Years ago, back in my late 20’s, I went out for a walk on a ridiculously HOT day.

Years ago, back in my late 20’s, I went out for a walk on a ridiculously HOT day. It was so hot that I decided to take my T-shirt off and walk in my sports bra. Even as I did this, there was a little voice in the back of my head that said, you know good girls don’t walk around in just their bra. This point was proven as I walked by two women, a bit younger than me, both looked at me funny and then cruelly said “no-one should walk around like that, let alone you. Put some clothes on”

I was shocked and shook my head, kept walking and yelled that is your problem not mine. I wish I would have believed that and kept that attitude. When I returned home, I began to feel shame, shame for my body, shame that I didn’t look right, shame that even though it helped cool me down I was wrong to do it and because of what someone thought about me, shame for who I was.

This “belief” or narrative as I prefer to say would stay with me for more than 30 years. I define a narrative as something you tell yourself that often sounds like a fact; used to provide direction on how you live and believe can not be changed. (Spoiler alert: that last part – not true).

In this case, the narrative I had was that it wasn’t appropriate for me to work out outside without a shirt because of how I looked regardless of how hot or overheated I would become.

Flash forward to this summer, during a group workout class outside after a storm blew through that caused the temperature and humidity to rise, we were running hills and doing strength – like slam balls and burpees. When we got to the speed drills portion without thinking I just took off my tank and ran in my sports bra. Then one of my friends in the class – another woman – did the same thing and said as we ran past each other good idea and smiled.

It wasn’t until I was driving home that I realized what I did. It was natural and normal for me. I didn’t question it and I didn’t have the narrative that I carried all my life telling me not to do it. Let me tell you, I can’t believe I waited this long to run outside in just my workout bra.

We all have narratives. The trick is to figure out what narratives help you move your life forward and what narratives you need to throw out because they are holding you back. Narratives aren’t exclusive to experiences you had – like the two women I saw on my walk – narratives can come from:

  • What you were taught in school and/or by your parents
  • Stories you heard from your friends
  • Things you’ve read in books, magazines, emails, the internet, etc..
  • Things you have seen on social media or on the internet
  • Societal norms, societal constructs, societal perceptions – ie what society says is “right”
  • What you see on TV and in movies
  • What you learned from organizations (political, religious, membership groups, etc..)
  • What you hear from music
  • Different sayings you have heard throughout your life – ie Money doesn’t grow on trees

Narratives are normal. The trick is to determine if the narrative is helpful and useful to you or is holding you back.

Step one is identifying if you are following a narrative. I usually ask myself the following:

  • Is this a story I’m telling myself?
  • Is it true?
  • Does it serve me? Which leads right into step 2

Step two is if that narrative is of use to you. Not all narratives need to be thrown away. Some narratives are useful and others as you’ll learn not so much. How do you determine if a narrative has value to you? You have to challenge your thoughts and beliefs on a regular basis.

Here are just a few of the questions I ask myself when I’m examining or challenging a narrative I have:

  • Where did you learn this?
  • Is what I think based on facts, assessment/opinions, a should (what I should do), something that I was told/taught/heard?
  • Why does it matter?
  • Is this helping me? Moving me forward?
  • How will my life change if I don’t do this?
  • What benefits am I getting from this?
  • What happens if I do things differently?
  • If I continue this way, will I disappoint myself?
  • Do I need to replace this narrative with something else?

You don’t have to use all these questions. (I like questions and ask a lot of them. It is no surprise that I have a list of them 😊)

Simply put, you must get curious and ask yourself where things came from and if it adds value to your life.  If it doesn’t serve you, then decide what you need to replace it with a new narrative or throw it away and never use it again.

I’ve worked on this particular narrative for years but never really did the deep dive that it deserved. However, I’ve done a deep dive into other narratives I hold (that’s a blog post for another time) which intersect with this particular one. The work I did on those narratives paid off as on that day in the workout class I did what was natural – gave my body a way to keep cool.  By doing that and not even realizing it until I got home, I was able to completely close the book on the narrative I had been carrying around. I would go on to buy a few new sports bras that were more crop top-like and run in them during the summer. A few weeks ago, on a rather warm fall day with the sun beating down on me while I ran, I stopped and took off the short sleeve shirt I had and hooked it through the back of the sports bra and continued my run AND I snapped a picture of it. Right now, thanks to the menopause transition, I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been and didn’t even think about it, I snapped a pic and I ran with a smile on my face.

I’ve crushed the narrative that it’s wrong to work out without a shirt on or that I have to be a certain physical shape in order to do that. My new narrative is that my priority is to keep cool; make sure I’m working out safely (not overheating) and not worrying about what others will think (yep that’s a narrative I battle often). It’s about knowing my body is strong & powerful and that I’m not a size 2 but I am a size fierce and for that, I’m prouder than words can say.

Do I wish I would have crushed this narrative years ago? Of course. It doesn’t matter how long it took. What matters is that I challenged a narrative that was rooted in me for over 30 years; tossed it away because it was not serving me and reframed a better one that improves my life.

The next time your inner voice says something, ask yourself is this true? Where did I hear it and what does it matter? Then see what happens next.

P.S. If you are interested in examining the narratives that drive you, let’s figure it out together.

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