Letting Go of Our Judgmental Narratives

I took a walk this morning. That seems very unremarkable, I know. It wasn’t a heart pounding run or even a hike through beautiful vistas. Nope. It was just a long, ambling walk around my neighborhood. I have been taking these walks almost daily for most of the summer and for me, that is remarkable. Why? Because for the last 17 years I have been a pretty avid runner. Marathons, half-marathons, and obstacle races were my thing. Walking for fitness seemed, well, pointless. I figured if I had the time to lace up my shoes and go outside, running was better than walking. I’ve known certain athlete types who would snicker behind someone’s back when they said walking was their exercise routine. “Walking isn’t exercise,” they would scoff, “walking is something you do to get to your mailbox or into the grocery store.” While I would never foist that kind of judgment on anyone else, I heaped that judgment on myself. Walking felt wimpy and I’m not wimpy.

Then about a year ago, running stopped being as much fun. It hurt more than it used to and the endorphin rush became harder to come by. I still forced myself out, but with less frequency. Sometimes weeks would pass without a run, when before I was lacing up my running shoes several times a week. I found that while I didn’t miss running, I did miss the routine of being alone outside with my thoughts. “What if,” I thought, as if it was some radical realization, “I just started going for walks during the time I would normally run?” And so I did. I made the choice to set down my “walks are wimpy” bias. I changed the story I told myself about exercise, about how to spend my time, and about what my body needs.

As I walked, feeling recharged and invigorated by the gift of time I had given myself, I realized how silly it was to have held on to such an unhelpful narrative for so long. Now, as I take my daily walks, I challenge myself to identify other beliefs, assumptions or narratives that I am holding on to that don’t serve me anymore. What else might I be missing out on because I have a prescribed way of thinking about something? I ponder how those thoughts could be holding me back, and that if only I set them down, it would be suddenly lighter and easier to do the things I want to do. It reminds me of the bumper sticker I see occasionally: Don’t Believe Everything You Think

These narratives can be seemingly small and inconsequential (i.e. walking means I’m wimpy), but we can also hold on to some large and debilitating narratives as well (i.e. a setback proves I am a failure). We can be too quick to declare something as “good” or “bad.” Running, good. Walking, bad. Heather Lanier, in her TED Talk, recounts the parable of a farmer who experiences a related series of seemingly good and bad luck. At each episode of fortune or misfortune, the farmer simply says, “Good or bad, hard to say,” refusing to make judgment. She goes on to say that reality is more fluid and has much more to teach us if we can loosen the grip of labeling it as definitively good or bad.

Resilience, I believe, is found in that space between good and bad. In that loosened grip, we shape and understand the story in ways that serve us and empower us, instead of it holding us back or narrowing our experience. It allows us more options for moving forward whether we do so running or walking.

Author’s Postscript: Yes, I know. I wrote about running right after my article about not using sport’s analogies. This article could have been subtitled, “Don’t @ Me; It’s Not Really a Sport’s Metaphor.” Also, I enjoy irony.

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