One of the things that’s been most helpful to me in life, but especially in my health journey, is the idea of a growth mindset.
Here’s a little exercise: write down one “negative” thing that you believe to be true about yourself.
Mine was something along the lines of: “I’m not an athlete.”
In junior high, I was on the softball field, up to bat, and I hit a foul ball. The boys behind me said, “well, at least she hit it.” I laughed it off. But I learned, gradually, that I was bad at sports. Not a natural athlete. Not a runner. Not able to be active without feeling defeated and comparing myself to the “natural athletes” I thought I wasn’t. I failed all the P.E. “tests” on various sports rules – football, basketball, etc. I was picked last for teams. I focused entirely on my intellectual self, because my physical self was the source of such hard feelings.
Of course, if you think you’re bad at something, you aren’t going to want to do it in your free time. So, rather than getting “better” at sports, I just avoided them. This reinforced my identity as a non-sports person, and I became what I thought I was: bad at sports. Not athletic. Not active.
This was cemented for me a decade ago, and I didn’t really question it until this year. When my energy and physical well-being started improving in January and February, I started craving movement. I felt like I had so much energy to burn. I started Barre classes, running, and swing dance lessons. I would go home and take a walk. These new behaviors were both cause and consequence of a new attitude that I was forming: If I move, I will get better at moving.
Obvious, right? But it was not obvious until I challenged my own beliefs about exercise. I believed that exercise wasn’t “worth it” if I didn’t go hard, and when I felt like I couldn’t go hard I just wouldn’t go. I thought exercise was all about losing weight, and when that didn’t happen (see: thyroid problems), I stopped. I set a lot of goals and couldn’t fulfill them, partly because I was handicapped by my own attitude, my own identity as someone who doesn’t exercise. Who’s not a natural athlete.
Now, instead, I describe myself like this:
I enjoy movement. Moving makes me feel good. Moving gives me energy. No matter how much movement I do, it’s beneficial to my health. The goal of my movement is to have fun and feel strong and flexible.
Everyone is a “natural athlete.” It is natural for us to move! Humans did nothing but move for hundreds of years, and it was pretty healthy for them. Another thing I’ve learned is that you get better at whatever you want to practice. If I do yoga, I’ll get stronger and bendier. Running will make me better at running. If I do barre, I’ll get stronger and more stable. If I swing dance, I’ll get better at swing dancing. And, as long as I’m enjoying myself, I will keep moving! I don’t have to worry about when my next workout is, because I’ll know when I need to move next.
There are people who are “natural athletes” who have similar, fixed beliefs about themselves. In fact, everybody probably has fixed beliefs about themselves. Your belief about yourself could be in a totally different area than mine. The point is, psychologically, beliefs have a tremendous impact on behaviors. In fact, beliefs cause behaviors. But, behaviors also cause beliefs. Liberation from these fixed beliefs is totally possible, if we are able to challenge the attitude as we change the behavior.
And, when that happens, we can literally change our identities.
I think the world will be a happier place if everyone is exactly who they want to be, don’t you? 🙂