So you’ve set a lofty fitness resolution for 2023, and now that your initial burst of motivation is gone, you’re finding it harder and harder to get yourself to the gym. Maybe you started the year off strong, but a bump in the road derailed your plans, and you just can’t find the inspiration to pick up where you left off.
According to Namaste Fit yoga instructor and bodybuilding competitor Tara Elisabeth Stewart, relying on motivation alone to carry you throughout the year is a recipe for disaster. “Motivation is so fleeting,” says Stewart. “It’s really discipline that’s going to get you where you want to go.”
If you’re finding it difficult to stick to your fitness goals this year, you’re not alone. A survey from Sundried found that 95 percent of New Year’s resolutions are fitness-related, and 43 percent of people expect to abandon those goals before February. If you don’t want to fall into that camp this year, make sure you’re not unintentionally undermining yourself.
5 sneaky ways you might be sabotaging your fitness resolutions
1. You set unrealistic goals
A vague New Year’s resolution (for example, “walk more”) can be difficult to stick to, since it lacks clear parameters. Concrete milestones can be motivating, and without them, there’s little to look forward to.
Stewart suggests making your New Year’s resolution SMART—specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. “You have to be clear about what your goal is, why you want to achieve it, and have it be measurable, so you can track it and see your progress,” she says.
“But don’t make it so overwhelming that you can’t do anything about it,” she adds, “because then you’ll just get frozen.” A too-daunting resolution can leave you feeling overwhelmed. If you’ve never run a straight mile in your life, try aiming to complete a 5K before the end of the year, not a marathon.
“In the new year, people are really excited, and that’s the energy I want to see,” says Megan McWilliams, a certified corrective exercise specialist through NASM. “But when we’re excited, we can potentially set [a goal] that is just so massive, and then get mad at ourselves because we can’t make it happen. I would rather see slow and steady, day-to-day things that bring you joy, to reach a goal.”
If you think your resolution needs some finessing, it’s not too late to make a tweak. Pulling back from your initial ambition isn’t a failure—it’s a smart way to actually set yourself up for success.
2. You have an “all or nothing” mindset
Slip-ups happen. Maybe you slept in one morning and missed your training session, or you caught the flu and had to skip the gym for a full week. Or you just weren’t feeling it and gave yourself an extra couple of rest days.
Stewart, who has trained arduously for months at a time to compete in bodybuilding competitions, says to be patient with yourself and approach lapses in training as small speed bumps. Picture your New Year’s fitness resolution as the accumulation of consistent hard work, not just one session, or one week.
“I like the quote that says ‘it’s a marathon, not a sprint,’ ” says Stewart. “When you picture it as a lifestyle change, you’re constantly moving forward. And even if you do take a step back, that’s okay. As long as you get up and you go the next day, and you keep up with your goals, a tiny little slip is not going to throw off your progress.”
3. You’re training too hard, too fast
McWilliams says that proper rest and recovery can lengthen the lifespan of your fitness goals. Betraying your body’s signals to take breaks can lead to injury, and both mental and physical burnout.
“Listening to your body is going to be huge, and a lot of people want to fight that,” says McWilliams. “Trust yourself, listen to your body, and adjust anytime something feels bad to you. That’s going to keep you more consistent within a movement routine, more than fighting it will.”
Workout challenges like the viral 75 Hard Challenge are beloved by many because of the fast results, but according to McWilliams, maintaining the required level of intensity can be too difficult for the average person.
“When you intend to do something very intense, you’re a lot more likely to burn yourself out,” says McWilliams. “That’s why finding goals that feel attainable and sustainable, that you think you can do consistently for a long period of time, is important.”
4. You’re going it alone
Gymxiety is real, and if you’re setting out on a fitness journey for the first time, going to the gym solo can be terrifying. Thrusting yourself into a new environment without the support of a friend or the guidance of a trained professional can be overwhelming. Should your budget allow for it, consider attending a beginner-friendly class, or hiring a personal trainer to show you the ropes.
Stewart, whose love for yoga bloomed after joining group classes, says that friendly camaraderie can keep you motivated to keep coming back. “Once I started getting involved in the community, it made it so much more fun,” she says.
When it comes to sticking to our goals, adds Stewart, having an accountability buddy (or two, or three) can help you stay consistent. “If you don’t have someone keeping you accountable in some way, no one is going to say anything to you if you take a day off,” she says.
5. You’re picking the wrong exercises
If you want to get fit this year, focus on forms of movement you actually enjoy. There’s more than one way to get fit, after all. If you hate running, but want to get more cardio in, consider exploring other ways to boost your heart rate, like Zumba or rowing.
Because if you dread your workouts, you’ll be less likely to stick to your goals, and could even damage your relationship with exercise entirely.
“Figure out what sounds interesting to you, and give it a try,” says Stewart. “If you try something and it absolutely does not resonate with you, why do it? You have to find your thing.”
McWilliams, whose training revolves around the tenants of body neutrality—the idea that you don’t have to love your body as it is, but appreciate all it does for you—agrees, saying that it’s best to pick workouts that you “think you will be able to do, and also that you’re going to enjoy doing.”