When Fitness Goals Get in the Way of Success

It seems like common sense to set goals for your weekly fitness intentions, so you can schedule your time accordingly, and have a way to be accountable and stay motivated.  And for the vast majority (and about 75% of my clients), this is what works best to get started exercising and stay on track week after week.  But it doesn’t work for everyone, and for those people where it doesn’t they need to experiment with what does work to retain their commitment and continue to make progress.

The main reasons goals don’t work for these people has more to do with their subconscious rebellion of rigid rules (or paperwork), past experiences where they failed to meet goals, a fear of imperfection, or a need to have greater freedom to do what feels best.  It may also be something else.  It isn’t often obvious what the issue is and there may be more than one reason, yet it is worth trying to figure out what is driving the resistance to goals, since it is likely also affecting the ability to successfully stick with a fitness routine.

For example, if the issue is a fear of imperfection, which is virtually impossible to attain, than anything can and will derail the pursuit of regular exercise and activity.  This becomes an opportunity to change the belief that perfection is required and instead create a new belief that good is good enough.  When you’ve got a history of past failures, remember that the past is not a reflection of the future.  In these cases, setting very small and highly achievable goals can be helpful to break that belief and create a history of successes.  Those dealing with rebellion of rules need a way to have greater freedom to define their own success, supported by a sense of structure, such as having a way to see or report on what they did without being required to decide what that is ahead of time.

Here’s a way to succeed when goals get in the way:

1)       Decide you will do some type of aerobic activity in the upcoming week and consider what that
might be and when you might do it, so you can picture it and see yourself succeeding.

2)       Plan on telling someone at the end of the week about what it is you accomplished, so you have
some accountability.

3)       Be active without overdoing it, and do something you find enjoyable.

4)       Notice how it felt physically to be active.  Did the exercise, no matter how little it was, leave you
feeling better?

5)       Notice how it feels emotionally to share your success. Did sharing your success feel good?

6)       Notice if you also want to track what you did on a calendar or in a journal, so you can see your
accomplishment.  One of my clients likes to use stars to see her successes.

7)       Now ask yourself if you are motivated to be active in the upcoming week without setting goals.
If so, see if you don’t want to do a bit (up to 5-10%) more since it felt so good last week.

8)       Continue each week setting loose goals until you get to the point you find you want to set more
specific goals or you are finding you are easily exercising more and more regularly without them.

If you either aren’t motivated to be active each week or are not successful in past weeks in doing as you hoped, than this approach without goals probably doesn’t work for you.   At this point, it is worth going back to setting goals and seeing what type of reaction you are having either to the goal process or the exercising so you can address what is driving that response.

There is no rule that you have to set goals or that the goals you set have to always be the same or increase each week.  There are times when decreasing them because of a change in circumstances is appropriate.  What is more important is finding a structure that motivates you to be and stay active week-to-week and month-to-month, so you can achieve consistent exercise in your life and push yourself to increase your fitness levels and feel your very best.


Alice Greene
Healthy Lifestyle Success Coach

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