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Overcoming your Fear of Exercise Failure

How do you react to your exercise failures?


Updated October 10, 2012

Overcoming your Fear of Exercise Failure
Baerbel Schmidt/Getty Images

Going on a weight loss kick is something a lot of us do, usually because of some triggering event - Your pants are too tight, for example, or your child looks at you one day and sweetly says, "Daddy, did you grow a watermelon in your belly?" You put together your weight loss plan, outlining the diet you'll follow and the exercises you'll do and, as you're doing this, you're visualizing your success. There you are, slimmer, healthier, scarfing down lettuce leaves and tree bark with abandon. And there you are, gussied up in tight-fitting workout clothes, sweating happily through a workout.

What's missing from this picture is the morning you skip your workout because you're too tired to move. Or the night you pick up a double cheeseburger instead of a salad because you're so hungry, you can't see straight.

No one wants to fantasize about themselves failing, yet it's inevitable. All the planning in the world can't stop the things that may keep you from working out: A string of sleepless nights, a sick child, an exhausting commute, a raging case of PMS, an emergency at work or just plain old fatigue from a long day of work or chores.

The problem isn't that you fail, it's how you react to those failures and that may be exactly what's keeping you from weight loss success.

How Do You React to Failure?

You may not realize it, but failure is an important part of the weight loss journey. Our failures show us our weaknesses and, if we pay attention, how to overcome them. For example, if you constantly plan to exercise after work only to fail, that tells you that morning exercise may be a better choice. In your mind, however, you decide there's something wrong with you, rather than something wrong with the goals you've set.

Once you start blaming yourself, you may fall even deeper into your failure. Some of the most common reactions:

"I Suck." If you can't stick with your exercise program, something must be wrong with you, right? In fact, you may end up spending more time kicking yourself for not exercising than actually exercising. You may even compound the problem by:

  • Living in Denial - It's painful to think of our failures and, as a result, we may actively avoid thinking about them at all. After missing a workout...or 2...or 10, you may find yourself in a deceptively peaceful place where you simply don't care that you aren't exercising. You aren't thinking of the consequences - The weight gain, health issues, guilt, shame or the fact that you're digging yourself even deeper into your weight problems.
  • Giving Yourself a License to Suck - If you already suck, why not go all in? If you're not exercising, why even bother eating salads or counting calories? Rather than viewing a failure as one bad decision, you see it as proof of your failure as a person.

Someone/Something Else Sucks

The blame game is a comforting reaction to exercise failure because it lets you off the hook for what's gone wrong. The most common culprits:

  • Your job sucks because it makes you sit all the time, stresses you out, drains your energy and presents a constant flow of temptations - Birthday cakes, candy, donuts, vending machine fare, etc. You know you could exercise if you could just find a different job, forgetting that there are ways to stay active at work.
  • Your spouse/family/loved ones suck because they don't always support you, they require constant care and, sometimes, they may even sabotage you. You may decide you'll have to put off your weight loss plan for a later time, when the kids are grown or when life gets easier, forgetting that the perfect time will never come.
  • Your gym sucks because it's too far away, doesn't have the fitness classes you want, is always crowded and is too confusing to navigate. You're sure you would do your workouts if you could just find a gym that had everything you need, forgetting that you can always workout at home.
  • Exercise sucks because it's confusing and it's hard. It takes up too much time and you're not even sure if you're doing it right. It makes you sweat and breathe hard, it makes your muscles burn and, for all that work, it doesn't feel like you get much in return. However, learning some exercise basics, sticking with activities you like and keeping it simple can help you ease into exercise without all that pain and suffering.

Finding someone to blame, whether it's ourselves or others, is an easy way avoid making changes in our lives. However, what we're really avoiding is the risk of failure and avoiding failure also means avoiding success. That leaves you with the question: How do you get past your fear of failure enough to get moving again? That's where the real work comes in.

Next: Getting Past Your Exercise Failures

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