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How To Overcome Failure & Achieve Your Fitness Goals – A Complete Guide

People often give up on health and fitness goals long before they achieve them. A common reason for quitting a goal prematurely, is being unable to bounce back from a series of setbacks or failures.

Mistakes are often repeated because it isn’t clear how to correct them. This can of course, be extremely frustrating and discouraging.

That’s why I’m about to lay out a clear 3-step process to make you more comfortable overcoming failure. This process will give you the tools to troubleshoot obstacles as they arise on your journey to build healthier habits.

This easy-to-follow, troubleshooting process will help you avoid quitting after a slip-up, and teach you how to avoid making other mistakes in the future so that you can become a happier and healthier you!

"Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time." ~Thomas Edison Share on X

To make this as easy as possible, I have made you a free troubleshooting template so you can work through your own obstacles!

I would recommend that you download it now so you can follow along as we go. 

Got it? Great let’s get to troubleshooting!

Overcoming Failure In 3 Steps

Okay, let’s get started on that 3-step process to overcome failure in your health and fitness goals!

Step 1 – Reframe Your Mindset To Avoid Giving-Up When You Make A Mistake

Building new healthy habits can be tough – especially mentally.

Being able to persevere when things start getting hard requires the right mindset. In fact, your mindset is the first step to address after a slip-up, to ensure you are able to stick to your goals.

If you haven’t read my previous post about how to reframe your mindset to avoid giving up after you’ve made a mistake, you may want to take a moment to do that now, as this post builds on that one. 

[BONUS: There’s a downloadable mindset exercise in there that would be helpful for you to have on hand when you do have a slip-up!]

Step 2 – Minimize The Damage By Getting Right Back On The Horse

After slipping up, we often say, I’ll start again tomorrow, or next week, or next month. Or maybe we tell ourselves, “Things will be easier after ________, I’ll start again then.”

But let’s be honest, how often do we actually start again when we say we will? Pretty much never… right? 

That’s because starting is the hardest part. 

So instead of quitting now because of a little slip-up, save yourself the pain of having to start all over again by getting right back on the horse.

When it comes to healthy habits and fitness goals, the only thing harder than getting started, is having to start all over again. Share on X

To do this, I like to use the mantra of “Never miss twice”. This mantra refers to not messing up on your goal twice in a row. The reasoning behind not missing twice is that multiple mistakes can quickly spiral out of control. 

James Clear makes this point well in the following quote from his book, Atomic Habits:

Quote on overcoming failure by James Clear from his book Atomic Habits: "The first mistake is never the one that ruins you. Its the spiral of repeated mistakes that follows."

How To Put “Never Miss Twice” Into Practice

Below are a few examples of what never miss twice would look like.

If you’re trying to eat healthy, but you slip-up and have a donut for breakfast – don’t quit and try to start again next week. Instead, make sure you don’t miss twice, by eating a healthy lunch.

If you miss your workout on Monday, do everything you can to make sure you can sweat it out on Tuesday.

How to overcome failure and successfully build healthy habits
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Step 3 – Solve The Problem And Prevent It From Happening Again

Once you’ve minimized the damage by getting right back on the horse, the next step is to make sure you don’t make the same mistake again in the future. The following two activities will help you accomplish this.

The 5 Whys

The 5 whys root cause analysis was made famous by the book The Lean Start-Up by Eric Ries. However, the 5 whys method was originally developed by engineers at Toyota to get to the bottom of manufacturing problems.

The purpose of the 5 whys root cause analysis is to find the true source of a problem. Sometimes the cause of a problem might be truly obvious, and in that case this technique can be skipped. For example, if you missed your workout because you chose to go to happy hour with your friends instead, that’s a pretty obvious cause.

However, when a problem continues to occur, it may be that the real problem is not what we think it is. This is the perfect opportunity to use the 5 whys method.

How Does The 5 Whys Method Work?

In order to make this technique work for you, you need to really take time to reflect and think about your answers. It is very important to be honest during this exercise. 

Remember the growth mindset – it is okay to make mistakes.

You don't have to be perfect to make progress, but to make progress, you do need to learn from your mistakes. #GrowthMindset #MindsetMatters #ProgressNotPerfection Share on X

To find the root cause of a problem, first state the problem clearly (in one sentence if possible). Then ask yourself, why is this problem occurring? Continue asking why with each subsequent answer you get until you come to what seems to be the root cause of the problem.

I like to write down each of the 5 whys and their answers as I work through the exercise. This allows me to come back to it later if I need to.

The technique is called the 5 whys root cause analysis, but don’t get too caught up on the number 5. It could take more or less whys to reach the root cause of the problem. Also note that there may be several causes of the problem. So don’t stop until you’re sure you’ve found them all. 

Once you finish this process, identify all the root causes that must be solved by writing them down. Then you can address each of these one by one.

Example Of How To Use The 5 Whys Method With A Health Or Fitness Goal

Ben has set a goal to go on 3 runs per week after work. But for the last few weeks, he’s been missing more runs than he makes and he’s just not sure why he can’t seem to stick to it.

The goal is important to him. He enjoys running and feels like 3 times a week is an appropriate amount of exercise for him. Ben usually likes to run after work to blow off a little steam. 

So why can’t Ben stick to his goals? Let’s have Ben use the 5 whys method to find the root cause of his problem (note that this exercise is being written as if performed by Ben to figure out his own problem).

State the problem: I have been missing many of my runs lately.

The 5 Whys: The discussion (or thought process) Ben would have with himself to work through the 5 whys might look something like this:

  1. Why have I been missing my runs lately?
    • I haven’t felt very motivated.
  2. Why haven’t I felt very motivated?
    • I feel more tired after work than usual.
  3. Why do I feel more tired than usual?
    • I am not sure… I’m sleeping fine, I’ve worked up to running this much, everything is the same at work…so that’s not it. Maybe it’s because I haven’t been eating lunch at work a lot of days.
  4. Why haven’t I been eating lunch at work?
    • I don’t have any food in the house to make lunches to take to work, and I’m usually too busy at work to grab something.
  5. Why don’t I have any food in the house?
    • Football season started. I’ve been going to my friend’s house on Sundays to watch the games. That’s when I used to shop for groceries.

Note: In practice, Ben would simply jot down his answers to the 5 whys in the discussion above. It would look something like this:

Example of how to use the 5 whys technique to find the root cause of a problem.

State the root problem(s): Finally, Ben would look at his 5 whys that he wrote down, and try to pull out any root problems he found. He would summarize these in one to-the-point sentence:

  • I don’t have enough energy for my runs because I haven’t eaten enough.
  • I need to find a new time to go grocery shopping for the week.
Why the 5 Whys Method Works So Well

Imagine if Ben hadn’t done this 5 whys exercise. He might have asked himself why He wasn’t able to stick to his goal just once, as most people do. Had he done this he might have and concluded that he just lacked motivation, which really that wasn’t the case at all! 

If he was left thinking that motivation was the problem, he might have tried to force the issue by watching motivational videos, reading quotes to inspire him, or maybe even making an upbeat playlist  to listen to on his runs. But these things would likely not have worked, since motivation really wasn’t his problem. 

Likewise, if Ben had stopped the 5 whys exercise too soon, he might have concluded that the root problem was that he was too tired. 

To try and address his lack of energy he might have tried to go to bed a little earlier. don’t get me wrong, this surely wouldn’t hurt! But it probably wouldn’t help much either since he said he was already sleeping pretty well.

Or, maybe he would try to go for his run a little earlier in the day so he wasn’t too tired for his post-work run. Again, nothing wrong with this, except that he would have lost the benefit of his stress relief after a long day at work.

However, because Ben did perform the 5 whys exercise to completion, he was able to solve his root problems without a lot of wasted effort on the trial and error mentioned here.

Barrier Planning

After figuring out what the actual problem is, it’s time to figure out how to solve it! That’s where barrier planning comes in.

How Does Barrier Planning Work?

Barrier planning is pretty simple. The first thing to do, is to write down the problem(s)  you want to solve. 

The problem(s) could be one(s) you identified in the 5 whys activity above, or it could be another problem that you’ve encountered.

Next, brainstorm three (or more if you want!) possible solutions for each problem you identified. 

Be creative here! Sometimes you need to think out of the box to find the best solution. During this phase of the exercise, just write down any and all ideas. Don’t worry too much about which are right for you.

If you find yourself having trouble thinking of solutions, here are a couple options:

  • Tell a supportive friend or family member about your problem and ask for their advice.
  • Do some research! Ask Google how other people have solved the problem you are currently having.

Once you have come up with a list of solutions, it’s time to choose which you would like to try.

When deciding, make sure to be honest with yourself, and pick something that is realistic for your needs and lifestyle.

Example Of How To Use The Barrier Planning Technique With A Health Or Fitness Goal

To understand how barrier planning works to come up with solutions to a problem, let’s look at an example.

Let’s say Susan is a wife, and mother of a 2 year old. She has a goal of losing a few pounds so that she can look and feel better. 

Susan signed up for a spin class membership, and set a goal to attending 3 days a week. She goes to her classes when her husband gets home from work, so he can watch the baby. 

But Susan’s husband calls and tells her he’s going to have to work late. She doesn’t have anyone to watch the baby. 

Let’s use barrier planning to help Susan figure out how she can still get a workout in. 

Example of how to use the barrier planning technique to solve a problem after it has occurred.
How To Use Barrier Planning Before The Problem Occurs

Barrier planning is a great tool for solving problems after they occur as illustrated above. 

However, barrier planning can also be used in advance to make back up plans for predictable problems.

By making back up plans in advance, it can prevent some of the panic and frustration that occurs when the problem arises, and it can help prevent (in this case) a workout from being missed. 

Take Susan’s example from above. If she had recognized it was a possibility that her husband might have to work late occasionally, she could have made plans in advance plans that would allow her to still attend her spin class even if her husband worked late.

Here’s an example of what that might look like:

Example of how to use barrier planning in advance to prevent a slip-up from occurring.


Without a plan it can be extremely difficult to get back on track after a slip-up with your goals.

But before you decide to throw in the towel, try the following 3-steps to bounce back and achieve your health and fitness goals even after making a mistake:

  1. Reframe your mindset to avoid giving-up when you have a setback.
    • Progress, not perfection.
  2. Minimize the damage by getting right back on the horse.
    • Never miss twice!
  3. Solve the problem and prevent it from happening again.
    • Use the 5 why’s to find the root cause of the problem.
    • Use Barrier Planning to find the best solution to the problem.

That’s it! Do this and you will be able to stick to your goal even when things get a little bumpy.

It is however, important to point out that this is not a one and done kind of thing.

In fact, I like to make a habit of reflecting on my goals once a week. You can even grab my FREE Weekly Self Reflection Worksheet here! 

Then, if I need to, I can use the troubleshooting template to solve any problems that might still be unresolved. 

Or if I’ve got a busy or stressful week coming up, I use the barrier planning template to make back-up plans. This helps me avoid any potential slip-ups.

Don’t forget to download your copy of the Troubleshooting Template if you haven’t already!

Your Turn!

What do you think of the 5 why’s and barrier planning techniques? Have you used them before?

Which would you like to try?

Are there any other techniques that you have found for overcoming obstacles to your health, fitness, or nutrition goals?

Note: I wrote this in the context of health and fitness goals, but really this process applies to any type of goal that you may have. 

The complete guide to overcoming failure and achieving your health and fitness goals
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Author: clarissa.cabbage

Clarissa is a health coach, autoimmune warrior, and avid adventurer. And she is on a mission to help women escape the diet-culture mentality so they can build healthy habits they actually WANT to stick to - without all the guilt, deprivation and FOMO! When she's not coaching amazing women like yourself, you'll find her outside - hiking, paddling, and hunting for hidden waterfalls on the island of Kauai where she lives with her partner and furry side-kick, Ipo!

45 Replies to “How To Overcome Failure & Achieve Your Fitness Goals – A Complete Guide

  1. This is an awesome post! I’m so glad I learned about the 5 Whys and Barrier Planning. I’ll use them for my fitness goals moving forward, but I think also for other goals in life, they’re both incredibly clever. I also like the idea of “don’t miss twice.” I’ll admit when I’m off the horse (not sticking to my regular exercise routine, eating junk, etc.) I tend to keep sliding. This will keep me from quitting next time and having to start all over again. Thanks!

    1. Yay, I’m so happy you found this so relevant Carolyn! I’m a big fan of “don’t miss twice” as well. Without it, it’s so easy to see one slip-up spiral into many! It’s a simple mantra, but I find it to be so effective to “stop the bleeding” if you will. Thanks so much for reading, and I hope these tools will help you on your journey.

  2. This is a great post!
    I need to start doing this. This is the first time I’ve heard of the 5 Why’s. I’m so mad that it’s taken me this long to hear about it! It sounds like it could’ve been helping me way longer.

    Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thank you Kaci I’m so glad you found it helpful! I only learned about it a few years ago myself, and at that time it was mostly used in a business context. But I knew right away it would be helpful for developing healthy habits as well! Thanks for reading!

  3. Great tips and very well needed right now. I’ve definitely been slacking with my exercise at the moment. Not sure why but it’s definitely something I need to sort out and overcome!

    1. Thank you Jenny, I’m glad to hear this came at a good time for you! The 5 why’s might be just the thing to figure out why your motivation has been low. I hope it helps, and best of luck with your exercise goal!

  4. Great tips and very detailed post I love this! Definitely we all need to deal with our health and this method of 5 why will be really helpful!
    Thanks for sharing

    Lam and TheGlam

  5. Loved this post. I’ve always struggled with failure and I want to give up anytime something doesn’t go my way, so it was great to read your tips and advice.
    Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thank you so much Nons! You aren’t alone. Some research says that the average number of times a person tries and fails before succeeding at a health or fitness goal is 4! I hope these tips can help people decrease that number. Thanks so much for taking the time to read!

  6. This is awesome! I’ve been really working on consistency with working out during lockdown and I love your mindset shift advice. The five whys technique is amazing – definitely going to be implementing that more from now on! Thank you for the post!

    1. I’m so glad you found this post helpful Kim! Consistency is key when forming new habits, and I really believe that this 3-step system can help people correct problems so they can be more consistent. Thank you so much for taking the time to read it! ♥️

  7. I love all of these tips with overcoming setbacks. Setbacks happen in life and it is just a set back from your goal temporarily, not permanently. Totally agree with solving it and learning from it so you don’t let it happen again. Or at least within your control. Thanks for sharing all of these amazing steps!!

    Nancy ✨ exquisitely.me

    1. I’m glad to hear it Dea! I’ve got another blog planned that’s about how to get started on a new goal when you don’t feel like you’re up to the task or that maybe it’s not quite the right time. So stay tuned and thanks for reading!

  8. These are some great ideas – thank you so much for sharing. In lockdown; I’ve completely given up on my running and it’s not great; really not looking forward to getting back into it! Great post – will be following your advice x

    Paige // Paige Eades

    1. I’m glad you found this helpful Paige! I think lockdown threw everyone for a loop by disturbing our usual routines and habits. Thanks so much for reading and best of luck with your running!

  9. The 5 Whys certainly work but only if you take a non-judgmental approach to your questioning. You can become self critical, shut down, and stop if you do not keep an open mind of the “whys”. If you think about the possibilities creatively without self blame then your mindset can grow. Thank you for sharing this post.

  10. This is a really good step by step break down. I like the focus on not repeating the same mistake. This makes your success almost inevitable. Don’t forget to get your logo on your worksheet so if people share it they can always find you.

    1. Thanks for the tip Adam! Great point about how being able to avoid repeating mistakes make success almost inevitable! I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. ?

  11. This post is very useful and you ask very thought provoking questions. I plan to go over this post again so I can deeply reflect on my challenges, using the steps that you’ve presented. Thank you so much for sharing this post!

    1. I’m so glad you found it useful! Don’t forget to download the template to make it a little easier on yourself. Thanks so much for reading and best of luck with your goals!

  12. I loved the tips sharing in this post especially the 5 whys strategy! This is something that I will try for sure the next time I’ll struggle to achieve something. Thanks for sharing! Lovely post.

  13. Wow, this is actually genius. I haven’t really heard of this technique not until now. It’s just great! Thank you so much for sharing this. Your writing is so nice and informational. I’ll subscribe to your blog because your content is pure gold.

    Thank you!

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