Progress Is Not Linear: 9 Realistic Reminders About Your Fitness Goals

Progress Is Not Linear: 9 Realistic Reminders About Your Fitness Goals

When you encounter a successful person, it’s hard to visualize anything beyond that person’s current success. For example, a bodybuilder or fitness model looks very impressive to anyone who cares about health and fitness. But you don’t see the hours upon hours of time and work, physically and mentally, that person has spent to achieve their results.

Progress is not linear. Most of us know this when we really think about it, but it helps to have some reminders. We can easily believe that other people achieved their goals with a fraction of the resistance we’re facing. The reality is that real progression is never a straight line.

What Does Linear vs. Non-Linear Progress Mean?

The Collins Dictionary definition of linear progress is when “something changes or progresses straight from one stage to another and has a starting and an ending point.”

On the other hand, non-linear progress does not mean moving directly from one stage to another. It can involve moving in various directions — sometimes even backward — while gradually moving forward. 

Most of us think about progress as linear, especially when comparing ourselves to others. But this is unfair, as progress is almost always messier than expected. The important thing is making consistent progress despite the setbacks and stagnations.

So, here are some words of encouragement for why progress isn’t linear (so you don’t need to worry if yours isn’t, either). Use these as motivation for working towards your fitness- or health-related goals.

1. Healthy Habits Take Time to Build

New routines don’t happen overnight. If they did, we’d all be walking around at the ideal weight, fit as a horse, without any health struggles. If you’ve tried to eat better, work out more, or do other things that make you healthier, you likely understand the challenge. 

At first, a new healthy routine is easier because it’s exciting. You might also see results quickly, such as significant weight loss or changes in muscle tone. But over time, the results are smaller, and it might cause you to get into your head wondering why your progress has slowed.

Just remember that quick, drastic results are not always better. For example, the extreme dieting on the Biggest Loser lowered contestants’ resting metabolic rates to burn 400 fewer daily calories over six years later. Faster progress is not always better or more sustainable. If the contestants had been given more time to gradually build a healthy diet and exercise habits, it’s a wonder how things would be different for them today.

Small changes over time tend to work well for making healthy progress. And when you get used to doing something through small habit shifts, it becomes automatic. That’s why realistic workouts and nutrition plans work best.

2. Life Happens (and That’s Okay)

Life can derail you sometimes. 

Maybe someone at work quits, and you’re suddenly juggling the responsibility of their job duties on top of yours. Or you suffer a loss in your family, an unfortunate health diagnosis, a relationship change, or something else that pulls the ground out from under you. 

And then there are just times that you enjoy yourself more, such as during holidays and vacations.

The truth is that life happens. And it’s okay to get knocked down. 

The important part is seeing your struggles as part of life and understanding that hills and valleys are normal. 

Since progress is not linear, you’ll have times when you’re not eating as well or working out as much. It’s all about:

  • Getting back on track as soon as possible
  • Giving yourself grace for what’s slowed you down
  • Moving steadily towards your goals

Much of life is not about the incredible feelings of success from meeting ultimate goals. It’s the journey that gives us meaning, whether we’re talking about fitness, work, or other life goals.

3. Slow Progress Is Still Progress (and Sometimes the Best Kind)

What’s better than no progress? Slow progress! 

Even if progress sometimes involves moving backward and sideways, you’re still progressing and growing.

In fact, slow progress is sometimes the best kind. When you take small steps to change things, you’re often more likely to develop lasting habits.

It also helps to cultivate a practice of being aware of your progress. According to Dr. Rick Hanson, feelings of stagnation can happen when you don’t recognize what’s moving forward in your personal life. 

That awareness can include the smallest ways you’re being productive, such as sorting through your mail or running that load of dishes. In fitness terms, it could be noticing a weight is slightly easier to lift or giving yourself credit for fitting in 30 minutes to workout today.

4. Life Can Change Your Trajectory

Keep in mind that goals can change. Maybe you wanted to have a six-pack, run a marathon, or reach a certain percent body fat in your 20s. But as you reach the next decade, you’re focused on raising a family, working towards career goals, or caring more about overall health versus appearance.

Your fitness perspective might shift from a purely (or mostly) aesthetic endeavor to one that keeps you healthy, prevents stiffness, and maintains the muscle tone and strength that helps you move through life. Or maybe your goals are somewhere in the middle.

It helps to regularly check in with yourself about your fitness and health goals. Do they look the same as they did last year? How has your progress changed in relation to those goals? Be open to the possibility of changing perspectives and how those can impact progress. 

5. Challenges are Stepping Stones to Growth

One could argue that setbacks are when you have the most growth. Every hitch comes with a lesson, whether you realize that lesson in the moment or not. 

You can easily apply this to fitness. There is a lot to learn regarding weight training and strength building. It’s not necessarily as easy as “lift heavy things, get jacked.” The best fitness programs are expert-designed for a reason. They know how to balance proper form, exertion, and rest. 

If working out feels intimidating or you aren’t experiencing the results you expected, try to view it as an opportunity to improve, even if it takes some time.

6. The Gym Becomes Less Scary with Time

A survey from OnePoll found that half of Americans experience “gym-timidation”: feeling intimidated by the thought of working out in a gym. And 31 percent of the 2,000 people surveyed said just the thought of trying to get in shape causes anxiety.

Fear can stop us from achieving many things in life, including feeling good in our bodies. The good news is that healthy habits become easier the more we do them

If fear of the gym (or working out in general) is real for you, start slow. The first time you go, ease yourself in with a shorter workout. Have a plan for what you’ll do before going in. 

As you become more comfortable, the gym will seem less scary. Hiring a personal trainer or joining an online fitness community membership will also help you feel more confident in what you’re doing — and get the most out of your workout time.

Also, we can promise that everyone at the gym is focused way more on themselves than you. Half of the people there are probably worried about how they look. Life is too short to worry about how you appear to others in this setting. After all, you’re doing something good for your health! That’s a reason to celebrate, not feel shame.

All-in-one at-home systems like Gorilla Bow also help build confidence and improve your fitness without leaving your house. 

7. Not Every Setback Needs a Storyline

When you experience disappointment or overwhelm, pay attention to your mind's stories about the situation. 

For instance, maybe you skipped two workout days. You start thinking, “I can’t believe I haven’t kept up with my workout schedule, especially after doing so well at first. I’m a lazy piece of sh*t. I’ll never get in shape or feel good about myself.”

Instead of letting this narrative continue in your mind, picture yourself cutting off these thoughts. Then, you can instead look at the situation rationally. So you didn’t workout the past two days. Okay, there’s no changing the past, so why get worked up about it? 

Look forward instead. Why did you miss your workouts? And what can you change or shift to help you stay on track going forward?

8. Consistency Is King: Think “Big Picture”

Remember that you have to allow for life to happen. A successful fitness and nutritional plan is one that you can realistically follow in real life — that you can keep up consistently.

There might be days or weeks throughout the year where you fit in fewer workouts or slack on your nutrition. But how consistent you are over time, not how many perfect weeks you have, is what matters.

Keep the bigger picture in mind. In three months, will it matter much that you had a week of fewer workouts or enjoyed the food at that Christmas party? What about a year or two from now? Chances are, you’ll barely remember it if you’re thinking about your long-term goals. You’ll be able to look back and see steady results from moving forward a little at a time.

9. Long-Term Progress Is Subtler

Progress is not solely before and after pictures. In fact, over time, a lot of your fitness progress will be much subtler. Sometimes, you’ll be the only person who notices small shifts in your strength, appearance, and mindset. 

But that’s all that matters, and those small results add up a lot over time. 

Besides the scale and how you look in pictures, other “wins” of a healthier lifestyle include:

  • Feeling stronger
  • Using a little heavier weight than last time
  • Functional fitness milestones, such as being able to lift moving boxes or run up your stairs
  • Better flexibility
  • Noticing that you don’t get out of breath as easily
  • Enjoying your workouts so much that you miss them on rest days
  • Finding more healthy foods or recipes you like
  • Craving more fruits and vegetables

Other “wins” could be having more energy to play with your dog or kids, getting better sleep, having less anxiety, or feeling better day-to-day.

Don’t ignore the little things. They matter way more than you realize. 

Without slow, small progress markers, you can become too obsessed with obtaining tremendous results quickly, and that’s not realistic. That’s why the weight loss industry is worth $250 billion — people want quick fixes that don’t work long-term. 

Progress Isn’t Linear: Keep Going!

To sum everything up, here’s an outline of your reminders about healthy progress:

  • Healthy habits take time to build. Give them time, and remember that small steps add to significant results over time.
  • Life happens (and that's okay). Allow yourself to be a human who sometimes gets knocked down or set back by life. Then, get back up and keep going.
  • Slow progress is still progress (and sometimes the best kind). Small changes can often lead to habits that stick.
  • Life can change your trajectory. Keep checking in with your goals. If your priorities change, adjust your goals to fit.
  • Challenges are stepping stones to growth. Every hurdle comes with a lesson to help you progress.
  • The gym becomes less scary with time. It will be less intimidating as you get used to working out and build confidence in what you're doing!
  • Not every setback needs a storyline. Pay attention to the stories you tell yourself. Stop narrating, and look at what needs to change instead.
  • Consistency is king: think "big picture." Your consistency over time matters more than achieving perfect workout weeks or following your nutrition plan to a "T."
  • Long-term progress is subtler. Celebrate the small wins and results. They add up over time.

As you embrace the smaller wins and acknowledge that progress isn’t linear, you’ll likely learn to appreciate yourself more. You have to spend more time in that uncomfortable zone between failure and incredible success. Recognize and celebrate signs of progress, no matter how small. 

Need help progressing realistically? Join the Gorilla Bow All-Access for live and on-demand classes tailored to your fitness goals.