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Progress Isn’t Linear: Navigating the Bumpy Road of Your Fitness Goals

Whatever your goal, it’s all but guaranteed that the path to getting there will not be a straight line of steady progress. There will be hiccoughs, large and small. Some might be predictable, but many will not.

There will be victories, but there will also be moments of doubt, disappointment, and frustration. An approach that worked before may not reap the same results in the future. Unforeseen challenges will crop up. And some days, you’ll win big without knowing exactly why.

This is the real process of aiming for a fitness goal that challenges you. Having strategies to employ when things aren't going according to your well formulated plan is key. So let’s get into it. Let’s look at some tactics for navigating the bumpy road to your wellness goals.

Appreciate the Journey

I know, we’ve heard it before: it’s not about the finish line, it’s about the experiences along the way. But let’s be real: we all actually do want to be at that finish line. That’s the whole point, right? Well, sort of.

The reality is that you’re going to spend most of your time on the path. The goal itself is a moment in time: it comes and goes. But the path, well, that’s your life. The way you get to your goal, then, is meaningful.

There’s so much opportunity to learn and grow all along the way–even, or especially, in the “bad” times. Goals, by their very nature, push you to achieve something; they are challenging. How you go about facing those challenges can help you develop as a whole and shift how you face difficulties in the future.

There’s a lot to appreciate all along the way. What you can learn about yourself–what works and what doesn’t, for you. What you might learn about a particular topic that’s involved in your goal. The bonds or community you might build. The unexpected delightful discoveries along the way.

The up and down road to a goal is full of hidden gems, even when it doesn’t appear that way in the moment.

Keep an Eye on the Bigger Picture

When you’re in the midst of going after a big goal, it’s very easy to get hung up in the moment. Maybe you’re just feeling over it! It’s just too much. Maybe circumstances dictate that you have to diverge from your planned path for a short time. Maybe you hit an unexpected snag or things just aren’t going the way you thought they would.

Take a step back and think about the bigger picture. Get out of goal-achievement mode for a minute and put some distance between what’s happening right now and the level of importance you are giving it. Take a beat.

Getting perspective can be a big help in moving forward in a productive way. While, yes, every step on our path to our goal is important, those steps don’t have to look exactly the way you envisioned in order to reach your desired end.

There are many ways to reach the same endpoint. When you zoom out to a bigger picture perspective, it can help you figure out how to readjust in the moment to keep you moving in the direction of where you ultimately want to be.

Facing Uncertainty and Set-Backs: There's Always a Way Forward

If you’re going through a rough patch on your way to a goal–you’ve been doing all the prescribed work, but the progress isn’t happening in the way you had expected or you’ve experienced a set-back of some kind–take a minute to find something that’s going right.

Even in the face of what can feel like failure, find something that can move you forward, even just a little bit.

Let's say you have an injury. You might not be able to train or work out in the way you had planned, but maybe you can focus on nutrition or your mental strength or develop strength and flexibility in part of your body that's uninjured. Or maybe you just need some rest and relaxation: injury can often be a sign that your body just needs a break.

During times of uncertainty and set-backs, it's important to reassess and refocus your energies. There's always a way to make progress, it just might not look the way you planned. Allowing set backs and uncertainties to help guide your way can be a very useful problem solving tool.

Where Could You Improve in Your Goal-Seeking Process?

Let’s face it, sometimes we are the reason we aren’t reaching our goal; we are the set-back. We aren’t doing what we know will get us there. This is the time to take a breath and figure out why. It is not the time to beat yourself up. That’s rarely (one might even say never) a strategy that’s helpful.

It’s time to ask yourself some questions. Is this a goal you actually really want? If yes, get really clear with yourself about the reasons you're doing this and why it's important to you. If the answer is not really, maybe it's time to alter your path and figure out something that you really care about.

Also good to ask: Is this the right time to be pursuing a goal like this? Maybe you already have enough on your plate and it’d be better to reschedule this goal for when you have some more energy to devote to it.

Have you set a goal that’s so big it’s become overwhelming? Find some way to break it down and start aiming at a smaller mid-way goal first.

Maybe you just need some help with motivation. There are so many reasons your motivation may be falling flat. Maybe you need a confidence boost: call a friend, engage with a community of people who have similar goals, get in front of a mirror and give yourself a quick pep talk. Maybe you’re tired: take a short walk and breathe some fresh air, take a 10-minute nap followed by a glass of water, sit quietly and take 10 slow, deep breaths.

Take a moment (or two) to figure out what’s at the core of why you aren’t staying on task. This is an incredible opportunity for growth and self-discovery. Also, once you dial in how to re-motivate yourself, that’s a life win that will continue to serve you.

There’s No Perfect Path

The reason that progress is rarely (if ever) linear, especially when it comes to health and fitness, is that we’re dealing with way too many uncontrollable variables. Add to that, many of those variables change over time.

What that all amounts to is that there is no exact or perfect way to get from A to B. Yes, there are solid guidelines, but your exact makeup is unique to you alone. There will be trial and error. Some things you’ll have to figure out along the way, and how you do that is up to you.

What you learn from weathering the uncertainties, celebrating the wins along the way, and moving through the downturns may just turn out to be the biggest rewards of all.

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