athletes · fitness · motivation

Identity and motivation: Who am I anyway?

Scrabble tiles spelling out “WHO ARE YOU” Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Am I an athlete? Are you? We’ve wondered that here on the blog. Indeed, Tracy wrote about that way way back in 2012. (OMG, the blog is nearly 10 years old!)

Tracy wrote, “When I first wanted to be a writer, I used to read lots about writing. I read more about writing than I actually wrote. Something I read that stuck with me more than anything was that if you want to be a writer, start thinking of yourself as a writer. Call yourself a writer. Organize your schedule as a writer would. Write.It took awhile, but eventually, instead of thinking in terms of wanting to be a writer, I started to think of myself as a writer. And I behaved as a writer. That is, I started to write. I wonder if we can say the same for athletes? If you start to think of yourself as an athlete, will you then behave as one?”

Recently I found an article that I thought blog readers might like that backs up Tracy’s point: How to think yourself into a fit person.

It’s by Shaelyn Strachan at the University of Manitoba.

She writes,

“The idea is familiar. When we adopt an exercise identity, physical activity becomes a part of who we are and a powerful standard that can drive behaviour. Research I conducted at the University of Manitoba and the University of Ottawa shows that the more adults identify with exercise or physical activity, the more they do it.”

“Identifying with exercise gives people an advantage. People with a strong exercise identity have plentiful and strong exercise plans and intentions. Their motivation to exercise also comes from quality sources — such as enjoyment or their values, rather than from guilt or pressure from others.”

“In my research, people started seeing themselves as exercisers when physical activity crept into other aspects of their lives. So shamelessly wear the gear, even when you aren’t exercising. And don’t be shy to work exercise into your conversations.

Working out in a group has also been shown build identity and promote behaviour so add other exercisers within your social circle. These efforts may feel contrived but they often happen naturally when you put yourself out there in exercise contexts.”

But there are a variety of exercise identities to choose from. In Tracy’s blog post she talked about thinking of herself as a swimmer, but not yet as an athlete. Bettina asked Am I a cyclist yet? Amanda Lynn recently wrote about becoming someone who likes exercise.

One of my favourite thinky posts here on the blog is one of Cate’s about identity. She asks, How many fitness lives do we get? I know I’ve gone through lots of different stages, from ‘active involved outdoorsy parent’ to ‘recreationally competitive cyclist’ to my current focus ‘get in the best shape possible for knee surgery.’

Athlete might be too high a bar for many of us to adopt but it’s not the only option. You can think of yourself as someone who enjoys exercise, the person for whom movement is fun. I think of myself as someone who needs to exercise for reasons of mental and emotional health. That means I do it even when I’m busy and stressed, or maybe especially when I am busy and stressed.

I think developing an identity is why people post workouts and selfies and social media. It’s often derided as ‘showing off’ but that’s always struck me as a bit off. Ditto wearing athletic clothes. Yes, it’s signalling that you workout but it also makes working out–fitting in a quick run and some stretching–easier.

How about you? Do you have an identity as an exerciser, as a fit and active person, as an athlete? What, if anything, do you to foster and maintain that sense of identity?

A person in the forest with a photo of the forest covering their face. Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash.

2 thoughts on “Identity and motivation: Who am I anyway?

  1. Even though “women athletes” is part of the title of one of my books, I still have a lot of days when I resist the term–I am willing to think of myself as “athletic”, but not as an “athlete”–identities can be hard to own. Yet, worth trying on again and again, because some days they fit and others less well. Thanks for writing this and awakening the thought processes around the issue again.

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