Why I Failed

Just after Thanksgiving, I announced my intentions to start the P90X workout program.  From a behavior management/support standpoint, this was probably a good idea.  So was starting my own microblog dedicated to tracking my feelings & progress on the program (see some of the links in that blog post for the reasons why).

So why have I stopped the program just over a third of the way through?

It’s not that journaling was ineffective; in fact, I don’t know if I would have lasted as long were it not for the added guilt incentive my blog gave me to keep going – after all, I couldn’t punk out after having stated my intentions so boldly, could I?  I think I put my finger on the issue in my 27 December post:

Update: I took my “recovery week” as a real rest week – took about 4-6 days off completely. I did more days than I’ve blogged about here, but I’m finding I’m burning out – I’m a fit guy, and have run and lifted for years, but I’m having a real hard time finding 60-90 minutes a day where I can follow the program without other stuff interfering. I’m going to pick it up again today in Week 5 of the program and see where it takes me.

The problem was not with the supports; it was with the ultimate goal.  In the back of my mind, I knew that this was going to be time-consuming, but it wasn’t until I got into it that I realized I was effectively having to choose between exercise and my family (long story, not interesting, just trust me).  I have since switched to a different workout routine that is still challenging, but more compatible with my schedule.

So why whine about my workout on an education blog?  Simple: it was a stark reminder to me to keep goals attainable, behavioral, academic, or otherwise.  In hindsight, even though I was able to keep up physically with the workouts, the specifics of my work and family’s schedules made this an unrealistic undertaking for me.  I kind of knew this in the back of my head, and had a Plan B to go to just in case, but that’s not always the case, especially with our students who are attempting to meet goals that we set for them, either via behavioral expectations, grades, or IEPs.

The same may be true of your students.  If Johnny (why are these hypothetical example students always named Johnny?) picks his nose for 80% of the class period, it may be unrealistic to expect to extinguish that behavior right away.  If, after, say, two weeks of behavior interventions, he’s picking his nose during 40% of the class, that’s not bad at all – you’ve cut the frequency of nasal spelunking in your classroom in half.  Of course, you’ll eventually want to kill that off entirely, but in a case like this, it’s important to a) recognize his progress, and b) understand that behavior is complex, and can take time to change.  The same is true of improving study skills, academic performance, reading fluency… some improvements come quickly, but others take time, and don’t always come as easily as we’d like.

As educators, we often like to set the bar high and challenge our students, and that’s admirable.  We just have to remember that setting the bar too high too soon can sometimes do more harm than good – set up some smaller bars first, for them and for yourself.  The confidence boost they (and you) get from meeting those short-term goals (“Hey, I can do this after all!”) could be just what they need to get them to that ultimate goal.


  • Yikes. We’re about to start the P90X business over here, and I’ve been worried that the time commitment will be a bit much. I haven’t committed myself to following the program exactly, but 60-90 minutes does seem like a lot of time. Perhaps it shouldn’t, but it does.

    As for expectations we set for our students: Within traditional grading practices, there just isn’t any easy way to recognize students who have improved. If Timmy was giving me absolutely nothing at the beginning of the year and is now doing about 50% of the work, he’s still failing- despite the huge improvement. Perhaps it’s just another reason why the whole grading system doesn’t work the way it should.
    .-= Ben Wildeboer´s last blog ..Science and Self-Directed Learning =-.

  • I think that if we didn’t have kids, it wouldn’t have been as big of a deal, but as things are, I can’t get 60 uninterrupted minutes until they go down between 6:30 and 7. My wife usually is in bed by 8, so by the time I was done working out, she was either asleep or well on her way there.

    If you stay true to the program, I think the shortest workout day is 70 minutes (55 for workout + 15 for abs). Without kids, I imagine one’s day has somewhat more flexibility.

    You make a good point about the current grading system not supporting what I describe in my post. Coincidentally, Ira Socol blogged about this idea much more eloquenter than me earlier today: http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2010/01/little-steps-history-anywhere-math.html

    I wish I had an easy answer for that, but I don’t. The only thing I can suggest is to recognize the improvement as best you can (so the student knows that you acknowledge the improvement) and continue giving the student incremental goals to work toward and investigating why the student only completes 50% of his assigned work.

  • […] If anyone’s reading this, this experiment is over. For an explanation, see here: http://www.apaceofchange.com/2010/01/09/why-i-failed/ […]

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