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How I Fell in Love with Fitness (The Hard Way)

06/29/2011 11:42 am ET | Updated Aug 29, 2011

When I was 4 years old, I asked my mother if I could quit taking my ballet lessons. I started because I wanted to float around onstage in a tutu, and the reality of a ballet class for 4-year-olds (if you've never witnessed one, basically it consists of tiny, ungraceful people doing squats in leotards) reminded me too much of the cardio classes I had seen my mother taking at her gym. I did not want to "work out," I wanted to be a ballerina. So I quit.

A few years later my mother enrolled me in a program called "Cardio Kids." This really was a cardio class, and I hated it also. After being forced to appear on several local morning news programs doing our step routines, I quit again. Next, my father convinced me to join a youth softball team. I liked the idea of softball -- very little action and a lot of standing around -- but I stopped playing before I got to middle school. I made a brief reappearance on the field as a member of my high school's varsity team when I was a freshman. I lasted one day. I had come to the conclusion that I was someone who hated being active. Running, sweating, being out of breath -- all of it was awful. I threw out my sneakers and gave up.

By the time I got to college, I was comfortable with the fact that I was a person for whom shopping was strenuous exercise. But perhaps out of fear of the dreaded freshman 15, or maybe just to be social, I decided to accompany some dorm mates to "The Gym." I had never used one.

It was life-changing.

I loved the gym. I loved putting on my headphones, blasting music and escaping for a half-hour, coming back with a huge endorphin rush. It turns out I actually did like being sweaty, red-faced and flushed. I liked cardio. I even liked strength-training! Why had no one taken me here before?! I started going once a week, then three times. By the time I graduated I was up to six weekly visits. I signed up for 5Ks. I took pride in my push-ups. Most weirdly, my day didn't feel complete until I'd spent some time inside the once-mythic gym.

When I looked back, I realized the problem for me was trying to exercise with other people. From my ballet beginnings to an ill-fated attempt at a yoga class last year, I found I was always looking around the room, comparing my posture to everyone else and trying to see if I was doing it right -- by holding myself up to others. I couldn't enjoy myself -- or gain any benefits -- because I was so busy taking in everything else in the room. Now, I use working out as "me" time (as cheesy as it sounds), and I'm more than happy to give my all at the gym because it decreases my stress instead of adding to it.

So if you've been trying the same cardio-weight machine routine for years and it isn't doing anything for you, it doesn't necessarily mean you hate working out. Try swimming or hiking. Sign up for a race. Join a softball team! Take ballet! You might find something you love, too.