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I watched this video today that talked about how our internal narrative determines who we become as people. It’s also a frighteningly accurate measure of how successful you’re going to be at pretty much anything, including:
- Health and fitness
I actually did my master’s thesis on the development of personal identity through blogging. How and what we share in social media can influence who we are because we become what we focus on, but we can hinder that process if we don’t truly believe we’re worthy or capable of becoming that what we desire.
In my own life I’ve struggled with every aspect I’ve listed above. I was never a good student (thanks to undiagnosed ADHD) so I felt as though I wasn’t destined to be much (and I’m pretty sure my parents felt that way as well). It wasn’t until I went back to school as a mature student did I surprise myself by actually being academically inclined and a gifted writer.
I never thought I’d find a quality guy, especially when I was much younger and heavier. I was never treated well by men, and I gave too much of myself because that’s what I thought I had to do to be loved. I am sad to admit, I was well into my 30’s before I learned my own value and power in romantic relationships. On a more positive note, I’ve been happily married to the same wonderful man for more than 12 years now!
Internal Narratives Around Money
Finances was a tricky one for me to learn because growing up we didn’t have a lot. I never knew what living a comfortable life meant, and I often still struggle with the idea of having more than enough financially. It’s been a lifetime of work believing that I’m worthy of the money I make and the things I’ve accumulated. I am still a work in progress on this one, as I still fear being homeless and broke, even though I’m financially independent.
I think this is the perfect example of how narratives have more power than reality. You can have all the money you need to live a comfortable life, and yet still fear that it’s not enough. We do this with our money, and we do it with our own self-worth.
Internal Narratives Around Body Image
Health and fitness has been the journey of internal narrative transformation that has taken me the longest to get through. From being an overweight teen who NEVER wanted to do sports, I had a narrative that I just wasn’t athletic from a very young age. It’s taken me years to overcome this idea.
I was also a smoker, binge drinker, over 200lbs for a long time and ate the crappiest food I could find. That took 20 years to fix. It didn’t have to, but I’m a slow learner and I didn’t have the personal development, social support or role models that I have now.
From where I stand now, I’m a completely different person. I’m healthy, fit and I prefer good food over junk. I choose to take care of myself because it’s my preference, not my obligation.
How did I get there? Literally, one step at a time.
How to Change your Internal Narrative
Find role models who demonstrate what’s possible
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve caught myself thinking that I’m too old to be fit, or start something new. These are popular ideas in culture, but they’re not mine, and I’m always looking for evidence that it’s not true. Instagram has become my catalogue of women who are older than I am (by 10 years or more) doing things I want to do. When ever I feel that thought creep up into my awareness – I look to my army of women who demonstrate the opposite.
If you do nothing else – do this step, especially if you’re a visually oriented person.
Do intentional thought work
This is an entire topic of it’s own, but at it’s essence, thought work is looking at your beliefs and examining them as they come up. As I mentioned in the example above, when I notice a thought about being too old to do something, I immediately challenge that thought and look for real life examples to realign my brain to what’s true – that I’m not too old.
This technique requires that we stay conscious of our thoughts so that we can actually challenge them, rather than let them run wild in our heads like a toddler with a knife. Journalling, meditation, coaching and years of learning have helped me build my consciousness muscle and it’s never too late to start.
If you want to dive into some simple, but powerful thought work, I recommend Byron Katie’s process which is appropriately called “The Work”. If you need more evidence on the power of changing your thoughts – this video is a real eye-opener.
Take any action you can
Take a walk, buy running shoes, read fitness blogs like this, follow three new people on social media who emulate who you’d like to become (and don’t make you feel bad about who you are right now) and go to bed early tonight. None of these things are going to move the needle much at first, but anything you can do to start adopting the behaviors of a fit person, (or whatever person you want to be) is going to start to accumulate. Eventually, no matter how unnatural it feels to behave in these new ways, you will eventually lean into it. The key here is baby steps!! If you do too much at once, you’ll snap back to your old internal stories quickly.
Find a supportive community (Warning Label for ADHD’ers)
This probably won’t be in your immediate circle, because they clearly haven’t influenced you to grow yet, but it’s not as hard as you think to find a new tribe. Facebook groups are awesome. Search groups on Facebook that reflect where you want to go. Running for low carb eaters? Weight lifting for vegans? It’s all out there. Just search for it.
ADHD Warning: There are a ton of great online communities for adults with ADHD. However, if you are newly diagnosed and you’re just starting to learn about the condition, I recommend learning more from books and coaches before diving into peer-groups.
Every person with ADHD has a different experience and some are far more capable of managing their lives than others. Some groups tend to focus on the negatives which isn’t helpful, especially when you’re in the process of forming your internal narrative about your ADHD diagnosis.
Stick with positive and credible sources of support until you’ve gotten comfortable with your own ADHD narrative.
Invest in something.
Put your money where your mind is. If you want to grow, find a coach, take a class, join a group, buy some new clothes, sign up for a race. If you invest money in your desire, you’re 10x more likely to stick with it. We don’t walk away from things we spend our hard earned money on because we perceive it as more valuable.
Set your expectations lower than you’d like to.
Stretch goals are great, dreaming big is awesome in theory, but if you set your sights too high, you will be disappointed, and likely give up before you’re ready to. Don’t do that. Set small, immediate goals. Don’t think about losing 50lbs in 6 months, break that down and think about the 2lbs you need to lose this week in order to reach that goal in 6 months. It’s far more tangible and urgent and you will be more likely to make changes in the moment.
Write a note to your future self.
Let her (or him) tell you what you need to know right now. Write as though you’ve already accomplished your goals and become the person you want to be. That future self will be able to tell you what’s most important, what to watch out for, and what to do in moments of weakness or doubt. I can tell you that stuff too, but it’s way more powerful when it comes from within. I did this exercise today and it really impacted my thinking.
Expect to be always evolving.
When you climb a hill, very often you think you’re approaching the summit, only to find that there’s another peak in the distance. Our personal growth and internal narrative is no different. As your impression of yourself improves, your projection of your future self will change. As you see what you’re capable of, your goals will be set higher and you’ll continue to achieve new levels of confidence and belief in yourself. That doesn’t mean you don’t take moments to reflect on how far you’ve come, but it does mean that your idea of success and achievement will continue to be a moving target (at least, it’s like that for most of us). Just commit to loving yourself in the moment as you continue to gently push yourself forward.