Don’t Let Your Self-Image Become a Trap

Are self-imposed limitations holding you back?

I’ve spent most of my life thinking of myself as unathletic.

I was active enough as a little kid, but starting in high school, I became the stereotypical nerd who hated sports. I never played on any teams, and I spent all of PE trying to do as little exercise as possible.

I formed an image of myself as someone who was better suited for the indoors than spending time outside. Without even realizing it, I allowed that self-image to start holding me back.

As an adult, I became interested in starting to work out, but I was resistant because I felt so out of my element. Having an active lifestyle just didn’t fit the image that I had formed of myself. I’ve written before about the immense anxiety I experienced when I first started to run.

It wasn’t that I was happy with the idea of being inactive, it’s just that I had come to accept it as part of who I was.

When I finally got over it and started to exercise, I realized that I was just as well suited for it as anyone else. I didn’t have any huge, untapped natural talent, but it also wasn’t particularly difficult, and it quickly got even easier.

My self-image shifted, and these days I think of myself as very outdoorsy and fit. In addition to running, I occasionally weight lift, rock climb, hike, and kayak. I spend a very large part of my free time exploring the outdoors. My current lifestyle doesn’t match my old image of myself at all.

Who We Are Today Doesn’t Define Who We Are Tomorrow

We all have certain ways that we define ourselves. It’s impossible to avoid having some kind of image of the type of person we are, and that’s okay.

What’s important is to realize that the way we view ourselves should never become a self-imposed limitation.

I’ve found myself too often using my self-image as an excuse to avoid trying things I’m interested in, and I’m not the only one.

I’ve heard so many people say things like “I wish I could play an instrument, but I’m just not musical,” or “I want to learn to dance, but I have no rhythm.”

Sure, not everyone can become a virtuoso, but nearly anyone can learn to strum a few popular chords on a guitar. The thing holding these people back isn’t actually a lack of natural talent; it’s the limitations that they’ve placed on themselves.

This kind of thinking doesn’t just get in the way of hobbies. I was a heavy drinker for years, and during that time my self-image revolved around my addiction. It’s hard to quit when you think that drinking is simply part of who you are.

Now that I’m sober, I can see that by defining myself as a drinker I was really just providing justifications for putting off quitting.

Who we are today doesn’t have to define who we will be tomorrow.

Rather than letting our images of ourselves hold us back from what we’re interested in achieving, we should follow our goals and passions until our self-images catch up.

Written by

I’m a lawyer and teacher from North Carolina. I write about sobriety, mental health, running, and more.

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