Feel Like an Exercise Failure? Here’s How to Turn it Around

fear of failure article image paige worn out

You know you’re supposed to exercise. How do you know? Because you’re constantly reminded. You probably couldn’t throw a rock in any direction without hitting something or someone nagging you about working out. Just think of the magazines alone – every single store you go into has them.

You know what I’m talking about – The magazine with the zero body fat model in a bathing suit with a headline that screams “FLAT ABS IN 3 EASY MOVES.”

Yeah, now pull the other leg.

Whether it’s the government telling you to exercise, your doctor or, of course, me, you no doubt feel the pressure to workout. And you know how good it is for you, right? It’s supposed to give you energy, help you sleep better, make your sex life better, protect your heart, prevent diabetes and so on.

In fact, exercise is so amazing that just doing it for 5 minutes every day can make you healthier and boost your mood.

Okay, so exercise is great, except for one thing: We have to actually do it. We have to schedule it, plan it and put on the clothes. We have to warm up and then we have to move our bodies in a rhythmic fashion until we’re sweating, possibly breathless and, for many of us, miserable.

As one client asked: “Yeah, if exercise is so great, why doesn’t it exercise for us?”

Touché, my friend…touché.

Let’s Get Rid of the Guilt

The first thing that happens when you don’t exercise is this: You feel really guilty. You probably have some kind of conversation going on in your head when you make the decision to skip your workout. Something like this:


Real You: I know I’m supposed to workout, but I’m soo tired.

Perfect You: But didn’t that brilliant trainer, Paige, tell you that exercise would give you energy?

RY: Yeah, but how am I supposed to get energy if I don’t have energy?

PY: Is this a chicken and the egg riddle? Look, you have to do it to get it. Duh!

RY: Look, I’ll just do it tomorrow, when I feel better.

PY: Yeah, that’s what you said yesterday. What makes you think tomorrow will be different?

RY: Because it will. I’ll get a good night’s sleep and I’ll be ready for my workout.

PY: You’re so full of it.

RY: I’m so unsubscribing to Paige’s email.


If you’re constantly battling yourself about exercise, that’s exhausting all by itself and, unfortunately, that doesn’t burn a lot of calories.

What it does do is burn too much energy and that energy could be better spent actually working out.

To get rid of that guilty feeling, you have to be really honest with yourself. You’re not just NOT exercising because you suck.

You’re a good person and you have good intentions, right? You have goals and you really do want to figure this out. So, let’s do that. Let’s figure out what’s really going on.

Let’s Talk Excuses

The first thing we have to talk about when it comes to a failure to exercise are the excuses. Yes, you may call them ‘reasons’ but we all know when we’re coming up with excuses to not do something we’re supposed to do.

We need to get rid of these excuses because they get in the way of the real truth – The real reasons we aren’t working out. These excuses allow us to keep NOT exercising rather than drilling down to the nitty gritty.

“I don’t have time”

You know what I don’t have time for? Crap I don’t want to do. If we’re being honest, exercise is…like…work. It’s not something you just jump out of bed wanting to do. I would jump out of bed for a trip to Hawaii or a shirtless Matt Damon. Exercise? I’m more likely to crawl out of bed.The thing is, exercisers don’t have more time than you…they just make exercise a priority. Think about it this way – If someone called right now and offered you a free massage this afternoon, you would find the time – Forget work, chores, being productive…I’m getting a massage! No exercise is not a massage, I know, what you get from it is so important, it needs to be something you make time for.

“I’m too tired”

This is a tough one, I know, but most of us are not physically tired, we’re mentally tired. Our bodies are tired from sitting all day and our brains are tired from thinking, worrying and planning all day.That exhaustion is real and it’s a sign that you’re not taking care of yourself. Exercise really does increase your energy, but it’s that too-tired-to-start thing that gets to many of us. Here’s how we get rid of that:

  • Fuel your body – You need to eat on a regular basis to stave off fatigue, for your mind and body. Make sure you’ve had a good snack or even just some juice about 30 to 60 minutes before your workout
  • Take breaks throughout the day – You can’t just go 150 mph and expect to have the energy for a workout. You need breaks throughout the day to rest your mind.Try walking, listening to music or just staring out the window and doing nothing in particular several times a day, even for just a few minutes
  • Take a look at your sleep quota – How’s your sleep going these days? If it’s not great, then you need to address that. How? Remind yourself of all the ways to get a good night’s sleep, lock your kids and pets in the closet (okay, please don’t do that…I’m kidding), quit your job (don’t do that either, really) or see your doctor if you can’t seem to lick the sleep thing.

“I have no idea what I’m doing”

Know what? None of us have a clue what we’re doing. I’m a trainer and I still have to sit down and think – What the heck am I doing? And it’s really all about that simple question. What are you trying to accomplish?The rules for exercise apply to almost every goal. Lose weight? You need to do some cardio, strength training or a mixture of both. Want to be healthy? Same thing. Want to feel good and reduce stress? Same thing, maybe with some stretching or yoga thrown in.The point is, if this is what’s holding you back, think of your goals. If you don’t know where to start, start here: Take a walk every day. Pick up some weights and do this circuit workout a couple times a week. There, you have a place to start.

“Nothing seems to work, so what’s the point?”

Now that’s just crazy talk. Most of us don’t give our workouts time to work. In my experience, it can take up to a year to really get into a solid exercise program and get results – Going through all the seasons, the changes, the illnesses, the holidays, the back to school…getting through all of these life events while still keeping an exercise program going…well, that’s where success comes.But it takes practice to get through stressful times without ditching you workouts. Practice practice practice. Don’t quit before you’ve given yourself a chance.

What other excuses do you use to skip workouts? Try to find all of them and write them down, examine them. Ask yourself, is this a real reason to not exercise or is this an excuse? If it’s an excuse, well I think you know what you’re going to have to do. No, not find another one.

What Are You Afraid Of?

So, we all have excuses to skip exercise, but often those excuses hide something deeper:


We have a lot of fears when it comes to exercise, many of them common and, some of them, healthy fears. But healthy or not, fear can stop us in our tracks, so it’s important to take some time to figure out what you’re afraid of.

I know that when I sit down to work on an article, fear is what makes me check my email…oh and I should probably clean out my trash folder, you know, because who knows what will happen if that stays full! And while I’m at it, look at all this cat hair on my desk. I can’t work under these kinds of conditions! And so on. But, eventually, I have to get to it, whether I have a good writing day or a bad one.

You have to treat exercise the same way, like it’s your job and someone’s paying you to do it. And there’s no reason you couldn’t actually pay yourself to finish a workout. Hey, spa treatments cost money, right?

Fear of Failure

Every time I workout, I have a secret little fear inside that I won’t be able to do my workout…or that it will hurt…or suck…or that I’ll suck. The thing is, I often don’t know what my body will do from day to day, so I have to face the fear that my body may not cooperate. That I may not be (dare I say it?) perfect.

This fear of failure is especially insidious with beginners or those of us who’ve been off exercise for a long time. You have no idea what your body is capable of and finding out in a trial by fire is scary. You start and see what happens and, if you’re afraid of failing, then you may not even start to begin with.

Turn It Around

Fear of failure is perfectly natural because, guess what…you will fail. Some day, some time, you will not perform up to your standards so what you have to do is this: Have Flexible Standards.

No, that doesn’t mean lowering the bar. It means you set a goal for yourself – I recommend that goal be something you KNOW you can do without question, that way failure is not an option – Anyway, set a goal and then give it a whirl. And, if you find you can’t do it or it isn’t working? Don’t quit, for pete’s sake! No, instead, change your goal.

Give yourself permission to do what’s right for your body each day, not what your mind thinks you should do. Your mind is stupid! Well, not all the time, but sometimes you just have to ignore it.

Fear of Pain and Discomfort

If you spend most of your time sitting around, like most of us do, moving your body is uncomfortable. Here are just some of the things that happen when you exercise:

Heavy breathing

Burning muscles

Shooting pains

Post workout soreness


Crying (possibly)

Feeling like an idiot (possibly)

Turn it Around

There’s no way around the fact that exercise involves exerting your body and getting out of your comfort zone.

However, you don’t have to go miles out of your comfort zone…just a few feet, maybe. A little at a time.

Test the waters by starting with a workout that makes you think, “Yeah, okay, I can totally do that!” Maybe it’s a daily walk or a simple core workout or a relaxing stretch. Whatever it is, ease into it. Get a feel for what your body can do and, if you get uncomfortable, don’t run away. Stay with it for a bit and, if it gets too much, simply back off.

Fear of Injury

I think this is a healthy fear, simply because when you move your body, there is a chance you’re going to hurt yourself.

If you already have something wrong with you, you might be afraid you’ll hurt yourself further with exercise.

This is a very real fear and, I think, a rather healthy one.

That doesn’t mean you’re off the hook, it just means you need to do something about it so you can go forward with exercise without worrying – Or, barring that, being prepared to deal with what happens when you move your body.

Turn it Around

See your doctor – A lot of my clients come in with problems that haven’t even been diagnosed. I know you don’t like going to the doctor but, if something hurts and it’s been hurting for awhile and it’s stopping you from exercise, do it. Today.

Hire a personal trainer – I can help you a lot but, if you’ve got stuff going on with your body, you may need a face-to-face consult to see how to heal your injury or work around it. Start at IDEA to find trainers in your area.

Start easy – What can you do on a regular basis that doesn’t hurt? Walk? Stretch? Swim? Figure out what that is and begin to build a routine around that one thing. You can always add more later.

Fear of Facing Your Body

Oh, man, this is a tough one. Believe me, I know.

When you fall off the exercise wagon, you probably think of that old you. The you who played tennis every day or did aerobics or ran 6 miles or whatever. That you is the you you want to be now but, you know if you went out and tried to run 6 miles or do aerobics, you would fall apart very quickly.

The old you is gone and we often have a fear of facing our current bodies and fitness level. What are you capable of now? You don’t even know. You just know it’s not the way it used to be. I mean, what if you can only walk for 10 minutes? Or lift 5 lbs? How lame is that?

Turn it Around

You have to start where you are, not where you want to be.

Give yourself permission to be exactly where you are, wherever that may be. Maybe you’re out of shape, but you can always get into shape. Always. All of us will have times when we stop exercising – It’s inevitable.

Every time I get sick or injured or have surgery, I have to start again. The only way to do it is to just do it. Forget yesterday, forget tomorrow – Today is the day.


Now, you have no more excuses…go exercise.