and determination. She bounced back, redid the exam, and passed. Learning to fail is a wonderful thing. If you aren’t failing at something regularly then it’s a clear sign you aren’t challenging yourself. It’s better to aim high and fail once in a while than to never know what you’re capable of. I have a poster in my office that has the Samuel Beckett quote about failure on it: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

So determination and willingness to risk failure are important virtues, virtues necessary for leading a good life.

But determination and perseverance can also be overrated virtues: There are dozens (probably hundreds, maybe even thousands) of motivational posters praising hard work, perseverance and determination. But very few sing the praises of cutting your losses and moving on.  But sometimes it makes sense to quit. Aristotle describes a virtue as a “mean” or “intermediate” between two extremes: one of excess and one of deficiency. Most people quit things too easily. Exercise plans, learning French, and piano lessons spring immediately to mind. And successful people, we’re told, stick to it, they have determination. I suspect given that most people go wrong in this direction, determination makes sense as the virtue to encourage.

However, people can also go wrong in the other direction, sticking with something long past the point where sticking with it makes sense. People stay in bad jobs and bad relationships counting the time put in (sunk costs) for far more than it’s worth. Successful people also know when to quit. It turns out that trying lots of things, cutting your losses early, and moving on is a trait many high achievers share.

There’s a great Freakonomics podcast on this subject, The Upside of Quitting.

Here’a quote from the website: “Sudhir Venkatesh, the Columbia sociologist (and blog contributor) whose research we wrote about in both Freakonomics (“Why Do Drug Dealers Live With Their Moms?”) and SuperFreakonomics (“What Do a Street Prostitute and a Department-Store Santa Have in Common?”) has lately been doing a lot of research into quitting. So we brought him aboard for this hour to talk to two groups of workers whose skills are perishable and yet have a hard time walking away from their jobs: prostitutes and baseball players. Along with one of his students at Columbia, a former ballplayer named Justin Humphries, Venkatesh took a look at the socioeconomic background and outcome of the 2001 baseball draft class (which included Humphries) and found that, for many of them, sticking it out for years in the minors amounted to a poor economic decision, at least when compared to observationally equivalent young men”

Why I am thinking about this: This week I seriously considered quitting Aikido. Short story—I’m not being invited to test. Longer story—My progress is too slow (glacial pace), there’s lots of other physical activities I’m good at, I’m the sort of person who needs progress. I also worry that I hurt myself too much and that Aikido endangers other physical activities I’m loathe to give up. At the higher belt levels people seem to do only Aikido (not Aikido + other sports) and I’m all about well roundedness. It’s also an indoor activity and for the most part, I much prefer being outside.

I’ve decided to stick with it for now. I’ll apply another blast of effort and see where it takes me. I really do enjoy Aikido so it’s no great sacrifice staying. You can read more about what I love about Aikido here.

But I don’t want to make the mistake of dogged, thankless determination either.

I’ll take the bad news stoically, work hard, and continue to train as if I’m going to test (a great way to polish up the techniques), and reassess come spring when the call of the outdoors is a little louder. That is, when there are opportunity costs as well as sunk costs to consider.