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How to Keep Going When a Fitness Goal Becomes Challenging

Rethink your approach to exercise


Woman with weight
Unsplash | Alexandra Tran

You know, or at least have heard that exercise is good for you. There are plenty of available resources that describe the physical benefits of exercise: weight management, getting better sleep, reducing the risk of disease, and strengthening bones and muscles.


So you set the intention to start to exercise, but never follow through because there’s always that “one thing” you gotta do first. Or maybe you started a few months back in January and you went hard, but it’s now March and that “New Year, New Me” energy ain’t hitting the same way.


If any of this is speaking to your soul right now, please read on.

Committing to your fitness goal is hard. And sometimes when we're experiencing challenges, all we need are friendly reminders to keep us going. In the following sections, I'll address some of these challenges and share some ways to help you rethink your approach to exercise and sustain your momentum.


When you ask yourself why you want to work out, what comes to mind? It’s important to be honest with ourselves about what really motivates us to start exercising.

Challenge: A Fixed Mindset Approach


You may be familiar with the concepts of fixed mindset vs. growth mindset. If you aren’t, here’s a brief overview: a fixed mindset sees things as static, unchangeable. You tend to view outcomes as final, you either have it or you don’t. By contrast, a growth mindset sees things as dynamic, changeable. You tend to view outcomes as fluid, you may not have it now, but you will eventually.


In the context of exercise, a fixed mindset can have you believing you can “fail” or “succeed” at fitness. This means that if you don’t make progress right away, then it must be because there was something wrong with you, not because it takes time to get good at something. You might feel like everything you do is a test of your abilities. If you fail at one activity, it can overshadow any progress you’ve made to that point. Redemption feels impossible because your inability to “succeed” the first time around feels so final.


Reframe and Adjust


A more helpful way of looking at exercise is to view it as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and your body. Reframe how you view your weaknesses and remember that they are not final. Instead, view them as a starting point for the areas that need a bit more focus to build toward strengthening.


Be ready to adjust. If you’re struggling with a workout, take note. Adjust your approach, scale the intensity back to a level that’s more manageable and work your way up. Or scrap the workout all together and try something more in line with where you are now.


The goal is to be confident that improvement is possible. Give yourself a grace period to learn new things and accept that things will need to be adjusted.


Challenge: Fear of Failure


Fear of failure can look like convincing yourself that you're not quite ready to get started because there’s that “one thing” you gotta do first. It can also look like complacency. Rather than pushing yourself out of your comfort zone (which is where growth happens), you choose to focus on things that you already know how to do well. Like, sticking with a workout that no longer challenges you instead of leveling up.


While it may seem harmless in the short-term, do this long enough and you’ll find yourself feeling stuck, fear-ridden, and unable to handle failure when it inevitably happens.


Failing Gives Context


The truth is, sometimes we need to experience failure in order to fully experience success. I’m willing to bet some of your biggest successes came after a moment of failure. That’s because failure gives us context. It allows us to understand what works, what doesn’t work, and what’s needed. Every setback is an opportunity to learn. To build resilience. To make adjustments. That's how we grow.


You may experience challenges and setbacks along the way, but these are just part of the process. The important thing is to keep moving forward.

Challenge: Extrinsic Motivators as Your Primary Driver


Intrinsic motivation is when you're motivated by internal factors, such as enjoying the process of exercising or having a sense of accomplishment after you've finished a workout. You engage in this activity because the experience itself is personally rewarding.


Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is when you're motivated by external factors, such as wanting to lose weight so that you can fit into your clothes better or so that others will find you more attractive. You engage in exercising to earn an outcome e.g. complements or attractiveness or to avoid an outcome e.g. criticism or rejection.


When you ask yourself why you want to work out, what comes to mind? It’s important to be honest with ourselves about what really motivates us to start exercising.


It’s likely that extrinsic motivators are what got you to start in the first place and that’s ok. It becomes problematic when they remain your primary motivation for working out because extrinsic motivators are inherently fleeting and are dependent on external validations. In the absence of these external validations, your progress wanes, making it easier for you to give up completely.


Motivation from Within


It’s ok if extrinsic motivations drive you more than intrinsic ones do, in the beginning. The goal is to slowly begin to shift the primary motivating drive for getting fit and healthy from being extrinsic to intrinsic. Learn to develop internal validation. Be proud of the steps, big or small, you’re taking to take care of yourself without the need for external affirmation. Be motivated by internal desires that come from within yourself, like the desire to feel good about yourself or become more healthy so that you can enjoy life more fully with loved ones.


Challenge: Too Much, Too Soon


Once you’ve decided to start working out, it’s easy to overdo it. And with all the options out there from HIIT, Crossfit, Pilates, Strength training it’s easy to think you have to go hard from the start. This is a mistake. Doing too much too soon can cause injury and can turn you off from working out all together.


Start Small


If you're new to exercise or are just getting back into the groove of things after a long hiatus, don't jump into a hardcore routine right away. You need to give your body time to adjust to the new demands placed on it.


Your body is designed to heal itself, but it's not built for sudden change. It takes time for your muscles and joints to adapt to new positions and movements. Even if you've been exercising regularly, if you haven't worked out in a while, it's a good idea to take things slowly when you start again.


If you've been sedentary for a while, start slowly with walking and light stretching. Once you feel confident about your ability to do this on a regular basis, add some strength training exercises, such as push-ups or squats, into your routine. After some time, once you've built up some muscle strength and endurance, consider jogging or even running short distances as part of your workout (but always check with your physician first).


The idea is to get up and start moving. Start with a comfortable pace and gradually level up from there.


Want to give yoga a try? Check out Gentle Yoga with Tracy Rosas.


Challenge: Not Prioritizing Your Workout Routine