Restart Your Exercise or Nutrition Plan (in 5 Steps)

LEGO Star Wars characters, with one on the floor.

Did you know today is National Respawn Day?

This is definitely true and not a holiday that I just made up.

Okay, I did make it up, and it doesn’t matter what day it is – you’ve decided you want to try again (that’s awesome! ? .) And you want to find a way to make changes that stick this time.

Luckily, whether this is the first time you’ve had to respawn or the 50th, you’re in the right place.

I’m going to share the same step-by-step strategy we’ve used to help 15,000+ nerds restart their fitness journey in our Coaching Program, and we’re gonna have a tiny bit of fun along the way.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

Why It’s Okay to Start Again

The Iron Giant with a flower

So you already bailed on a goal or habit or routine this year.

Welcome to the club.

It’s called “being human!”

There are 8 billion of us.

Statistically speaking, MOST people have already abandoned the resolutions they’ve set for the year, and it’s no wonder! Behavior change is a complex process. [1]

We all start with hopes and dreams for what we can accomplish, but then we encounter this ugly thing called “reality.” We find out that maybe we picked the wrong goal, or we tried to do too much, or life managed to get in the way.

This is amazing news!

I like to think of life like a giant video game, which means we’ll need to get comfortable with running up against a challenge, dying, starting over, and trying again! That’s what makes a game actually fun.

As the saying goes, “Success is moving from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm.” So, congrats for already finding a strategy that doesn’t work for you right now.

Let’s get to work on fixing that!

First step’s first…


A LEGO and her dog

We’re often our own worst critic and our own worst enemy.

When we stumble at a task or goal, that voice in our head will very quickly point out all the things we’ve done wrong or how we’ve screwed up.

We might call ourselves a nasty name, or berate ourselves for not having enough discipline.

There’s another way to think about this:

  • You discovered a strategy or tactic that doesn’t work for you! For example, if you went Keto and bailed, great! That’s a diet that doesn’t work for you. I personally love carbs, so Keto sounds terrible to me too!
  • Treat the voice in your head like a roommate. You just both happen to occupy the same brain. Just because our brain thinks something doesn’t mean it’s true! I like to imagine my thoughts came from Chaz, a weird roommate. He means well but he doesn’t always know what he’s talking about. Also, he has a ferret.
  • It’s also possible the strategy or tactic is still USEFUL, just in a different context. For example, if you tried calorie counting, and it didn’t work, that doesn’t necessarily mean we have to throw out that tactic FOREVER. But we need to figure out why it wasn’t a good fit for us RIGHT NOW – so we can learn from it.

You’re reading this, which means you’re trying to improve your life.

You found a few methods that don’t work for you.

And you’re ready to try again.

This is amazing and should be celebrated.

As NF Coach Matt explains in the video below, “self-compassion” is really important when attempting to fulfill New Year’s resolutions:


A LEGO scientist

So, you conducted an experiment with your goals for this year, and you did not get the results you were expecting.

That’s neither a good nor a bad thing. Like any other experiment, it just… IS. You had a hypothesis (“I am going to stick with THIS diet, and THIS workout plan”), and that turned out to not be true.

Great! That’s information we can use, my scientist friend.

Let’s write down specifically what your experiment entailed. 

What were you trying to do.

  • “I was going to run a mile each morning.”
  • “I was going to eat strictly Paleo every day.”
  • “I was going to transform into a mythical phoenix.”

Look at your list: this is a combination of variables that don’t work for you right now.

IMPORTANT POINT: Learning from the millions of people who have come through Nerd Fitness over the past decade, my guess is that your experiment didn’t work out for one of two reasons:

#1) You built an idealized goal for a romanticized view of life:

Life is chaos, and we all have a lot going on. When we expect to have a beautifully organized schedule, our kids won’t get sick, and work won’t run late…we’re setting ourselves up for failure.

And when we set our expectation at “perfect adherence to the plan,” one missed day can be enough to derail our progress completely.

Fortunately, as John Steinbeck wrote, “Now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.” Perfection is a trap, so we’re instead going to focus on being pretty good, most of the time.

We need a plan that fits into the chaos that is life, and is not built for a perfectly clear schedule! Those don’t exist.

#2) You tried to change ALL the things:

  • Your goal was 1,800 calories a day instead of your normal 3,000.
  • You tried to run 7 days a week when you don’t exercise at all now.
  • You said you were going to write 5,000 words a day but don’t write normally.

Instead of changing all the things completely or not changing anything, what if we changed a few things, a tiny bit?

We’re never going to get everything done, certainly not all at once. So like a video game, we need to stop trying to fight 10 level-100 dragons at the same time when we’re a wimpy level-1 wizard!

We need to pick ONE target, that’s our level, and then as we level up and get stronger, tackle bigger monsters.

So, let’s try to do less with our next experiment, okay? It’s better to laser-focus on building ONE new skill than it is to attempt to change so many things at once that we end up in the same place we started!


You’re reading this guide, which would lead me to believe you’re interested in trying to lose weight, build muscle, and/or get in shape.

To avoid getting the same results, we need to change the variables in the experiment.

You know, science!

Remember, any good experiment has accurate measurements for the factors they are changing! You don’t just put “some uranium” in a nuclear reactor. You know the exact amount.

For your next attempt consider adjusting one of the following:

#1) Change the exercise variable: 

Did you enjoy the exercise you attempted? If you discovered that you hate running, great! Never do that again. “Exercise sucks,” so I would pick something that sounds more fun.

Did you try to exercise 5 days a week for 60 minutes a day? What if you instead decided to go for a 5-minute walk every day to practice the habit first, and then increased the difficulty?

#2) Try a substitution rather than addition

ADDING a brand new exercise routine into an already busy schedule can be really challenging. The same might be true with severely restricting your calories, which can be really uncomfortable and make you hangry and angry.

Let’s try this instead: Substitution! Here are three examples:

  • Making healthy swaps with our diet: How you eat is 80-90% of the weight-loss equation, and you’re already eating every day. So focus on substituting a vegetable for fries once a week, or swapping sparkling water for soda. You can also keep a food journal and change up your breakfast twice a week.
  • Temptation bundling: combine an exercise/activity you want to do with an activity we already love: Listening to a great audiobook, but only when we’re out for a walk or on the treadmill, or joining a friend on a bike ride (to a winery or pub!).
  • Do ONE activity mindfully every day: meditation is amazing for developing the skill of being present and cultivating awareness, but it might be tough for us to set aside 20 minutes to sit alone with our thoughts. So why not practice being mindful during something you’re already doing! Practice mindfulness while brushing your teeth or washing the dishes in the sink. No extra time required, all of the benefits!

#3) Adjust your “win scenario”:

I get it. You were able to train in your home gym for the first few weeks of this year, going for at least an hour.

But THEN…work got busy. And you only had 30 minutes, which wasn’t enough time to get through your workout. So why not set the win scenario at “30 minutes,” or “15 minutes,” or “1 exercise”? Lower the bar!

This is not an on-off switch. It’s a dial that we can turn UP or turn DOWN based on how busy our life is that day:

Text: "How we think about getting healthy:" next to image of a hand on a light switch with "on" written above and "off" written below. Text: "How we should:" next to image of a hand on a dial numbered from 0 to 11.

Let’s imagine we’re on a 10-year journey, and we’re trying out all sorts of tactics, strategies, and rate of change to see what works best for us.

Doing your workout today is not nearly as important as building a routine of working out that fits into your life for the next decade.

We can stop asking, “Do I have time for my workout” and instead ask “What workout do I have time for?”

There’s nothing that says “a workout must be 60-minutes in a gym.”

A 5-minute walk with your kids. A 10-minute circuit workout between Zoom calls.

It all counts!

Example: if you roll out your yoga mat for 1 set of 1 exercise, it counts as a win. Doesn’t matter if you did a full hour-long workout or a 5 minute set of push-ups.

Feel free to turn the dial all the way down when life gets really busy, just don’t turn it off.

STEP 4: RESPAWN and try again

A LEGO at Blacksmith

When you play a challenging video game, you’re going to die. A lot. (I died literally thousands of times when playing Hollow Knight, one of my favorite games in recent memory).

What happens after you die in a game?

You respawn, and try again!

You’ve learned a new tactic or pattern. You have a new technique. You’ve uncovered a secret. You also have all the knowledge of every past attempt. You’ve also just gotten better. So you try, again.

And again.

And again.

And then you succeed, and that works for a while. Until it stops working. And then you change your tactics again and keep going.

There’s no shame in trying something that doesn’t work when it comes to our health. Life is one giant experiment, we’re all disasters, and we’re all doing our best!

Here’s Joe, who made dozens of attempts to get fit until he changed the right variable and got results:

Joe's before and after

We have hundreds of stories of normal people who kept struggling to find the thing that would work for them, but they kept reading and they kept trying, and then finally – something clicked.

And that next attempt is the one that changed their life’s path.

This next attempt might be the one that works for you too!

Keep trying differently, keep failing differently.

You can do this!


A LEGO Blacksmith

I know hacking your experiments to get better data isn’t exactly “scientifically smart” or “morally responsible,” but I’m the one writing this guide and we’re all friends here, right?

Once you start your new experiment, here’s how you can stack the deck in your favor:

#1) Write everything down. Write down your workouts. Write down what you eat. Treat it like a science experiment, and you’re collecting data! Plan ahead. Be PRO-active (“I will do Strength Training Workout A at 4pm and tonight I’ll have roasted chicken and bacon-wrapped asparagus) instead of RE-active (“What should I do for exercise right now?” and “Ah, what’s for dinner? Oooh, Burger King!”)

For more strategies here, check out our guide Tracking Your Fitness Progress.

#2) Recruit allies to your team. Don’t go this alone, as you’re more likely to succeed based on the people you spend time with and hang around. So recruit allies. Start spending more time with people that empower you (even virtually), rather than people that enable you and drag you down. Join a running group online. Find a lifting “accountabilibuddy,” or someone you can check in with.

We have a free Nerd Fitness Facebook group with thousands of people ready and willing to support you!

#3) Hire a professional. There are two types of coaches worth the investment:

  • An in-person trainer if you are looking to supercharge your form on specific exercises like Olympic lifts, squats, deadlifts, etc. An in-person trainer can be good for people who need the accountability of somebody they’ve paid to meet them in the gym. Here’s how to find a good trainer!
  • An online coach that represents mobile, worldwide accountability. I’ve had a coach for years and it’s changed my life. Knowing that I have a workout and nutrition strategy to follow each day helps simplify the process for me. Less thinking. More doing.

As Coach Matt explains below, sometimes “outsourcing” help can be a real game-changer when trying to get in shape (or back in shape):


An old mandrill named Rafiki once taught me: “Yes, the past can hurt. But you can either run from it, or learn from it.”

Okay maybe he taught that to Simba in The Lion King, but I too learned the same lesson:

"The Past Hurts" from Lion King


#1) Forgive yourself. You wouldn’t talk to somebody else the way you talk to yourself. So have some freaking compassion! You’re trying.

#2) Identify what experiment you JUST tried. Write down what you believe went wrong over the past few weeks. Congrats – you found a strategy that doesn’t work.

#3) Pick a new path, try a different variable. A good scientist meticulously tracks their data and writes down their hypothesis. I would change one of the following:

  • Exercise: do less – focus on building the routine and doing it consistently. Here’s how to exercise in a way that doesn’t feel like exercise.
  • Nutrition: change less. If you couldn’t stick with a diet for 3 weeks, it was too restrictive. Try a different path. For help, check out our Guide to Healthy Eating. It’s designed to build on one small tiny improvement over time.
  • Win scenario: don’t let “perfect” be the enemy of “good.”

#4) Then try again.

You and this sheep both now know how to follow a plant-based diet. But you'll have to eat more than grass.

For #5 (“Supercharge your results”), I have two perfect ways to help you respawn today:

Consider our Online Coaching program, and I also send out a free newsletter twice a week to help you stay motivated and entertained.

It’s the best newsletter in the galaxy, I promise you.

For the Rebellion!


PS: If you want more tips and tricks on how to stick to your goals this year, check out 5 Hacks to Effortlessly Build Healthy Habits in 2024.


Photo Citation: Oh My Goodness! Shut Me Down, The Iron Giant, “Hello, old friend. Is he ready for me?”, Happy Halloween!!, At the blacksmith’s (Part 2), Medieval Blacksmith

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