I’m not a born athlete, you know. Nope. Not even close.
I was, I admit, a pretty active little kid. I liked to run around, climb trees, ride my bike, clamber around on the jungle gym. I was pretty skinny, actually. My Mom used to remark that I didn’t eat enough to keep a bird alive.
That all changed when I hit junior high. The skids went on, real fast.
I’m not very good at team sports, you see. I could hit a softball, and one time really popped one to the outfield, but I remember being humiliated when I subsequently ran the bases, still clutching the bat. (Exactly why this bothered me so much, I don’t know. “You‘ve got to drop the bat!” one of my classmates chanted at me. Well, OK, fine. Today I’d say, “bite me.” Back then? I just ducked my head in shame.) While I remember scoring 14 points once, in junior high basketball, my gym class exploits were largely unremarkable. I didn’t much like physical activity, and didn’t’ go out of my way to engage in it. If you’d asked me, back then, I’d have described myself as “unathletic.”
Today, though, I consider myself to be an athlete. More specifically, an adult onset athlete. I’m not into competition . . . I don’t race, except with myself. But I’m an athlete all the same -- in the way that I train, the way I aggressively take care of injuries, the way that I fuel my activities.
Today, being an athlete is an important part of my identity, my self-image. Because “athlete” is a label I’ve pinned on myself, I behave differently than if I called myself “couch potato.”
- If I’m an athlete, I’m going to eat right and watch my weight, so that I can stay fit and feel good during my workouts.
- If I’m a couch potato, I’m going to polish off a bag of potato chips while watching 2 hours of must-see TV.
- If I’m an athlete, I’m going to kick my butt out of bed at 5:15 am to get out on my bike for an hour.
- If I’m a couch potato, I’m going to make sure I go through the drive-thru, so I don’t have to get out of the car and walk into the burger joint.
- If I’m an athlete, I’m going to get antsy if I go a couple of days without a workout . . . and if my work schedule sucks and I can’t get to the gym, I’m liable to just go out and run a couple of miles, simply to get my blood pumping.
- If I’m a couch potato, I’m going to park as close as I can to the Target . . . circling around the parking lot several times, if necessary . . . so I don’t have to walk very far to get to the door.
Enough. You get the idea.
Labels are powerful. Whether or not we acknowledge it, the labels we give ourselves have a great deal to do with our day-to-day thoughts and actions. I know some people don’t buy into the concept of positive thinking, but really . . . we are what we think. No more, no less. We are the sum total of our learning, our experiences, and the way we‘ve synthesized them into our own personal world-view. We create our own reality, every day, every minute, every thought. The background noise in our brains influences the way we feel.
Labels are powerful because they are part of that reality. They help us define ourselves and our relationship to the world. We humans love to classify; to pigeonhole. We do it to other folks, and we do it to ourselves.
So, here’s a task for you: spend some quiet time thinking of the labels that you’ve slapped on yourself. Positive ones, negative ones. Write them down.
Now, take a look at the negative ones. Figure out how to flip ‘em . . . find a way to make ‘em positive. If your label portfolio includes “lazy,” for example, start taking walks. Just do it. No excuses. It’s OK if you can only go for 10 minutes at first. Keep it up, and soon you’ll be walking miles. And your internal label will switch from “lazy” to “walker,” if you keep telling yourself that’s what you are -- and more important -- you actually live your label.
Now, I’m no psychologist, and I’m not going to tell you that changing your personality is as easy as re-labeling yourself. We’re too complex for that.
What I am saying, though, is that thinking about your labels can be a start. Self-knowledge has to start somewhere.
Y‘know, if I can be an athlete -- me, who must have been taking a bathroom break when they handed out the jock genes -- there’s no telling what you can be.
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