A Case for Breaking Out of Your Boxes

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A Case for Breaking Out of Your Boxes | Wit & Delight

A Case for Breaking Out of Your Boxes | Wit & Delight

Photo by Laurice Manaligod on Unsplash

I’ve been thinking about running again for the past four years.

In my twenties, I woke up, put on my shoes, and clocked at least eight miles without blinking, just about every single day. After I gave birth to my son, I started THINKING about maybe trying to get into it again. I would think about when I would go, what I would wear, what route I would take, what the weather would be like. Will it be too hot? Too cold? There was always some reason the conditions weren’t perfect.

Then I became pregnant again when August was only eight months old, and what followed was two years of absolute chaos. Running was far from my mind, but the constant feeling that something was off felt like a dull headache that I couldn’t quite shake. 

Then this summer we moved to a house where, quite literally, I wake up to the view of people making their way along their morning running route across the street. It couldn’t be simpler for me to walk out the door and hit the pavement. Which got me thinking, What was I waiting for? I ran consistently for decades and suddenly, after becoming a mother, I decided I couldn’t do both.

Why was that?

There were plenty of logistical reasons to put off running, but I couldn’t figure out why I had suddenly decided to shelve a part of myself that brought so much clarity, so much joy, and so many mental health benefits. Running was probably the best method I had for managing my ADHD in my twenties. How did it become so easy to just…stop? 

I’ve always craved some kind of way to understand myself and my surroundings—how to behave or act in order to deal with anxiety. Labels, boxes, research, asking friends, checking with family. Even though I had plenty of friends who balanced exercise with pregnancy and motherhood, I had somewhere in the back of my mind decided it wasn’t something I could do. I was putting others before myself and didn’t think I had the capacity to do both—to be a mother and focus on my own interests and pursuits. When I really looked at what was in the way of me doing it, it was always rooted in what I felt “motherhood” should look like for me. The more I gave to others, the more validated I felt that I was “good.” 

When I really looked at what was in the way of me doing it, it was always rooted in what I felt “motherhood” should look like for me. The more I gave to others, the more validated I felt that I was “good.” 

And that’s one of the reasons we came to the theme this month, on breaking out of your boxes. If I had already decided in the back of my mind that I couldn’t be a runner and a mother, without really being conscious of it, what else had I decided about myself that was rooted in fear, negative beliefs, or internal dialogues about what the “labels” that have been assigned to me mean about who I am as a person? Do we construct neat, tidy boxes to define ourselves subconsciously? I won’t be able to run once I have kids, twenty-year-old Kate told herself, time and time again. What once became a reason to put off having kids has now become a self-fulfilling prophecy that I didn’t want to come true. 

Why We Create Boxes for Ourselves

We create boxes and roadblocks because of what we’ve seen modeled for us, what we’ve been told by others, what we’ve told ourselves, and because of ever-present societal structures like patriarchy and racism. We reinforce these roadblocks based on the personal limitations that have become so deeply ingrained. We read cautionary tales from those who have come before us, see the danger in a fate that might look similar, and in some cases, walk right into identifying that their story will become an unavoidable truth for our own lives. At least, that’s what I did when it came to running and motherhood. 

There are many reasons why these boxes exist, and I want to be clear there is no doubt that privilege and structural injustices impact the extent to which we’re able to make sweeping changes in our lives. Even so, we do all have a certain amount of agency to make choices for ourselves—ones that are affirmed through consistent daily actions—that consciously allow us to push against many of the roadblocks which stand in our way.

The Limiting Thoughts That Hold Us Back

Think about how often you replay worst-case scenarios around your identity. For example, how do you view what’s possible for you in your career? Your income? Your partner? Your family and your friends? Where are you using limiting language, or sweeping statements about what ISN’T available or possible for you?

Often, the first thing we do once we realize we’ve assigned ourselves a “box” is to focus on the ultimate outcome of who we want to be. Unfortunately, this far-reaching mindset can sometimes feel too overwhelming at the onset, and it sets many of us up for failure! That’s why I THOUGHT about running for four years, instead of just putting my shoes on and getting a mile in consistently each day.

Here are some examples of limiting thoughts I’ve had about myself throughout my life. Below each one, I wrote an alternative thought that acknowledged the limiting beliefs while also allowing me to begin to break down preconceived notions of what roadblocks are immovable. 

Limiting Thought: I can’t run like I used to. My body will never be the same as it was before kids.

Alternative Thought: I might not be able to run like I used to, but if I start with just a few minutes at a time, it will get easier. 

Limiting Thought: I’m too picky when it comes to finding a long-term partner. What is wrong with me?

Alternative Thought: I am open to looking for love without judging myself in the process. 

Limiting Thought: I’m just bad with money. 

Alternative Thought: What is one small way I can make saving easier and automated? I don’t have to become a financial wizard or keep a detailed budget to start saving. 

Think about the biggest roadblocks in your life right now. Have you already decided that certain things are true based on fear, what you think of yourself, or what other people have told you?

Think about the biggest roadblocks in your life right now. Have you already decided that certain things are true based on fear, what you think of yourself, or what other people have told you? Decide which limiting beliefs you want to challenge and begin to create a roadmap for how you’re going to challenge them each day.

How We Can Begin to Break Out of Our Boxes

Acknowledge that limiting thoughts exist.

If we’re not first aware there’s a box that’s holding us back, we won’t begin to push against it and our lives will continue to reflect the status quo we’ve been encouraged to reside in, either by ourselves or by others. The simple act of acknowledging that these ingrained limiting thoughts exist is a step toward freedom and creating a life that aligns with who you are at your core, and with who you want to be.

Decide that you’re deserving of the life you want.

This is where mindset tweaks come into play. So much of whether or not we reach our goals has to do with us believing that the outcome we want is within reach. Whether it’s through journaling, daily affirmations, or talking with a trusted friend or therapist, begin to continually reinforce the notion that you’re worth pursuing the life you want.

Begin moving toward your goals in small, daily actions.

There’s a concept I like to use when shifting any mindset or lifestyle behavior, called “laddering your thoughts.” It’s a gradual, step-by-step approach that allows you to, over time, go from one pattern of thought to an entirely different one. The method can help shift your thinking from I can’t do this to Maybe I’ll be able to do this to I am doing this to This is a part of who I am. Eventually, if you practice it enough, the thing you thought you weren’t capable of will start to feel like a part of your identity.

If you want to write a book, you need to write every day. If you want to find a long-term partner, you need to slowly start meeting other people. If you want to save more money, you need to start saving (even if it’s in small amounts!) to begin to get the ball rolling. In terms of my running practice, I was stuck in the I can’t do this limbo for so long, but now that I’m actively practicing running on a regular basis, I’m slowly shifting to the latter end of the spectrum described above.

You are not your limiting beliefs. You are not the boxes you’ve assigned to yourself, even if your past behavior may or may not confirm them. 

How freeing it is to think that we have the agency to question the boxes we’ve put ourselves in. Once I realized I didn’t have to believe every thought I had (or others had) about me, I was able to begin to unlock a better life.

It is possible to uncover and unlearn what we think we know about ourselves. How freeing it is to think that we have the agency to question the boxes we’ve put ourselves in. Once I realized I didn’t have to believe every thought I had (or others had) about me, I was able to begin to unlock a better life.

I hope this month you’re able to notice how often we prematurely decide what’s available to us based on these biases we have about ourselves. I hope you’ll find the realization as liberating as I have.

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