5 Keys to Sticking With a Fitness Goal

While my wife was in surgery, I walked laps around the hospital parking garage. This is the unglamorous part of reaching a goal.

The glamorous part is the possibility of transformation. We pick an area of our life we want to change and set a goal. It’s why this time of year can feel so exciting. Things are going to change and we have a plan. That plan never includes hospital parking garage laps. This happened 40 days into a year-long goal of reaching at least 20,000 steps every day without a break. (You can check out my daily journal of that Challenge HERE)

Fitness goals are incredibly enticing. Few of us are satisfied with how we feel, with how we look, or with our overall health. And for most of us, fitness feels like the answer. If we exercise more…things will change.

So, we set a goal and charge forward with energy. Two weeks later the energy is gone and the goal is sadly in the rear view mirror. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be this way. I learned five important keys to reaching fitness goals during my 20k One Year Step Challenge.

WINS MATTER (part 1)

I believe there are two reasons why most fitness goals fail.

  1. The emotions that initially fuel the goal quickly fade.
  2. It feels like nothing is changing.

Fitness transformation is possible, but it takes a long time. It’s like watching a rock in a stream. Eventually the rough edges become smooth, but it happens very slowly. So slow, in fact, that it’s imperceptible.

It’s discouraging when the results don’t seem to match the effort. Fitness is hard and we want to SEE SOME CHANGE after we do all that work. During my 20k One Year Step Challenge I realized I was looking at the wrong thing.

I want to age well. It’s a solid goal, but it’s a stupid goal to measure today. I get that, so I have some short term goals that are tied to how I feel, how I look, and health numbers that can be measured.

The problem is even these “short term” changes happen slower than I want. They need more than just a couple weeks. And, if I’m focused only on the results NOW I will feel discouraged pretty quickly.

I learned to shift my focus from results to process.

Reaching 20,000 steps every day was the process. From one day to the next I never saw, or felt, the fitness transformation. What I did feel was the satisfaction of reaching 20,000 steps. I knew that fitness transformation would eventually be seen and felt if I didn’t stop.

Those daily wins became a powerful motivator!

It’s important to start with a small daily goal and then focus on the process of reaching that goal every day. Those wins help you build momentum and keep going when it feels like nothing else is happening.


Wouldn’t it be great if fitness goals were easy to reach? No pain…lots of gain. That’s a motto I could get behind. But, transformation is never easy. That means there are going to be hard days.

During my year of reaching 20,000 steps I had more than a few of those difficult days. Some had me wondering, “Why am I doing this?” On other days the question was, “How am I going to get 20,000 steps today?” Those were not fun days, but I learned they were good days for two reasons.

First, the win on those days was sweeter. When I reached my daily goal I knew it was because I had leaned INTO the difficulty and didn’t give up. That gave me a little more confidence the next time it got hard.

Second, the hard days revealed why I was pursuing fitness. Daily wins are important, but if they’re not tied a bigger reason the wins matter less and less until they don’t matter at all. In other words, I’m not going to bust my butt getting 20,000 steps every day for merely the satisfaction of doing it. It needs to mean more than that.

I have a long history of failed goals. I discovered that I often liked THE IDEA of the goal more than I wanted the result of the goal. That’s important to know because I don’t want to waste time pursuing something that really doesn’t matter to me. The hard days of my 20k One Year Step Challenge reinforced that fitness really does matter to me.

You will have hard days on your fitness journey. It’s unavoidable. But, instead of seeing these as BAD days, realize they are some of the most VALUABLE days you will have. Embrace the difficulty.


Fear is a powerful motivator. During my 20k One Year Step Challenge I learned just how powerful.

The danger of pursuing fitness is you can take a day off and nothing bad happens. You can even take a few days off and nothing bad happens. Your fitness doesn’t suddenly disappear overnight. You don’t gain 20 pounds in a day. You probably won’t even gain a single pound.

That makes it easy to stop when it gets too hard. Thankfully, that’s also when fear stepped in.

During my year long Challenge I posted an update every day on Facebook and Instagram. People became invested in my progress. I was grateful for their encouragement. I was also afraid to let them down.

This is the power of accountability. You don’t want to disappoint those who want you to succeed. You’re afraid of letting them down. I learned to lean into this and let that fear motivate me when I needed it.

But, there was another way fear was useful. I’ve become increasingly aware of people older than me who did not invest in their health. That outcome scares me…and is a powerful motivator to not take a day off when fitness gets difficult.

Candidly, I wish I didn’t need this. I don’t want to use the difficult circumstances of others to drive me. But, I also know that with every goal there is an upside and a downside.

The upside is what you gain. I want health freedom as I age. The downside is what you lose by not pursuing the goal. I don’t want to lose my health freedom. It’s good to remember both of these.

Don’t live in fear, but also don’t lose sight of the consequences of not pursuing fitness and overall health. That can be very useful as a motivator when you just don’t feel like it.


Reaching 20,000 steps requires about three hours and 20 minutes of walking. Before I decided to do the 20k Challenge I carefully considered that. I knew there would be days I had to say no to people so I could reach my goal.

This is hard…especially because it can feel like you’re saying no for selfish reasons. But, your health matters. It also matters to the people who love you.

Once I made the decision to do the Challenge I made a commitment to myself that I would not go to bed until I had at least 20,000 steps on my Fitbit.

I gave myself two reasons to end the Challenge. If I was sick or injured (and walking made it worse) I would stop. I also pre-determined I would end the Challenge if someone I love is in crisis and I needed to be there.

The day I walked laps in the hospital parking lot was a day my wife needed me. She was having surgery for breast cancer. I needed to be there for her. I WANTED to be there for her. I also wanted to keep my commitment.

I was able to do both. Instead of sitting in the waiting room while she was in surgery I headed for the parking garage right next to the hospital and did laps. While others watched cheesy morning TV, I walked and prayed. I got my steps AND the anxiety I would have felt sitting in that waiting room was kept at bay.

Once Ava was out of surgery I was able to fully focus on her.

But, there were other situations during the Challenge where I said no to people. There were also situations that I had to limit my availability. I have a friend who is learning how to do this in her own life. She is learning that saying no so she can take care of herself is NOT selfish, but maybe even the most loving thing she can do for the people she loves.

Reaching your fitness goals is not easy, but YOU ARE WORTH THE TIME AND EFFORT  you need to invest in your health. Go ahead and make that commitment to yourself!

WINS MATTER (part 2)

Reaching a daily fitness goal has another impact. It not only provides momentum (see part 1) it also starts to change your internal narrative. This is the second reason that wins matter in fitness.

Because of many years of failed goals I began to believe that I did not have what it takes. I was NOT one of the few who could set a difficult goal and reach it. I had too many failures.

Those goals involved fitness, finances, my family, special projects, and more. Every December I’d spend time carefully crafting how the New Year would be different. But, sadly, the super-charged emotions on January 1st would be drained by January 17th and another group of failed goals would add to my internal narrative that I just couldn’t do it.

But, thankfully that narrative can be erased and replaced.

My first Fitbit was transformative. I started with small daily goals. As I reached those and got stronger those goals increased. I added in a monthly challenge here and there and stretched myself even further. By the time I decided to do the 20k One Year Step Challenge my internal narrative had been completely transformed.

There were more than a few people who didn’t think I could reach 20,000 every day for a year. I was not among them. I knew before I started that I would cross the finish line as long as did not get sick or injured and there wasn’t a crisis along the way.

This is the power of those daily wins. Each win adds a new link to your fitness chain. As the chain grows in length it also grows in strength.


If you want to improve your fitness in 2020 I want to encourage you to take the 30 Day Fitness Challenge. You’ll set a small step goal to reach every day for 30 days.

As you reach your daily goal you’ll create a fitness habit and with those daily wins you’ll begin to build your own fitness momentum. That momentum eventually leads to fitness transformation.

To take The 30 Day Fitness Challenge I recommend three things:


To optimize The 30 Day Fitness Challenge you’ll need a step tracker. I recommend the Fitbit Inspire HR. While it’s not cheap, it’s less than a few months at the gym. The Inspire HR also tracks your heart rate and sleep so you get an even wider picture of your fitness progress.


(By the way…if you use the link above to but a Fitbit Inspire HR this blog will receive a small commission. It won’t add anything to what you pay, but letting you know is the right thing to do)

Of course, you could walk and get the same fitness benefits without a step tracker. But, with a Fitbit you start seeing fitness as an all-day thing and not simply those 30 minutes when you’re “taking a walk.” It was a complete game changer when I got my first Fitbit.


Download this free guide to the 30 Day Fitness Challenge to begin your journey. It includes a worksheet to help you set your daily step goal, a contract to make with yourself (I know that sounds cheesy, but it really works), and a 30 Day Challenge Win Tracker to track your daily wins.

It’s probably no surprise to learn that most people who set a fitness goal don’t finish. The first 30 days are the most critical!


This blog is designed to help readers embrace walking as fitness activity. It’s sustainable, flexible, effective, and fun. Every week I post new articles with stories and helpful suggestions to Win at Fitness.

During January, there’s a new article every day to help you rock the 30 Day Fitness Challenge. If you click FOLLOW (below on your phone…to the right and above on your computer) you’ll receive an email with a link to each new blog post.

Let’s make 2020 the year fitness finally sticks!



  1. Thanks Dave,

    This post is just in time, my husband will have surgery on January 8th. Now I have something to do while I wait for him.

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