I’ve been carrying a story about myself for a very long time. It’s called: “I hate exercise, it’s boring and I suck at it.”
This story started early on in life, where school reports highlighted my lack of skill and interest in Physical Education (PE) and team sports. I dreaded cross country days, where I would be one of the last ‘runners’ at the back. I felt really embarrassed by this. At high school, I just could not co-ordinate myself to hit the damn shuttlecock in Badminton. I recall being so thrilled that the PE teacher at the time was also a musician, so he graciously looked the other way when I excused myself from PE for yet another saxophone lesson. It’s not as if I am not competitive, I am ridiculously so when it comes to trivia, Scrabble and quizzes but sport? Not me. There were exceptions to the story, like the time I won a footy kicking competition in Grade 6 or was commended for my flexibility in the sit-and-reach.
But as it goes with unhelpful stories, we have our blinkers on, only noticing the negative events and experiences that serve as proof.
So I tuned in to this story about exercise being difficult and boring. I shaped my identity and activities around what I was good at and what I enjoyed (music, reading and being creative). This was understandable. It gave a sense of joy, meaning and purpose to life. But in this process I not only sought out what I enjoyed, I actively shunned and rejected other things. I sat on the sidelines at high school swimming sports days listening to Nirvana on my headphones and wishing I was somewhere else. I watched as my university friends played netball and I joked that it was ‘boring’ and ‘lame'. I was deeply suspicious of anyone training to be a PE teacher, laughing that we would never have anything in common and couldn’t possibly be friends. It’s quite a safe place to be, living half-heartedly to avoid risk and shame. In hindsight, there was an awful lot I was missing out on.
But over the years, my story started to change. I began to notice that I enjoyed individual exercise, like walking, yoga, dancing and aerobics. If there was really amazing music then I probably forgot that I was exercising and forgot to be bored. When I was struggling with the demands of daily life with a toddler and newborn baby, a wonderful psychologist recommended I join a gym. I did. Sometimes I would go four or five times a week. I became a ‘gym bunny’ and I loved it. I felt incredible: capable, strong and fit. I wasn’t bored and it wasn’t difficult. A truckload of endorphins were now buzzing happily about in my brain. Great self-care became important to me, and exercise was a significant part of that. When the Body Attack instructor announced that I had ‘smashed it’ at the end of a gruelling class, I was ecstatic. I had changed my story.
Stories are powerful, and they can help us make sense of ourselves, others and our world. But I’d love us all to consider – is it time for us to change the story? Or ditch it entirely? Maybe you can give your story a new title? You have the go ahead from me!
Is there a story you are working to change or have changed? I’d love you to be brave and share!
©Naomi Morrow, 2016.