Yesterday I joined a gym. "No big deal" I hear you say. But for me, it's a watershed moment. You see, I was a regular gym goer. On a Friday night, whilst my friends were at the pub, I was in the gym. On Christmas Day I was lacing up my running shoes, and would pound the streets in snow, hail, and lightning storms! I considered myself fit, prided myself on being strong and loved to move my body to its full potential.
But that was 12 years ago.
Since then, I have had two children, moved house, climbed the career ladder, had a nervous breakdown, and lived through a pandemic. Again, no big deal, you might say. That's life! And yes, it is, but I have used life as an excuse to not move my body in ways that will keep it healthy and happy. I have become sedentary. As my only walking is now done in two 5-minute strolls to do the school run, and my commute is up the stairs in our home office, I find myself sitting down for most of the day. However, the reasons (aka excuses) are valid: I am tired, most of the time, I don't have time to fit in exercise, I tried going back to the gym in 2020 and hated it.
But something changed last week.
Last weekend, I walked up a flight of steps - over 200 in fact - on a steep incline in the harbour town of Salcombe, UK. When I got to the top, after stopping several times, I was very out of breath. But what troubled me the most was I was still out of breath in the car, 15 minutes later. This shocked me, acted as a wakeup call and became the catalyst that set-in motion me signing on the dotted line for a 6 month gym membership and filing out various health and safety questions about my heart and general fitness.
You see, what we believe shapes us - literally: physically and chemically. Our belief system changes the neural pathways in our brain, we create new brain connections each time we choose a new belief. Some of these pathways are long standing and have been laid down and used for many years, others may be more recent, and there may be connections in our brain we no longer access and have become dormant. What astounds me is that our brain can be renewed, changed, and altered by what we choose to believe.
So, what did I believe that was preventing me from making positive changes to the way I moved my body? I believed my excuses were hard facts. I believed that I was too tired, time poor and hated the gym. And these beliefs had been laid down and reinforced over a period of 12 years. That's a long time of using the same neural pathways. And belief shapes your thoughts, feelings, and actions. But the good news is by changing your beliefs, you can change the way you think, feel and act.
Now while this may sound simple, it is certainly not easy. And it takes either a conscious decision to change from the inside, or a circumstantial wakeup call from the outside. And even then, you have to work to dismantle ingrained beliefs and re-wire those unhelpful thoughts, feelings and behaviours. That's why, for some many of us, we choose to stay as we are - because it is easier than doing the hard work of change.
I knew I needed to move my body more, I knew that my fitness levels were low, I knew that sitting all day would make me stiff and sore and lethargic. But it was easier to stay that way than make the effort of changing. Knowledge wasn't the problem: I know the health benefits of exercise; I know that regular movement does me good and I know that it will prolong my life. I know I am not getting any younger. But still, I have done very little with that knowledge for the past 12 years. Sometimes, knowledge isn't enough to create change. It wasn't until I couldn't catch my breath after walking up a steep flight of steps, that I saw the need for change. That was my external wake up call. And shone a light on the real truth of the matter: my beliefs were the problem.
So, I am at the start of my journey in changing my beliefs about moving my body. I'm sitting here writing this in my gym clothes, with an induction booked for 11am. I am nervous and apprehensive, I am not looking forward to the first few weeks of aching muscles and going into the unknown, attending classes as the newbie, meeting people for the first time and dealing with all the doubts and fears. But do I want to be stronger, fitter, healthier? Yes. Will it get easier? Yes. Will I feel better for this change? Yes. Will I be practising what I preach? Yes. And will I walk up those steps in Salcombe next year without the need for a 20-minute breather at the top? Yes!
And now it's your turn. What beliefs are holding you back from making changes in your life today? What have you chosen to accept as truth, when in fact it is no longer true for you? Is there action you can take to start dismantling these beliefs? This can be soul searching work and if you need help with this, please reach out to someone you trust. I work with people 1:1 as a wellbeing coach to help replace old ways of thinking and behaving with new beliefs, thoughts feelings and actions. If you are interested in working with me, please get in touch. You can email me on here or DM me via my Instagram @iamsarahalexcarter
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