Why People Fail Their Fitness Goals

Image of author recently sweating buckets

They don’t account for a net loss in happiness

For any new habit that you’re bringing into your life, you’re re-budgeting your time.

If this is the problem you're dealing with, knowing is half the battle. When you resolve yourself to be healthier, think about what you're giving up. You will be more realistic in estimating the struggle.Also, you can start finding emotional comfort in your fitness to offset the loss. The next point helps with that.

They don’t clarify their what and why

“I want to lose weight” is not a goal.

  • “I want to maintain a healthy athletic body so that I can play with my kids even in my 40s.”
  • “My family has a history of heart problems. I want to strengthen my heart and keep my stress low so that I can avoid the same fate.”
  • “I want to be lean and muscular so that I look good and don’t feel conscious in clothes.”
If this is the problem you're dealing with, try a simple technique like Five Whys. For exercises like these, writing is better than simply thinking.Basically:
1. Ask yourself why you want to do something.
2. Answer.
3. Repeat until you coax a deeper answer out of yourself.

They add unnecessary, invisible clauses

Speaking of goals, if you say things like this, you have a problem:

  • “I have to exercise at 5 AM.”
  • “Every time I go in to the gym, I must lift a little more weight.”
  • “I must get 1% better every day.”
  • “I can only eat grilled chicken and steamed vegetables.”
If this is the problem you’re dealing with, read up on success spirals.Focus on building a habit that you can easily manage, not a habit that is optimized from studying the habits of 55 other people.

They get trapped in the 3-act structure fallacy

Movies, TV shows, books, blogs, and all other forms of storytelling inevitably fall into a 3-act narrative. There is a beginning, a middle, and an end.

  1. I am dissatisfied/unhappy/upset about my body.
  2. I will train hard and eat better.
  3. I will have a better body and be really happy.
If this is the problem you're dealing with, here's good news.Your health and well-being are also in the middle of your life, not at the end. You don’t magically get to your ideal weight, strength, and agility at the end of a training program. You start seeing incremental improvements the longer you do it.Recognize your victories and allow them to keep you happy in the middle.

They have a latent fear of success and don’t recognize the cost of inaction

Success comes with pressure of maintenance. With lifestyle habits such as fitness, there is an invisible pressure to keep it up indefinitely.

Side anecdote: In the past, some family members (uncles with pot bellies) have told me not to work out because “when you stop, you’ll gain back double the weight you lose.”They didn’t even consider the idea that you’re not supposed to stop. That was unimaginable to them because it sounded so daunting.Also they’re simply wrong. You’re not going to gain back double the weight unless you double your consumption over a long period of time.
If this is the problem you're dealing with, look for signs that break the illusion. Do you hesitate when people take pictures of you? Do you catch yourself frequently out of breath? Do you wake up tired?If yes, talk to your doctor. Getting a clear picture of the cost of inaction will help you start.


  1. Account for the net loss in happiness — Realistically estimate the initial struggle of a fitness lifestyle.
  2. Clarify your what and why — Sit with yourself and understand what you want to achieve and the deep reason you want to do so.
  3. Avoid unnecessary rules — Focus on making a sustainable system, not an optimized one.
  4. Beware the 3-act fallacy — Don’t defer your happiness and remind yourself that life is not a movie.
  5. Recognize the cost of inaction — look for signs that help you with the first four.



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Vaibhav Gupta

Professional technical writer, 2x Distinguished Toastmaster. I write about mental health and self-awareness. Also see https://medium.com/thorough-and-unkempt