Fitness Tips

5 False Beliefs About Exercise That Sabotage Your Results — and Self-Worth

When it comes to fitness, mindset is absolutely everything. You can have the best personal trainer in the world guiding you through the most scientifically effective training program on the planet, and still fail because you’re not in the right headspace.

The problem is, most people don’t even realize they have a problem with their mindset when it comes to exercise. I certainly had no clue that certain beliefs were holding me back five years ago when I had over 20 pounds to lose.

I’m not talking about common training myths like “you need to stretch before a workout”, or “lifting heavy will make you bulky”.

I’m referring to certain, fundamental beliefs that damage not only your relationship with exercise but your relationship with yourself.

If you can’t get a fitness routine to stick and feel frustrated with yourself, I’d wager it’s because you’re holding onto at least one of these beliefs — even if it’s only on a subconscious level.

Belief #1: Exercise is a Means to an End

Many people set a goal to “get in shape” because they don’t like how they look and treat it like a 100-meter sprint to the finish line.

There are a couple of problems with this attitude.

First, becoming fit requires a longer commitment than one 4-to-12-week program. Don’t get me wrong, short-term goals are super important and I love programs like that for this very reason.

But your journey doesn’t end after 30 days, or 60 days, or 90 days. There is no end to your fitness journey. Exercise simply becomes part of your life.

Second, exercise does so much more for you than change your appearance. It improves your quality of life in a way that few other things can.

For one thing, exercise is scientifically proven to boost serotonin, a mood-stabilizing hormone that makes you feel happier, calmer, more focused, and less anxious. That alone is enough of a reason to make exercise a non-negotiable part of your daily routine.

But regular exercise also gives you a kind of confidence and belief in yourself that can be completely life-changing. It makes you realize how much you’re really capable of.

If you can do 20 full pushups when a few months earlier you couldn’t even do one, what else might you achieve that you never thought possible?

In my case, the self-empowerment I found through exercise enabled me to start an online business and start sharing my ideas with the world. I wake up each day excited about what I might accomplish next.

To me, that’s way more meaningful than looking good in a bikini.

“Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.”

– John F. Kennedy

Belief #2: If You’re Not Perfect, You Won’t Get Fit

Years ago, I remember starting an old Jillian Michaels fitness video and getting so discouraged that I couldn’t keep up that I quit ten minutes in. I thought to myself, I can’t do this properly, so what’s the point?

The thing is, the fact that exercise is hard is exactly the point.

If you can easily do all the reps with perfect form, you aren’t facilitating change. Struggling is a good thing; all you need to do is show up, do the best you can, and modify the moves you aren’t strong enough for yet.

Are full push-ups too tough? Try them on your knees or against a wall. Can’t squat until your thighs are parallel to the ground? Go only halfway down. Can’t do 20 reps? Do 10, or 5.

It is okay to modify the exercises as long as you are challenging yourself and showing up every day. It is by pushing yourself and being consistent that you see growth and change, not by executing the workout perfectly.

There is no room for perfectionism, and there is no comparing yourself to anyone but the person you were yesterday. I believe this is true of all things, not just exercise; only by embracing imperfection can you live life to the fullest.

“The more I feel imperfect, the more I feel alive.”

― Jhumpa Lahiri, In Other Words

Belief #3: Exercise is Punishment for Dietary Indiscretions

Sometimes, exercise is used as atonement for indulging in “bad” foods. If you ever ate a couple of donuts at the office and then felt compelled to pedal on a spin bike for an hour, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

First of all, food is not inherently “good” or “bad”, and eating a donut or a slice of pizza is not a criminal offense. Again, it comes down to moderation and consistency.

But tying your diet to exercise is such a damaging thing to do because it turns exercise into penance instead of a wellness practice.

Despite exercise and diet being so closely interrelated to fitness, it is best to separate them in your mind in the sense that one should not affect the other.

For example, you shouldn’t exercise more or less today based on what you ate yesterday.

Likewise, it is a slippery slope when you feel you can eat more because you exercised. While this is true to an extent, people are notorious for overestimating their calorie burn from exercise and overeating as a result.

Eat and exercise in moderation. Allow yourself guilt-free treats now and then and stick to the same exercise regime regardless of when you indulged.

Moderation. Small Helpings. Sample a little bit of everything. These are the secrets of happiness and good health.”

– Julia Child

Belief #4: Working Out Isn’t Enjoyable

Many people claim to hate exercise and I think this also arises from treating it as a kind of self-flagellation. The hatred seems to run particularly deep for strength-training workouts.

In my experience, the main reason why people say they hate exercising is that they try to take on too much at once. To avoid burning out early on in a new exercise routine, start with just 10–15 minutes, 2–3 times a week, and slowly increase the duration and frequency over a few months.

Focus first on finding one activity you actually enjoy. Even if it’s not the most effective exercise for achieving your fitness goals, it’s still better P90X if it makes you want to smash your TV with a dumbbell.

Maybe that activity is yoga, dancing, walking, or swimming. As you get used to exercising as an enjoyable part of your routine, then you can start introducing strength training workouts.

Each time a workout gets hard, remind yourself that it’s the feeling of positive change, and focus on how much of a boss you are for pushing through it.

After a while, you will get used to the discomfort that hard exercise brings, and in a strange way, you may even begin to crave and enjoy it because you know it means you’re getting stronger and healthier.

“‘What hurts today makes you stronger tomorrow. ‘

– Jay Cutler

Belief #5: How Fit You Are Determines Your Worth as a Person

If you take only one thing away from this article, let it be this: Your fitness level and appearance have absolutely nothing to do with your worth as a person.

This false belief stems from society’s tendency to obsess over physical attractiveness. But how you look has nothing to do with your worth as a human being, regardless of what the media and advertisers would have you believe.

Getting fit can do a lot of things for you. It can make you healthier, happier, and improve your quality of life. It can help you explore the exciting vastness of your potential and inspire you to bring your best to each day.

But you are the same beautiful person regardless of if you are fit or not.

Do not idolize those who are physically fit and think it makes them more of a person than you, because it’s simply not true. Fit people aren’t perfect, either. And not all of them are as beautiful on the inside as they are on the outside.

“Beauty shouldn’t be about changing yourself to achieve an ideal or be more socially acceptable. Real beauty, the interesting, truly pleasing kind, is about honoring the beauty within you and without you. It’s about knowing that someone else’s definition of pretty has no hold over you.”

― Golda Poretsky

Fitness — and Happiness — Starts in the Mind

I want to draw your attention to the fact that each heading in this article is labeled as a belief and not a myth. That’s because if you believe them, then they are not myths; you make them true.

The mind is so powerful, so instead of letting it hold you back, use it to your advantage! You have the ability to develop a healthy relationship with exercise in a way that empowers and elevates you.

Approach exercise as a long-term commitment to self-care, and you will not only reach your fitness goals, you’ll get there with liberating self-acceptance and joy.

And no pair of size 2 skinny jeans can compare to that.

“You must learn a new way to think before you can master a new way to be.”

– Marianne Williamson

Originally published on

Corrie Alexander is a former ISSA-certified personal trainer, home fitness advocate, and founder of The Fit Careerist. A proponent of personal growth and a self-proclaimed fitness app-junkie, Corrie shares tips and product reviews with the goal of helping others on their own fitness journey.

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