Change Your Story, Change Your Life

Who aren’t you?

“I’m not a runner.” This was a simple statement of fact, one that I told myself for years. I tried to be a runner. In fact, I remember buying the first model of waffle-soled running shoes Nike ever made back when I was in high school. And I took them out on the road for several days in a row. But I found running to be boring. I enjoyed playing sports (which, to me, was “running with a purpose”), but I just couldn’t get into this idea of running just for the sake of running or “for exercise.” So I gave it up after a couple weeks. And as I moved through my 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, I’d occasionally try to start up again, but it always ended up the same way. Because, of course, “I’m not a runner.”

Then, a few years ago, my daughters introduced me to “Couch to 5k,” an interval training program that takes someone from not running at all to running 3.2 miles. They were going to start the program and invited me to join them. So, I did, still saying to myself “I’m not a runner.” But I worked the program and ran (t0 be truthful, I plodded) my first 5k race.

Then, about a year later, a good friend of mine who was dying of a genetic heart condition, received a heart transplant. This friend used to be a distance runner but had gotten to the point where he couldn’t walk his dogs around the block. The day after his surgery I visited him in the hospital, where he told me that his recovery goal was to run a half-marathon within a year of his operation. And I heard the words come out of my mouth: “I’ll run it with you.”

I guess I figured that if he could recover from major surgery and run a 13 mile race I could get my butt in gear and do the same. And 364 days after his surgery, there we were, crossing the finish line of the Philadelphia Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon together. Sure, it was a plodding pace. But we’d done it!

But what about “I’m not a runner?” After running several 5k’s and one Half, and keeping up a routine of running between 10 and 15 miles a week, I can’t say that about myself anymore. I am a runner. Maybe not a very good one, but a runner nonetheless.

I also used to tell myself that I don’t have much self-discipline. And that I don’t stick to stuff that I start. But then I looked at the training program I worked to prepare for the Half, and found that I followed more than 90% of it. So I have to admit to myself that these old “stories” I used to tell myself just don’t hold true anymore.

This experience has led me to consider what other stories I tell myself, that I take for granted, that I accept without questioning. And wondering: What would happen if I stopped telling myself the stories that are holding me back, the stories that are self-limiting? And do I actually need to change something in my life in order to reject the “truths” I’ve come to accept over time? Or might re-writing the story lead me then to change who and how I am? In other words, did I need to run a Half Marathon to stop telling myself I wasn’t a runner, or might I have become a runner much sooner had I long ago rejected that “truth”?

What stories do we tell ourselves about ourselves? Like “I can’t dance, I have two left feet.” Or “I can’t do math.” Or “I’m too fat, too dumb, too slow, too clumsy, too “fill-in-the-blank.” These are stories we might have learned as children — from other children, or from grown-ups, or from our own experience. It’s important for us to consider whether those stories still serve us (if they ever did).

What are the stories about ourselves that we take for granted, that we accept without thinking, just because we’ve told them for so long? Do we need to believe those stories today? Do they help us or hold us back? Maybe it’s time to take a good, hard look at our own stories and see whether they’re still serving a useful purpose or whether it’s time to let them go. Perhaps it’s time to create some new stories for ourselves, and for each other. Stories that lift us up and move us forward.

When we rewrite the stories we tell about ourselves, we become authors of our own future. What new story might you begin to tell?

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