How to Get Out of Gym Class

How to Get Out of Gym Class

Or Learn to Love the Process

I hated gym. It scared the shit out of me. In grade 2, most of my classmates, if not all, couldn’t wait for it. They loved it! You got out of the classroom, got to play sports like crab-walk soccer and run between the trees like a frenzied squirrel. But for me it was something regarded with horror and disdain.

You see I was a scrawny kid. Short, skinny, more like a clarinet than a human child. I remember one class, the teacher wanted to split the boys into two teams — shirts and skins. This is a terrible idea. I HATED having to take my shirt off, expose my already body-shamed figure, and be vulnerable to the elements. I would cover myself up with my arms, stand in the corner and shiver as the other boys flew around me like navy seals at boot camp.

So whenever gym class was scheduled, I would face the day with utter dread. Until I found a way out.

Fainting.

Nothing will send teachers into response mode faster than a swooning 7-year old. And man, I got it down. The first time was when the teacher said we were going to play touch football and I was put onto the “skins” team. Are you kidding me? I’m going to run around the field half-naked while a bunch of brutes were trying to touch me and pull me down? No way.

Victorian woman in green velvet dress  lying face down on a fainting couch

I went down like a Jane Austen heroine.

Shortly after I found myself in the principle’s office waiting for my parents to pick me up. In fact, I remember being treated quite well in the aftermath. Time off school, ice cream, and lots of attention.

Naturally, this became a common technique for me to get out of gym class. I would faint in the hallway, in the schoolyard, sitting at my desk… even as we were being marched single-file to the gymnasium… it was like… I needed a fainting couch I went down so much. What’s more shocking is that the teachers seemed to buy it. I mean, what kind of seven-year old faints on a bi-weekly basis — apparently only on Tuesdays?

My point is, I learned to hate the gym at an early age, and managed to come up with very creative ways to avoid it. As we approach the end of January, and people’s New Year resolve starts to fade, it’s very easy to come up with excuses to not do what you know is really good for you.

As you might imagine, I am no longer that scrawny little kid. In fact, I spend a good amount of effort trying to go back there, to be that skinny. But here’s the thing — while that may be a great goal for healthy living, I’m never going to get there. Not even close. And failure to make progress is a major deterrent to regular exercise and better eating choices.

There is another way. And it’s a simple adjustment in mindset. If I’m focused exclusively on my goal, I may just pass out. But, if I’m focused on the process, on the actual exercise regimen or system for whatever I want to achieve, then I succeed every time out. Instead of saying, “I need to go to the gym every day or I will fail”… saying, “I want to go to the gym. I love going to the gym. I can’t wait to go to the gym!” then I’m more likely to remain upright and conscious.

But if you actually do hate the gym, aren’t you just lying to yourself? Well, not if you truly shift your mindset. James Clear, in his book Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, suggests that while goals are great for setting direction, it’s the system behind reaching them that actually gauges progress. And when those systems become habits, they sort of become who you are, part of your identity.

“When you fall in love with the process rather than the product, you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy. You can be satisfied anytime your system is running.”

James Clear, Atomic Habits

I can’t say I’ve grown to love the gym. Far too often, some guy takes his shirt off and flexes his muscles and I drop into fetal position on the floor with flashbacks to grade two. But I have found something I do love. I LOVE TO RUN. When I’m out on a run, I feel completely free, alive, mindful of who I am and that I’m progressing toward a greater version of myself. I don’t need to run. I want to run.

This can take time. Saying you love something doesn’t make it so. I’ve said “I love you,” a million times in my life, and only meant it maybe three. But when your goals are there in front of you, whatever they may be, by focusing on the process rather than the result, you’re more likely to succeed.

The Legend of Flying Boy

The Legend of Flying Boy

Daring You to Take Flight in 2020

My very first brilliant idea, which I’m lucky was not my last, materialized when I was 9-years old. It came to me while watching a plastic bag blow around the yard and eventually get caught in the branches of a tree. It occurred to me that the aerodynamic principles of a plastic shopping bag are exactly similar to those of a parachute. And thus my dream was born.

I would design a parachute for kids.  

Yes, it would be considerably smaller than those used by actual skydivers … I knew this from GI Joe cartoons. But my plan was not to jump out of a plane. That would be crazy — not to mention the logistical problems of acquiring a plane, a pilot, and an airport. No, I would limit the altitude to the rooftop of my house. 

I couldn’t believe it had never been done. I had a glorious vision of kids around the world jumping off their rooftops, floating blissfully to their backyards — and then hurrying up the ladder for another jump. And for me, the money would be rolling in.

But I wasn’t in it for the money. It was more about the glory. 

Now, I don’t want you to think I rushed into this without doing some research. I didn’t just grab a bag and jump off the roof (thank goodness… because if I’m honest I really did consider it). No. I worked on developing a prototype. 

A child's drawing of a boy holding a shopping bag next to an actual parachutist. Drawing is "Not to scale".

And… this was my design.

This perfectly reasonable, intricately detailed, scientifically sound design was my ticket to the skies. It’s funny how, even as a child, I knew that a dream doesn’t become reality on its own. You need to take action — and write it down. Suddenly, prototype design in hand, my dream was palpable. Alive. Real.

There was one problem.

I have an uncle who knows about inventions. He had once told me that if you want to invent something, you need a patent. And to get one, you had to test your design. You know… make sure it works. An idea does not an invention make.

Easy to solve. I decided I would test my design, but do it at a lower altitude for the initial jumps, make whatever adjustments I’d need, then take to the roof. I planned my first jump out my bedroom window. (It was the 2nd story — what was the worst that could happen?)

But, thinking ahead (as visionaries do), I knew that eventually I would need to market my idea. Kids needed to know about this fabulous new product that would change their lives forever. So, I decided to combine my prototype test with a prototype demonstration.

A child drawn poster that reads "Come see the Amazing Flying Boy - he doesn't even care if he dies."

I made a poster.

And I became the Amazing Flying Boy.

Come to think of it, this was also my first marketing campaign. And it was a good one. I made copies of the poster and put them up all over the neighbourhood. I even charged $0.10 for admission (to get shopping bags you needed to buy something, and I was going to need a LOT of bags). And of course I knew that kids were not going to be interested unless there was some element of peril, so I added the line “he doesn’t even care if he dies!”

By now, you probably realize that this was a bad idea. Testing your product before a live audience is not a good marketing strategy. I had a backyard full of enthusiastic children waiting to watch the Amazing Flying Boy soar out his window like an idiot.

And honestly, as I stood in the window looking out at their excited faces, I believed, without any doubt, that it was going to work. I saw myself in that moment, completely free, in utter control of the elements. Gravity be damned. In my vision, I jumped into the air and floated gently, gracefully, to a soft, safe landing.

You’ve heard the mantra “fail fast”? I failed in less than a second. I woke up in an ambulance, and eventually faced two very angry parents. Thankfully, nothing was broken. Well, nothing physical. My spirit, like my dream, was crushed.

My parents even made me give all the money back. I went around the neighbourhood handing kids dimes and apologizing for making them have to explain what happened to the paramedics.

So I had nothing to show for it. The Amazing Flying Boy was grounded for good.

But, truth be told, there is something so valuable I learned from that experience (besides the obvious). It’s something that I have forgotten over the years, and something that so many of us leave behind amongst the ruins of our youth. On that day, I had no fear. An idea came. I embraced it. I built it. I sold it. And then I jumped out a window.

How many times have I been able to do that as an adult? Why, when I’ve learned so much about the world (including basic aerodynamics), am I so afraid to try something new, however crazy, for fear of failing?

I know I’m not alone. I think most adults experience this in some way or other. But perhaps if we remember that childhood fearlessness — that willingness to act upon an idea and work to see it become real — we can make things happen in ways we actually dreamt of.

I hope that this year ahead brings you many opportunities, and that your brilliant ideas inspire you to take action, take a leap, and take flight.

Just remember to test your prototype first.

Note: The drawings in this post are an artist’s rendition of the originals, and may not be exactly the same. However, they are really super close! 🙂