Changing our Body, Changing our Identity
Have you ever said to yourself something like, “I like the idea of running a marathon, but I’m just not a runner.”
Or maybe it was, “I’m not a writer” or “I’m not someone who can do a chin-up, I’m just not strong enough.”
We can have these preconceived notions about what’s possible for us, and what’s not possible.
Whether we’re aware of them or not we all have identities, these collections of ideas about ourselves that we’ve adopted.
Sometimes things come up that challenge our identity. Sometimes they’re positive things, like being offered a promotion and sometimes they’re not so positive, like developing frozen shoulder.
Either way they nudge us into unfamiliar territory.
For instance, let’s say you’re someone who has kept a big garden for many years, and likes to go hiking and biking and has a general self image of being capable, fit and resilient. Then an episode of persistent low back pain starts, and you find that you’ve become really limited in all the things that you once could do, those things that were a part of your lifestyle and a part of how you see yourself in the world.
Seeing the future spreading out before us in which we’re no longer able to be the person we thought we were is hard to reconcile and hard to tolerate.
The funny thing is that not only does chronic pain or injury make us have to reevaluate ourselves and our place in the world, but so does success.
I’ll tell you a personal story.
I started training in August of 2020. Training is exercising with a purpose. It’s cumulative so the result is that, over time, you change what your body is capable of.
When I started this I hired someone to help me because I hadn’t succeeded on my own and didn’t know how to. When I was in the process of deciding whether or not I was going to hire this person and take on a regular practice of working with my body, I noticed I had an unaccountable fear come up. It was like getting butterflies in my stomach before public speaking.
I knew that if I hired him I would be all-in. It’s possible that I could’ve hired him and gone through the motions and then quit, but I knew I wasn’t going to do that. So, the hiring decision was a definite commitment that I was making to myself to follow through.
But I didn’t know where that commitment might lead me. I didn’t know how hard it would be. I didn’t know if I could do it, or if I might fail. And I saw, as I sat with this feeling, that I was also afraid of succeeding. I knew that the person I was, was someone who fit the life I had, but if I changed…then what? It might be disruptive somehow.
All of this brought up a very real fear, a fear of changing myself in profound ways. Even of becoming someone that I didn’t recognize.
Changes in your body challenge your identity.
Changes in what we can do, whether it’s struggling with the limitations of low back pain, or finally breaking through and being able to do a full chin-up, will shift how we fit our world. It will change the way we meet our environment.
We made our identity. Circumstances will have nudged us one way or another in that process, but we continue to create our self image. We can do anything we want with it. It’s scary, but being scared is okay.
We might hear ourselves say things from time to time when something new comes up like, “I’m not a runner.” or “I didn’t do it because I was too busy.” or “I’m too lazy.” or “I can’t afford it.”
When we use labels–a runner, a writer, an athlete, or someone who has chronic pain or mental illness, we’re not speaking to what we can do so much as we’re talking about who we are.
Any of these statements can actually be true, but these generic remarks often indicate that, while the new thing holds some attraction for us, we don’t want to do it. Sometimes we don’t want to do things that we really want, because we’re afraid of who we would have to become.
We get to decide who we’re being.
We can change who we’re being.
We are deciding who we’re being all the time.
There is room for a lot of tenderness as we’re spending time with who we think we are.
Change, at any age, is scary, but change is healing. There’s so much more flexibility and potential available when we allow and encourage ourselves to change.
Take a minute to remember a time when you felt afraid of taking on something new. What happened?
If nothing comes to mind you could remember it from the opposite direction. Think about one of the most fulfilling life changes you’ve made in recent years. Back when you were deciding whether or not to make that change, did it scare you?