Voices in balance // An unusual piece of advice

My name is Sarah Riedl and I have a confession to make: I am a quitter. Now stick with me because being a quitter isn’t as negative as it sounds — even for an athlete and personal trainer. In fact, I no longer label my quitting affliction “Exercise Attention Deficit Disorder,” or Exercise ADD, instead I embrace my inner-quitter as one of my greatest strengths.

Personally, because of quitting I am a well-rounded athlete. I’ve moved from marathons to rock climbing to kettlebells to swimming to skijoring like most people move from their desk to the water cooler. As a health professional and self-described quitter, I am able to teach my clients valuable lessons in letting go that promote a balanced lifestyle and improved well being. Not so bad, huh?

If there is one thing that I’ve learned in my seven years as a trainer, it is that we live in a goal-oriented culture. Unfortunately, if we achieve a goal, the celebration of accomplishment is quickly replaced by the next, larger goal. It seems like the natural next step: You run a 5K, so why not a 10K? Why not a half-marathon? And now a full marathon! Alternatively, if we fall short of our ambition we carry the weight of guilt and inadequacy. Either way, we lose by never really reaching our goal. After awhile putting that much time and effort into something unattainable can stop feeling good and stop being fun. Yet, we continue to push toward the almighty goal.

When I see clients trapped in this rut, I encourage them take a step back and recategorize or redefine their goals. This is harder than it seems since they’ve become attached to the identity made possible by the goal: I run, therefore I am a runner. Painful/boring/unfulfilling as it might be, the little box they’ve created and stepped into is hard to leave. They simply can’t step outside the familiar. And the longer they stay inside the box, the stronger its bond and the more challenging it is to break out and try new things.

The teacher in me asks: How much more rewarding would life be if you possessed the ability to step back and completely redefine your goals once you achieved them? Or even better, be able to let go of expectations entirely? How much better would you feel if you could just quit? Meanwhile, the inner quitter in me knows that when I let go of guilt and obligation the satisfaction and fun comes back to my workouts: Having quit, I’ve cleared the way for endless possibilities. One day I’m a triathlete, the next a cross country skier, the next a cyclist and so on and so on. I feel motivated to exercise because I’m excited about what I’m doing.

So there it is: I, Sarah Reidl, personal trainer and fellow athlete, am giving you permission to be a quitter.  The New Year is upon us, the time when we all like to make big changes to our health and fitness routines.  I encourage you to take a step back from your routine, close your eyes and ask, “Do I truly enjoy my workouts?”  If the answer is yes, congratulations! You are among the few.  If your workouts have become a chore, ask the follow-up question: “If I could do anything in the world free from the expectations of my little box, what would it be?” The answer, no matter how outrageous, should be your new fitness goal.

I once asked a good friend why she worked out, and her answer was beautiful: “Bodies are only as good as the fun we get out of them.” In other words, take care of your body so you can do the things you love and inversely, do the things you love in order to take care of your body. Maybe you’re a swimmer that wants to become a weight-lifter or a yogi that would love to kickbox. Maybe you’ve tried every fad workout in the bookstore, but really just want to learn how to dance.

The point is, find something that’s going to help you get the most fun out of your body. And then move in that direction … completely guilt-free … even when it requires quitting.

Sarah Reidl is a personal trainer, Kettlebells instructor and motivational giant at Balance Fitness Studio in LynLake. She can be reached through the Balance website — seek-balance.com.