When I was in third grade, I signed up for a basketball league. I scored the first basket for my team that season and never scored again. I hated the heated feeling all over my body from running across the court, and I felt uncomfortable in my black and red Nike basketball shoes. They were tight and difficult to lace, and their shiny outer material created friction against the dusty hardwood floor, which often resulted in me tripping over my own feet and skidding my knees.
Needless to say, that first season of basketball was also my last.
I tried a variety of other sports throughout my childhood and adolescent years, all with similar situations. I usually felt awkward for my lack of coordination, became easily bored at competitions, and felt unmotivated to perform better. The shoe just never fit, both literally and figuratively (don’t get me started on softball spikes).
In my middle and high school years, I found dance and theater. I didn’t have the coordination to hit a ball out of the park, make basketball hoops, or score soccer goals, but I had the coordination to do a time step and the balance to pirouette across the floor. Sitting in the dugout or on the sidelines bored me, but I was enthralled by creating a story on stage, whether I was part of the cast or the crew. Even with frustrating rehearsals, not getting roles I wanted, or not being as talented as some of my peers, I loved it. I did it because I found it fun.
I grew up believing I was not athletic or coordinated or would not be part of a team because I didn’t enjoy playing sports. I felt a sense of guilt growing up when I didn’t “fit in” to various extracurriculars like many of my peers did. I created a story in my head that all extracurriculars wouldn’t work out for me because of my past failures.
I’m glad I didn’t give up. I discovered I was athletic, coordinated, and a team player, but I just had to find the right fit. More importantly, the memories and friendships I created from partaking in dance and theater are some of my most cherished.
I’ve noticed I’ve fallen into those same thought patterns as an adult, whether related to health behaviors, relationships, professional capabilities, etc. Many times, I’ve realized in retrospect that the stories I was telling myself were wrong.
As a dietitian, I often hear people share limiting beliefs regarding nutrition and health, which are only intensified by the self-comparison that social media allows.
People believe they don’t like exercising, but they’ve only tried forms of exercise that their friends like or that they read were the “best” online. Maybe they would enjoy it if they found a form of exercise that is fun for them.
People believe they don’t like vegetables, but they’ve only had vegetables the way their parents prepared them growing up. Maybe they would like vegetables if they tried to prepare them differently; perhaps they need to try different vegetables altogether.
People believe health has a look — a body size, a kitchen pantry full of organic ingredients, whatever it may be — because of images or stories they see on social media or TV. In reality, health looks different for everyone.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t real barriers outside of our thoughts that make achieving goals difficult, such as finances, timing, or discrimination, but rather to say — are we creating a barrier for ourselves with our thoughts?
All of this is easier said than done. It’s hard to change beliefs, especially if they are deeply rooted in years of repetitive thought patterns. Even so, thoughts are not facts. There are many ways to eat, exercise, define health, and find happiness. What works best for one person may not work best for the next.
What are your beliefs about yourself based on? Are they based on something someone else told you? Are they based on childhood experiences? Are those beliefs a story based on nothing factual?
If the shoe doesn’t fit, it doesn’t mean all shoes don’t fit. You just haven’t found the right shoe yet.