Fitness and Failure: Is It Really All or Nothing?

I was training a client the other day and we were chatting about her progress. She’s made tremendous improvement since we first started training but she told me something that, in turn, sparked this post.

Her fear of failing.

It’s an all-too-common situation for many of us, myself included. Whether it’s the expectations we have for ourselves or from others, we’re sometimes hindered by fear of failure.

This brings up an interesting and important question: Can you fail at your fitness goals?

Let’s dive in a bit deeper to find out.

Letting Go of the All or Nothing Mindset

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Here’s an example of some internal dialogue that you may be familiar with:

“I know I shouldn’t be eating this because it’s pretty high in calories.”

Eats food anyway.

“Great, now I’ve failed.”

Or this one:

“I’ve worked out 3 out of 4 days so far this week so I’ll skip my workout today.”

Decides to skip workout and later feels guilty about it.

“I shouldn’t have skipped that workout because now I’ve lost all of my progress and have to start over.”

Sound familiar?

If it does that’s because many of us struggle with stuff like this on daily basis. But here’s the deal: just because you eat something you weren’t planning to eat or you skip a workout, doesn’t make you a failure or mean that you’ve failed.

Step 1 towards reaching your fitness goals will require you to let go of the all or nothing mindset. It’s not an easy thing to do, but once you do you’ll notice an immediate shift in your mindset.

Making the Shift

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There’s a reason people believe they can fail with their fitness goals.

Part of it has to do with the overbearing nature of the fitness industry and the idea that you’re either 100% committed or you’re just not hardcore enough.

There’s no middle ground.

I’m guilty of spouting the suck-it-up mentality at times (sometimes it’s warranted) but in general this isn’t the best practice for lots of people.

On the other hand, we have social media showing us all of these examples of people with ‘perfect’ bodies. Many of them have large audiences and a major influence on other people’s behaviors, whether positive or negative.

Too many people believed they’ve screwed up or failed if:

  • they skip a workout
  • they eat carbs or sugar
  • they eat too much in 1 meal
  • they eat something deemed as ‘unhealthy’
  • they have alcohol
  • they miss a meal
  • they go out to eat
  • they indulge in their favorite treat
  • the scale goes up
  • they eat something that’s processed

It’s no wonder so many people are afraid of failing. It’s a good thing the above examples don’t make you a failure because I’ve done each of these and I’m still continuing to make progress, as are my clients 🙂

When we really take a look at what helps us make progress we realize that fitness success is determined more by habits than by single circumstance events. Here are some examples of what it takes to be successful:

  • consistency
  • patience
  • understanding and awareness
  • flexible mindset
  • hard work/effort
  • forgiving (in the sense that eating one particular food doesn’t make or break results)

It’s these habits or behaviors that will determine success in the long run. And, success can mean many different things to everyone.

Dealing with Others’ Perceptions

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Part of our fear of failure comes from letting other people down than it does with ourselves. I can definitely understand where this comes from, however, it’s important to remember why we care about fitness in the first place.

It could be to look better. It could be for health reasons. It could just be that staying active feels good and helps improve your daily life.

Whatever your reasons for being active are, they are important to you so keep that in mind.

So what happens when other people start to take notice that you’re eating different, bringing your own food to work, and making physical changes?

Some people can be encouraging, while other’s may give you a short-sighted compliment that you don’t really want to hear. “You’re too skinny,” or “You’re getting too bulky, what are you doing?”

While they might not mean to be ill-intentioned, their words still carry significant weight.

The best advice I can give you is this:

Ignore the comments that you perceive as negative and appreciate the comments that are positive. Most of the times people make these comments because they’re curious why you’re doing something different than them. Why are you eating a certain way? Why are you making physical progress but they aren’t?

Most of the time it’s just simple curiosity and a little bit of ignorance as well. I’d be willing to be that you’re more knowledgeable about exercise and nutrition than they might be so it’s natural for the onlooker to be curious about what you’re doing.

The key takeaway here is this: it really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, whether good or bad. What matters is that you’re happy because you are making progress and you know that you’re in control.

So, Can You Fail?

No 🙂

This is extremely important to understand. The only possible way to fail is if you quit.

As long as you keep going despite the ups and downs, you cannot fail.

Let me say that again: you cannot fail with your fitness goals. It’s not, do this and be good or do that and fail. It’s do these things consistently and over time you will be successful. There is no failing as long as you keep on trying and never quit.

There is no failing as long as you keep on trying and never quit.

Once you’re able to wrap your head around this you should feel really, really good. And, I’d be willing to bet that you start making more progress than ever before because you’ve let go of the paralyzing all-or-nothing mindset.

Listen, you don’t get abs overnight right? You don’t gain 30lbs after one meal, do you? You don’t bench press 315 if you haven’t done 225 yet.

Making fitness progress is a long journey and one that will be filled with many ups and downs.

Fitness Isn’t a Yes or No

The longer you’re in the fitness game you come to realize that everything is on a sliding scale. There will always be people that argue X food is good and Y food is bad.

People that say one type of exercise is superior to another and people that will tell you that you have to do XYZ and any deviance from that will cause you to fail.

But the good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. No one is going to be a 100% compliant with their diet nor is it necessary in order to get the results you’re looking for.

Learn to let go of the fear of failure knowing that failure isn’t even an option. You either make progress towards your goals, or you learn along the way. Ups and downs are a part of the fitness journey so whatever you do, just keep going.

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