A subtle way you sabotage your fitness progress

written by Philip Stefanov  |  NOVEMBER 29, 2022

Most of us are self-aware enough to know when we are making mistakes that keep us from reaching our full potential. For example, binge eating the entire weekend while trying to lose fat isn’t the smartest thing to do.

In most cases, we make a mental note of our mistakes and try to do better in the future. That’s what experience is.

But what if you’re keeping yourself from reaching your goals without realizing it? What if, despite your best efforts, you fall for a common mental trap that leads to poor choices?

The Trap We’ve All Fallen Into

I received an interesting email from a reader a while back. In the email, the person complained that, while dedicated to fitness, he had stopped going to the gym because he couldn’t train five times per week.

His reasoning for not training was surprising, so I asked him what made him think he had to train five days per week. He didn’t give me a good answer, but I could tell he was convinced that three or four weekly workouts wouldn’t be enough.

I did my best to explain that he could still make fantastic progress, and I’d like to believe that I managed to change his mind. But here is the fundamental problem with this type of thinking:

Instead of looking at the big picture and how even three weekly workouts add up to 156 sessions in a year, he declared, “That won’t do!” This is an excellent example of the all-or-nothing mentality that plagues many people today. Instead of making little progress, they choose none.

Here are some other examples:

  1. A person diets religiously, and despite adhering perfectly for 30 days, one cookie is enough to derail them and make them feel like a failure.

  2. You commit to a high-frequency program, and even though you don’t miss a single workout in two months, you have to skip one. Now you feel like it’s all been for nothing.

We may feel this way because we associate consistency with perfection. In other words, consistency isn’t about training regularly and making good progress but about never missing a workout, no matter what.

But here is the thing:

Being consistent is not about being perfect, and trying to be perfect is probably holding you back. Worse, it could be stopping you from even getting started.

The ‘perfect’ approach eventually fails because we are human, and life happens. If your idea of consistency is never missing a workout, guess what: you’ll fail eventually.

Life happens: you might injure yourself, an emergency might occur, and gyms might close, as was the case in 2020. Making progress isn’t about never missing a workout but about getting back on track as soon as possible.

Consistent effort, even on a smaller scale, will deliver much better results than going all-out for a month and then giving up. So:

  • Instead of following some restrictive diet for a month, dedicate yourself to a reasonably healthy plan and be as consistent as possible. You won’t shed ten pounds in a month, but so what? You’ll gain momentum and lose a lot more weight in the long run.

  • Instead of putting yourself on an advanced high-frequency program, dedicate yourself to hitting the gym three days per week. Stretch that over a year, and you’ll have 156 workouts on paper. Again, consistency.

Newton’s first law states, “Objects in motion tend to stay in motion.” and it applies to our behaviors. Be consistent, expect the occasional slip-up, but keep moving forward. More importantly, look at your long-term trajectory, not short-term hiccups.

Something Interesting I’ve Learned About Consistency

No matter what you want to achieve, you can’t get anywhere without deliberate and persistent action. But here is the thing:

Consistency can get boring. Plus, we rarely get instant results for our efforts, which can make the whole thing even more tedious. Still, we must focus and do the work no matter how we feel.

The general trajectory matters a lot more, and we should focus on improving in the long run. For example, if your goal is to improve your squat, but your last workout sucked, you have two options:

1) You can focus on the short-term (the last workout was terrible) and get frustrated.

2) You can focus on the long run and ask yourself, “Where will my squat be in one year if I stay consistent and don’t pay attention to these occasional hiccups?”

No single action is enough to shift our trajectory. But small and consistent improvements can lead to significant changes in the long run.

Take, for example, lifting weights. We can all agree that bad workouts occur, and there is little we can do about them. If you have enough workouts throughout the year, some are bound to be bad, and that’s okay.

What’s most important is that you put your best foot forward and walk in the gym with confidence. A bad workout doesn’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things, so don’t dwell on it.

This applies to almost every other aspect of life. The occasional bad performance is the price you must pay for being consistent. We are human, not machines, and it’s only normal to make mistakes, feel under the weather, and generally feel unfocused and less productive at times.

Thank you for taking the time. Until next week,


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