You guys continue to blow me away, as over $2,150 has been raised for the student athletes at Rhodes Hall High School in Hanover, Jamaica since this campaign began over a month ago! We are hoping to raise additional funds to purchase track spikes and shoes for competition and are closing in on $2,500! Click here to donate now, or read more about the kids and their incredible stories here. I am accepting new and gently used running apparel of all genders and sizes at: Danielle Cemprola, PO Box 26101, Greenville, SC 29616 until February 15, 2016! Don’t hesitate to email me at thetrexrunner(at) !
They say wisdom comes from the most unexpected places, but I don’t think they were talking about reality television when they said that. Or is it that they say something is always in the last place you looked for it? Either way. The idea of finding wisdom in reality television is beyond unexpected, but yet a couple weeks ago, I found myself sitting on the couch with my mouth agape while watching #BlackLove (yes, the hashtag is part of the name) on FYI. Stop judging my choices in educational programming, people. Basically, it’s a show about 5 African-American women who are struggling to find love, for one reason or another, in NYC. I won’t get into the plot (A.J. says there isn’t one) or the characters (he thinks they’re all awful but yet is just as riveted as I am), just one very important truth bomb dropped by the mother of one of the women.
“You have to be careful about what you tell yourself about your past,” she said. Dude. Whoa. What you tell yourself about the past. Not “what happened in the past,” but what you tell yourself about what happened in the past. Mind blown.
The quote was timely, as this week marks five years since my ex-husband and I officially separated. The way I think about him, myself, our relationship and my life in general has changed markedly over the years, but I’ve mostly chalked that up to the passage of time. It never occurred to me that the narrative I tell myself about my childhood, my relationships, and other events of my past is actively reinforcing positive or negative personality traits. To me, the past was an inarguable account of what had happened to me, and the present was a direct result of those events. I didn’t realize that I had control over how each event impacted me. Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about the narratives that I used to tell myself about the past and what I probably should have been saying instead.
To give an example: Before I met AJ, I was in crappy relationship after crappy relationship, and I mean really crappy. Each of the individuals struggled with the same problem, and although they treated me differently, the core issues were the same. For years, I told myself that I was not a good girlfriend/fiancee/wife and was never going to find someone who treated me well. Their behavior was a reflection on me, and if I was better, they would be better: “You don’t deserve happiness. Look at all the horrible people you attract into your life – there’s a reason you keep getting into bad relationships. You’re the problem.” That’s pretty damaging, right? It’s tough work to be the sole cause of all of another person’s problems, especially when you’ve just met them! But that’s what I believed. It would have been similarly misguided to say: “Gee, I just have bad luck in relationships! Men are evil and they all suck.” As time went on and the bad relationships piled up, I reinforced my own belief. What I should have said instead was: “Okay, Danielle. Sometimes, you place too much trust in people who do not deserve it. You pick guys who seem like they have more problems than you because you don’t believe anyone will love you for who you are. You have a heart for the underdog even though the underdog sometimes comes back to bite you. How can you do a better job of screening who you let into your life without becoming bitter in the process?”
See the difference? All the situations recognize my role in creating my own situation, but they are framed totally differently. The first and second narratives condemn me to a lifetime of bad relationships because I deem myself flawed, unfixable, or unlucky. The third accepts my personality traits as neither good nor bad and offers a path forward.
It’s not just relationships where this advice applies. In fact, as adult-onset athletes (that’s a real term, I didn’t make it up – I swear!), we often place limitations on ourselves based on what we did or did not do athletically in our past. For example: “I can’t run a marathon. I was terrible at sports in school. I didn’t even run the mile! I’m just not athletic.” Well, there you go, right? You’ve pretty much written your own future out based on your past. And you know who said that exact sentence to themselves many times? Me. In case you’re new here, I’ve run 50 marathons. What changed? Well, without even realizing it, my narrative did: “Ok, I hated running when I was a kid, but I never really gave it a try outside of P.E. I was good at riding horses – that’s pretty athletic. Maybe running won’t be so bad if I start slowly.” Again, it’s the same facts – yeah, I hated running when I was a kid, that’s true. But I never gave it or any other sport much of an effort. What if I applied the same focus and drive that I had when it came to academics or horseback riding and watched where that would take me? What if you reframed your narrative about your athletic past and sought the positive while acknowledging the negative? How would your goals change?
Lately, as you know, I’ve been all about living with intention, but one of the biggest parts of that (for me, anyway) is being financially focused. My whole life, I have believed I’m just one of those people who is “not good” at saving money. Even my parents told me that constantly as a little kid – my brother was the saver, and I was the one whose money burned a hole in my pocket. Was it true? Yeah, probably, but even as a small child, I began to believe that the ability to save or spend was something we were just born with it. After all, my brother was 5 and he had the same parents as me and he was good at it; I’m 7 and I can’t save a dime! So, I just sort of accepted that as my fate – I’d never successfully save money and that would be that. As an adult, it’s an aspect of my personality that I’ve found constantly frustrating, even though I’m much better about it than I used to be: I have a 401k, multiple personal savings accounts and I don’t live paycheck to paycheck. I work my day job, teach at Barre3, and do a ton of freelance and blog work to support my goals. But still, I’m not the best at holding myself back from buying something I really want and focusing on my long term goals. I mean, I was born that way, right?
Wrong. It all comes back to discipline. Ultimately, when I tell myself that I just “can’t” save or I’ll just fail like all of the other times I’ve tried, I’m telling myself a damaging story about the past. I’m giving myself an excuse not to meet my goals instead of setting myself up for success by facing reality and determining a path forward. Instead of saying “There’s no point in trying to save money because I have no impulse control and I’ll just spend it like I always have,” I can say something more constructive. “I acknowledge that saving money has been a challenge for me, but I have succeeded in the short term in the past. I know that strategy XYZ helps me to save and feel good about the choices I’m making. How can I implement that in the long term while maintaining a quality of life that I enjoy?”
See, I realized while watching that silly/excellent show that being careful about what we tell ourselves about the past doesn’t mean we have to lie to ourselves or avoid reality. We don’t have to run from our problems; in fact, facing them is the only way to solve them. But by blaming our problems on other people or placing disproportionate blame on ourselves, we fail to adequately recognize the reality of the situation. For me at least, the bulk of my personal issues are neither entirely the result of others’ actions in my past nor my personal failings in the present; they fall somewhere in between. I’m not perfect, but I’m also not the worst person on the planet. My past has had plenty of rough spots and poor choices, but there have been many great decisions and glorious days, too. I bet yours is the same way.
So, be careful about what you tell yourself about your past. Accept credit where credit is due and accept the blame, too. And keep your eyes and ears peeled for wisdom no matter where you are and what you’re doing – you never know when a reality show might totally change how you think about your life.
LEAVE A COMMENT: Are you telling yourself any inaccurate stories about your past?