What stories do we tell ourselves about exercise?

What stories do we tell ourselves about exercise. Are they helpful if our goal is to move more?

We are all aware of the health benefits of movement. But some seem to be hindered by stories they tell themselves. They talk themselves out of taking exercise seriously. If that person’s goal isn’t to move more, that’s fine. I’m a big proponent of “you do you”. But if they would like to move more (within their abilities) and are wondering whether they can shift the stories they tell themselves to help them do just that, that’s what I’m talking about today.

It’s not only the stories we tell ourselves. We hear stories from others, friends, family, media sources. It’s a mixed bag of good and bad influences. It can take a lot of work, but I think it’s important that we resist other people’s stories and figure out what we believe about ourselves and reinforce those stories.

A piece of lined paper with the question “What stories are you telling yourself?” Underneath the question are 3 lines “1., 2., 3.” with blank spaces for answers to be filled in.

I love exercise. The stories I’ve created for myself have helped make exercise work for me over the long haul. Even though I have created them, it is essential that they are rooted in truth. These stories have been a work in progress. I didn’t always believe every aspect of them. I questioned certain parts of them. But I reinforced the parts I truly believed in despite my own skepticism or socialization.

I know I had stories about exercise and sport, when I was a kid, that were not helpful.

I don’t like gym. I like art class, reading, some parts of science and math and drama. But not gym.

My gym uniform doesn’t flatter me (This was partly true).

The volleyball is going to hit my glasses. (This was also partly true).

I’m just not the type of person who (skates, skis, plays team sports). Where’s the hot chocolate?

People skating on an ice rink in the background and a yummy looking cup of hot chocolate in a glass mug, topped with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.

These are stories I told myself when I was younger. They reinforced my dismissal of exercise as something that “wasn’t for me”. These stories prevented me from finding exercise that DID work for me. Until I was much older and started telling myself different stories.

It took some work to change the stories I told myself about fitness. It didn’t happen overnight either.

I am strong.

I am a runner.

I can do some things, but not all things. That’s OK.

I’m doing this for ME. No matter how shitty my day is, I have my exercise that makes me feel strong, alive, capable, present, enough…).

I don’t have to look like her to be fit. Fit has many versions.

All or nothing is nonsense.

Show up. Do what I can.

What I eat and how I exercise are separate components of my life. The only time they intersect is if what I eat will affect how I feel while I’m exercising. For example, there are certain things I am not going to eat before I go running. Anyone who has gone for a run, knows what I’m talking about. Choose what you eat before you run, VERY carefully, so you don’t HAVE the runs.

I am not exercising to atone for what I ate.

I bet I CAN run a half-marathon.

I bet I CAN EVEN run a full marathon.

It doesn’t matter that it took me 5 hours to run my first full marathon. I ran 42.2 kilometres, IN ONE PART OF MY DAY, no matter how long it took me!

Nicole finishing her first full marathon at the Toronto Marathon in 2007.

These are the types of stories I’ve told myself as an adult that contribute to my commitment to living a fit life.

I hear people tell stories that I don’t think serve them.

I haven’t been doing anything so what’s the point.

I am too tired to do anything (this may be true sometimes but not ALL the time).

It doesn’t matter at this point.

I don’t like to exercise. I mean, maybe you don’t. Or maybe, you haven’t found exercise that you like? Perhaps, because you think of it as exercise, and you have equated exercise with punishment, you automatically go to “I don’t like it”?

I need to wait until I’m eating better.

I’m just an all or nothing person and right now it’s nothing.

Lifting weights makes me bulky. (Yay, strong!)

No pain, no gain (ugh).

The last time I tried that I end up with a sore body part (and I didn’t find out why or how to prevent it next time).

I didn’t like that class so I won’t like others.

If I were thin, I wouldn’t bother (why??? exercise doesn’t always make one thinner, nor do I believe that should be the goal and what about the other things exercise DOES contribute to, such as FEELING better, physically and mentally)

I like to dance, walk, play tennis, garden, etc., but that’s not enough so why bother.

It’s too cold. I’ll wait until spring.

I don’t have exercise clothes I like (get a friend to help you find clothes you feel comfortable in. They don’t have to be fancy or expensive. My favourite running shorts for years were a no nonsense pair of cutoff sweatpants).

The list goes on.

Do you think you tell yourself stories that don’t serve you and your fitness goals? Do you have great stories that inspire your fitness goals? Can I help you create new stories? I’d love to hear your stories!

Nicole P. lives in Toronto with her husband and two dogs and is exercising most days during lockdown

6 thoughts on “What stories do we tell ourselves about exercise?

  1. Love this. Many stories going on in my head (which, oddly, I was planning to write about for next week here)–but the biggest and truest one is this: Get out and move, Mina, you’ll feel better! And that story is pretty much always true, no matter how crappy (whatever that means) the exercise felt or was (on whatever the relative achievement scale is that its operation on that story front on that day).

  2. In my youth it was all about being a book person, a smart person, not a sports person. In my mind, you couldn’t be both. Later it was all about being smart and cool into politics, not sports. Again, you couldn’t do these things together (in my head anyway). Then I got to grad school and discovered individual fitness-y things–weight training, cycling. I still said, but I hate team sports and organized sports. Later I came to love cycling on a team. Later through my kids I came to love soccer. It’s false that I am not good and don’t enjoy team sports! I said that so many times but it’s just not true, or stopped being true.

    1. It’s so interesting how these narratives become ingrained. Letting us experience new things and shift the story can be so valuable!

Comments are closed.