When we enter a situation with a story about how life is that is what we end up seeing and experiencing even when there's might be evidence to the contrary. This is called confirmation bias.
I’ve always loved sports. From as far back as I can remember I immersed myself in any activity that required me to move. I didn’t really care if it was a solo sport or a team sport. More often than not there was a ball involved, but even if there wasn’t my enthusiasm was just as high. Except for group classes. I got dragged into a few in one of my first jobs between 1997 and 2001 as part of on the job training. I worked in for a large gym group and although I was decent enough at ball sports and things like running and cycling, I struggled to keep up in the group classes. I didn’t know the moves. I was always five steps behind everyone else. I felt clunky and useless and completely uncoordinated. And I was the butt of many jokes amongst my colleagues. Clearly, group classes weren’t for me.
Fast forward to 2017… I signed up with a coach and committed to my long-term dream of running the Comrades Marathon in 2019. A couple of months into my training my coach mentioned that she wanted me to consider adding a yoga class to my weekly program to help build my core strength. Not wanting to be an uncooperative athlete or client I agreed but inside I was churning. I think I’m clunky, useless and uncoordinated, remember? Not to mention not bendy. Yoga is definitely for bendy people, right?
I remember choosing a Sunday afternoon class that started at 5 pm with the reasoning in my head that nobody does classes on a Sunday evening. I remember getting into my car on that Sunday afternoon last November and driving to the gym with my head spinning at a thousand thought per minute. I walked upstairs to the studio and approached the door with a great amount of apprehension. I opened the studio door and saw a group of women standing chatting to each other, their mats and equipment already laid out. They turned and looked at the door as I opened it. My fear took over. In seconds another thousand thoughts had swirled through my brain and without missing a step I swiveled and stepped back out of the studio, ran down the stairs and out of the gym, back to my car. I cried as I drove home, frustrated with myself. A story I first told myself 20 years ago had circled back into my consciousness and was influencing my thoughts and actions.
As human beings, we have an astonishing ability to tell ourselves stories. We can talk ourselves into or out of anything. Our thoughts are truly powerful. We can convince ourselves to get lost in anything that serves our ego. We can also make others believe these things too, presenting a view of ourselves to the world that we think will help us to fit in or be accepted. It could be a new relationship that might not be 100% right, a new car that we possibly can’t afford, brands, clothing and tech that are beyond our means, overindulging in food or alcohol or other substances. We can also convince ourselves to avoid anything that we believe might cause us discomfort, embarrassment or hurt. Whichever it is, what we’re really doing is deferring our minds from reality. The quandary, however, is that we cannot do this indefinitely. That relationship will eventually blow up, sooner or later the burden of debt will catch up us, the brands and stuff no longer give us the same feeling and the substances leave us more empty the longer we go at them.
So what can we do differently? We can, if we are deliberate, reframe the stories we tell ourselves in order to change our behaviour and what we believe about ourselves. The first step in doing this is to bring awareness to the narratives we are telling ourselves about who we are and what we are capable of, and how these narratives make us feel.
-Ask yourself if the story is absolutely true and if there are facts that support it? If there are no facts, it’s time to reframe it.
-Ask yourself how the story makes you feel. If a story you’re telling yourself about you makes you anxious, it’s time to reframe it.
-Ask yourself what else the story you’re telling yourself could mean besides your initial reaction to it. Instead of deflecting reality, by unpacking our thoughts and feelings and breaking through some of our limiting beliefs, we are able to start reframing the way we think, feel and act in any situation.
Back to those group classes… it wasn’t easy for me to open up and verbalise my fear of being clunky and uncoordinated to my coach, but I had to do it. When I did, she laughed because her perspective of my ability was completely different to my own. When she pointed this out to me and gave me examples of how capable I am I realised that the story I was telling myself wasn’t necessarily true. She offered to do a class alongside me in order to minimise my anxiety and the following week we. I loved the class. In fact, I loved it so much that I’ve now built up to six classes a week alongside my running program. It’s made a huge difference to my physical strength and I know now that the classes are making me a better runner. And I’m not as clunky and uncoordinated as I’d told myself I was. Not even close.
Challenge yourself to be more mindful of the stories you tell yourself daily. New thinking leads to new experiences and new experiences open up new horizons. One of the most incredible lessons I’ve learnt this year is how amazing new horizons can be when you’re open to them. And being able to manage your self-talk and know when the story you’re continuously telling yourself isn’t serving you positively and helping you to grow is a truly empowering space to be in.
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