Three Limiting Beliefs Preventing You From Becoming Active

Photo by Dominik Wycisło on Unsplash

Movement* is for everyone — I believe that, but many don’t.

If you don’t believe that, I get it because I, too, once believed that being active wasn’t for me.

Humans are a product of our genetics and environment. This means that our biology and what we learn from our primary caregivers, society, peers, and teachers shape what we believe to be true about ourselves and thus how we behave.

For example, if our elementary school gym teacher told us we weren’t athletic, as adults we will likely continue to believe that we aren’t athletic.

Or, if our parents were sedentary people, we will likely be sedentary, too.

I grew up with genetically lean and moderately active parents. We ate a healthy diet, but our activity level was somewhat limited by the heat and humidity of Wisconsin summer and the brutal cold of the winter. When I was a teenager, we got a treadmill, but that was the extent of my exercise support.

High school brought opportunity for physical activity, but my gym teacher’s criticisms of my flexibility and tendency to overheat while logging laps around the outdoor track served as additional proof that intentional movement just wasn’t for meant for me.

So, when I officially became an adult, I realized the verdict was already in: I was destined to remain an inactive, lethargic, moderately thin but far from toned person for life.

In the years that followed, I noticed the “others,” those who seemed to easily put on muscle, effortlessly run miles, and generally live more active lifestyles than I, which led me to mentally separating myself from them, reciting old beliefs that we were made differently and thus were destined to remain separate in this way. I believed that I was who I was and never considered the possibility that it was within my power to change.

It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties, with the rise of exercise DVDs and the encouragement of a friend who found value in these workouts, that I became cautiously open to the possibility of making a change. I decided that I felt safe within my own home to explore my deeply-held beliefs about movement and challenge my understanding of what my body was capable of.

At the same time, I still held tightly to many doubts about my body’s potential to truly transform and struggled to conceive a world in which my body would move beyond all I’d ever known it to be.

Yet, over the course of the next decade, I incrementally became more active, through challenging, confronting, pushing, learning, and exploring, until I was leading a consistently active lifestyle.

In the midst of that journey, I became a psychotherapist and discovered numerous ways in which our humanness holds us back from fully connecting with our inner potential. Many of us believe we are who we are and that we cannot change. If that resonates with you, I remind you of this — that will be true as long as you allow it to be true.

But if you want to consider that you may actually be more than what you have come to believe about yourself because of your genetics — which you can’t control — and your childhood environment — also which you can’t control — now is your time to effect that change.

Yes, you are a product of your genetics and environment, but it’s your choice to stay that way or to confront those beliefs and make a change.

As I navigated the process of redefining my relationship with movement, I identified three limiting beliefs that, if not confronted, may hold us back from shifting from the limitations of who we were told we are to something that feels true to who we actually are.

  1. Right now, you might feel buried — beneath a toxic mix of negative self-beliefs, lethargy, apathy, and feelings of powerlessness in it all. Consider this metaphor: a seed must be planted in the ground before it can bloom into a flower. No one, including yourself, can start above ground in confronting their own relationship with movement. We all have our own unique beliefs about movement to identify and confront. That’s the first part of the work to change — to identify what’s on top of you, precluding you from sprouting, growing, and blossoming.
  2. Then, you might doubt yourself. No matter what social media deceives us into believing, doubt is a universal human experience. But, while it is absolutely normal to experience doubt, it can be dangerous too, as it can stand in our way of overcoming our beliefs if we allow it to. So I urge you to remember — doubt is defeated when we give up the expectation that it will evaporate and no longer poke at our weaknesses, and instead accept that doubt is part of being human and somehow, magically, doesn’t predestine failure.
  3. Finally, you might believe that you just need to reach a certain point, like two weeks of exercising five days a week, and then the work is over. However, this belief is a fallacy and a roadblock to leading an active lifestyle. When we view change in this way, we miss the mark. Change is not about achieving in the short-term, but connecting to the meaning attached to the long-term. When we adapt a long-game mentality, we create the space for the possibilities of how movement can serve us over the course of a lifetime. We also remember that when we get off track, which most of us will at some point, this doesn’t mean we’ve failed, but that we need to connect to why movement is meant for us, why it matters to us, and then return to it when we are ready.

Movement is for everyone, but we have to allow ourselves first to believe the possibility of that truth in order for it to become our reality.

We have to recognize that we are imperfect, and thus our path to change will be imperfect and nonlinear, and any other expectation is an impossibility.

We must remember that we will most certainly stumble and fall, and, when we do, this is not indicative of our unworthiness to try, but rather to our ability to witness ourselves through those stumbles and keep moving forward.

*Movement refers to intentional physical activity. You might also refer to movement as exercise, working out, or being active.

Psychotherapist + Writer. Join my email list for free wellness resources + work with me → darciemft.com.