Fitness Motivation and Willpower Fail: How to Build Discipline To Finally Conquer Your Goals

fitness motivation

Fitness motivation and willpower fail.

No matter how many times you gain momentum and try a new workout plan, a new diet, a new way of battering your self esteem by looking at pictures of “fit chicks” for fitness motivation on Instagram, you never seem to be able to force yourself to stick to your goals long term.

Naturally, we beat ourselves up.

Girl, stop blaming yourself!

Science has proven what we already kinda knew deep inside – motivation and willpower are bullshit. At least in the way we tend to approach them.

Let’s dig a little deeper.

(Check out these funny motivational memes and quotes)

See also: 30 Day Fitness Challenge (Full Body Workouts)

The Limitations of Fitness Motivation and Willpower

willpower is finite
Illustration by Nevada Lane

Just as a muscle in our body can become fatigued and breakdown with overuse, so can our willpower “muscle”.

Research has shown that when we are constantly faced with decision making that requires us to use willpower – we run out of steam.

Take a minute to brainstorm the unending barrage of decisions you must make every day in order to stick to your goals:

  • Saying no to the doughnuts your co-worker brought in…. again
  • Leaving that new Star Wars trailer notification from YouTube un-watched until you get home from work
  • Taking a deep breath instead of blasting your partner for loudly chewing. right. in. your. ear.
  • Going for a walk after dinner instead of slumping on the couch with a pint of Bohemian Raspberry Ben n’ Jerry’s 
  • Getting to bed on time instead of staying up until 2 am to binge watch Handmaid’s Tale
After a while, you run out of the motivation and willpower to keep making the “right” choices.
For some people, this turns into a constant battle with food.
Bingeing is the number one eating disorder in North America. Often this is followed by restricting foods and over exercising to compensate for the “bad” behaviour.
This creates a vicious cycle that is difficult to break.
(You can read more about bingeing and stress eating here).

Fitness Motivation Flaws

sore from working out meme
no rest days fitness motivation meme

But did you die?

These memes are some of the most popular examples of why fitness motivation fails. 

Identifying yourself with extreme exercise measures, pushing the idea that you should exercise to exhaustion, and using images of other people’s bodies as fitness motivation are not conducive to actually creating sustainable, goal centered habits that lead to success.

For many people, the thought of needing to push yourself to these extremes in order to be successful makes them feel like failures before they even start.

And the truth is, the large majority of people who begin exercising this way will eventually quit and rebound.

It’s a sad, cold truth.

The same holds true with fad diets.


Setting Goals and Creating Habits for Fitness Motivation

no dreams just goals plant sunglasses flatlay

Fitness motivation is not entirely bullshit.

There are hacks for boosting your motivation. But it isn’t the easy way out – it takes discipline.

This kind of fitness motivation takes conscious, consistent effort and choices combined with smart goal setting and habit formation.

Obviously, this is far removed from berating yourself and pushing yourself to the limits until you quit.

The key here is smart, introspective planning and disciplined decision making for both the short and long term.

In a word: goal-setting.

Your Secret Goals and Why They Are Crushing Your Fitness Motivation

Let’s talk about self sabotage for a minute.

Self sabotaging behaviours are typically self conscious choices that are serving some sort of purpose that you may not be aware of. 

These are old habits that you created in response to fears you may not even acknowledge you have.

Take those self-defeating memes for example.

Maybe you would like to identify as a hardcore exerciser but subconsciously, you fear the effort needed to maintain that lifestyle and have a fear of failing.

You believe that you relate to the hard core exerciser who looks and feels amazing, but in reality, you are afraid of the changes you would need to make or you don’t even know where to start.

So you default to old habits and patterns that are serving your goal of staying safe and protecting yourself from failure.

Also read: How to Get Over Gym Anxiety


self sabotage food

What's Behind Your Fitness Motivation

In order to really gain fitness motivation, it’s imperative that you determine what your goals really are.

Name your fears. Figure out what is stopping you from achieving your goals right now. (Check out my free resource library for a brain dump worksheet)

Write down your goals. This step is super important, so don’t skip it. Research has shown that “goal effects are enhanced by having people write at length about them” (source).

I suggest writing down your short and long term goals along with your daily goals.

Daily goals should help you move towards your short and long term goals.

The Power of Discipline and Habit Formation

goals for new workout routine

Now that you’ve set your goals, discipline will boost your fitness motivation by creating and sticking to habits that serve them.

Discipline requires less from you than the battles you face on a daily basis between your goals and your willpower.

Discipline seems boring and difficult, but it is actually freeing.

Bringing self awareness and self direction to your goals is the only way you will ever reach and maintain them.

Tips for Maintaining Fitness Motivation with Discipline and Habit Tracking

Here is a quick and dirty list of ways you can utilize discipline to build fitness motivation for life:

  • Remember to be self aware: what goal are your choices serving? Is it worth it to choose against your goal?
  • Not always expecting things to be easy. Anything worth having is worth fighting for. The “fight” should be enjoyable because you are aware that you are working towards your goals.
  • Consistency. Showing up and actually doing the work, every day. This is obviously pretty important!
  • Trusting the process. Ups and downs are normal. Success is rarely ever linear. Prepare for dips and falls but be strong in your knowledge that consistency will pay off. Don’t jump ship and try yet another diet, program, or quit altogether before giving yourself a solid chance.
  • Considering long term goals and overall goals when making short term goals, daily goals, and choices.
  • Organize, plan, track and write down your goals. Keep track of your successes and your consistency through visual tracking methods such as journaling, trackers, calendars and planners.

Believe You Can and You Will

Research has shown that unlike previously thought, willpower and motivation can be useful tools.

The key is believing you have the ability to create unlimited willpower.

Focus on your goals, examine and unpack your fears and negative thoughts that are holding you back.

Create a mindset of unconditional self regard. Treat yourself properly and reap the rewards.

For more on this topic and to join me in a journey of creating lasting motivation for a healthy, rewarding future, sign up for my weekly motivation and Free Resource Library packed full of printables and tools to help you succeed. 

Check out this small home gym exercise equipment guide to build an excuse free space to work out at home!

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Breeta Garland

Well said!! Great article!!


Nice content, this is a great article, learn a lot of stuff about fitness motivation. Good read and informative.


This is so helpful! I know I am one to beat myself up when I start a new routine, but I love all of the insight and ideas that you shared!


I’m so happy I came across your post today Rachel. I seriously struggle with willpower. I’m one of those people who prefer to have zero ‘bad food’ in the house, BUT my family keeps bring it in and it drives me crazy! So, I need to have willpower – but it can be challenging at times. I love the comment you made ‘The key is believing you have the ability to create unlimited willpower.’ This I need to post on my fridge. Thanks for the motivation today. I also just added some new ingredients (coconut milk, almond butter and hemp… Read more »


“Name your fears”. Such a truth. We are sometimes so worried about staying positive we forget that identifying what is holding us back is half the battle.

Sarah Muoio

Love the opening graphic! It totally brings to light the complexity of will power and getting into a mindset to stick with something. Thanks for the planner and tracker. Great resources! I noticed such a change in my results when I tracked my food.

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