The Stories We Tell Ourselves about Ourselves

Hey! Hello! How are you? What’s happening? This is the stuff of everyday greetings and social interaction. Every day, throughout the day, we meet others and ask them, in one way or another, “What’s your story?” They ask us the same thing, and we exchange stories of how we feel, what we are doing, what troubles us, what makes us feel proud or happy, and what’s next.

These stories play out in our hearts and minds like an internal dialogue

What about the stories we tell ourselves? There’s that moment of waking up in the morning when we reconnect with daytime reality: What day is it? How do I feel this morning? What’s my plan for the day? There are also the bigger, deeper stories we tell ourselves every day: What’s my story so far, my role? my purpose? What should I do about this or that? How do I think it will turn out? These stories play out in our hearts and minds like an internal dialogue as we talk ourselves through everything we need to plan, do and experience. I’d like to share a story from my experience, and explain what I learned about my own story, through my Modo Yoga practice. Maybe it will resonate with you…

My story is about running. I started running about 5 years ago – same time as when I began my yoga practice. I am a slow, joyful runner. I run year-round, as much as possible in nature, near water. I usually run 5k a couple of times each week, as my “running practice,” like a yoga practice. For challenge and celebration, I sign up for a few 5, 8 or 10k  “races” every year. I put that word in quotations because I race like a tortoise, slow and steady – a happy tortoise! I sing, dance, compliment other runners on their tights, yell thank you to every race course volunteer. Basically, I approach these races as linear parties, where I can get together with a few hundred or a few thousand other weirdos like me, who think running is actually a thing to do. After the race, I look at my finish time and laugh. I have never come in last, but I’m always in the “third half” of my category. No worries, it’s not the time I clock, it’s the good time that I enjoy that really matters.

 “pre-race angst”

As much fun as I have with running, I have noticed a phenomenon among many runners, that I will call “pre-race angst.” It happens a lot! It goes something like this:

I am at the gathering a couple of days before the race, where everyone picks up their race numbers, and basically pre-checks in for the event. I meet someone I know.

Me: Hey! Great to see you! I didn’t know you were running this race!

Friend: Uh, yeah, well, I’m not sure if I’ll actually go through with it.

Me: What? Why not?

Friend: Well, I had an injury last month and I’m off my training. I’m afraid I’ll do worse than I did last year. I just haven’t had time to practice.

Me: I hope you won’t give up. It will be fun!

Friend: Yeah, well, maybe I’ll switch my registration and run the 5k instead of the 10k, but then I’ll be really disappointed in myself. I haven’t run a 10k race in almost a year.

Me: How do you feel these days when you go out for a practice run?

Friend: I like running, but I don’t think I’m ready for this race. I’m really out of shape…

Did I mention this is a friend who runs year round? She has run more than a dozen 10k races before this one. She has even run a couple of half marathons. On a bad day, she runs twice as fast as I do on a good day. How could she be feeling so discouraged? What story has she been telling herself?

I give my friend a hug and tell her to wait for me at the finish line, because no matter how slowly she runs the race, I’ll come in behind her. I say goodbye and tell her to, “have fun and don’t worry about the time – just have a good time”

I found myself having that same conversation with myself

When I began running, this “pre-race angst” of my friends really surprised and confused me. For myself, I felt nervous before a race, but not self-critical or self-doubting. I thought it was a pretty huge accomplishment that I just showed up and made it from the start line to the finish line in whatever time it took. This was until recently, when I had the “pre-race angst” experience myself. I got sick in April, and missed my first race of the year, down with the flu. It took me a couple of weeks to even feel like running again. Then suddenly it was time for another 10k. To complicate matters, we had a May heat wave. I don’t run well when it’s hot. I prefer to run in a rainstorm over running on a warm sunny day. I just get overheated and I feel awful. Anticipating this discomfort, I found myself having that same conversation that I had with my friend, but it was with myself. Maybe I wasn’t ready, maybe I should switch my registration to the 5k. Maybe I should skip the race. How could I let myself down like this and not be ready? Arggggg! I was telling myself a story alright, and it was not a happy one.

This is where it loops around to my yoga practice. Somehow, in the fog of self-doubt that consumed me for a few days, I heard some words from my yoga mat. These words came from a wise yoga teacher (or two or three):

For a moment, look away from the mirror. Don’t check how you look. Check how you feel in the pose. Take inventory of what’s happening for you right now.

Whatever happens, you can always go back to your breath. It’s a way back to mindfulness. Move with breath and feel it bring you strength and awareness.

Feel the community around you. Every one of you is unique but you are here together for this hour, moving and breathing together.

Don’t go for a perfect T-shape in this pose. Just be a perfect human shape.

Consciously, with intention, I began to tell myself another story

Listening to this wisdom, I went back to the story I was telling myself about the race. I realised that I had gone way out ahead of myself, indulging in dire predictions of a miserable experience. It didn’t have to be like that. I didn’t have to be like that. Consciously, with intention, I began to tell myself another story. It was tentative at first, all in questions:

What if I still plan to run 10 kilometres? (I have done it lots of times before, and I’m feeling well now.) What if I listen to my body as I run, find my yoga breath in the rhythm of my strides, and use breath for awareness and strength? (That would help me focus and be in the moment – not dreading what might happen next.) What if I reach out to community and find support from my fellow runners, and friends and family who support me? (They will encourage me to go for it, and feel proud of me no matter how it goes.) What if I don’t try to be a perfect 10k runner and just show up and be a human being – or maybe a happy tortoise? (I could have fun.) What if I get too hot? It’s going to be a hot day! (I can take water and rest whenever I need it. I probably shouldn’t take child’s pose during the race or I might get loaded into an ambulance, but I can certainly slow down. I can walk as much as I like, and run as much as I like. And my fellow weirdos will be there, and it will be FUN!)

The story changed, and I changed, and suddenly I was looking forward to the race, and not even considering for a moment that I might just do 5k, or maybe sit this one out.

I’m glad I rewrote my story

I revised the story that I told myself, and I am so very glad. Race day came. It was blazing hot out, but I showed up ready to be a human being, part of a community, and have a fun day. And I did. I ran 10k in in 1 hour and 27 minutes (for those to whom it might matter). For those who don’t know, that is a nice slow time. Some people can walk faster than that (well, almost). I had fun. I was part of community. I felt tired, and sweaty, and wonderful. I am glad that I re-wrote my story, and grateful to my yoga practice for helping me to do so.

Running is glamorous, sweaty, hard and glorious

Hey! Hello! How are you? What’s happening? Whatever your joys or challenges may be, I hope that you will find a way to tell yourself the story that brings you strength and courage. If you need help re-writing parts that are not working for you, remember breath, sensation, community, and being human. It worked for me. I am grateful to you for listening to my story today.