What my attitude to competition taught me about my self image

Summer is a time for athletics and tennis.  I used to be an athlete – a 400m runner.   I loved the training, moving my body, feeling fit and strong. But I always found the competition itself very stressful and unenjoyable. In fact, on reflection, I hated it.  


I never understood my aversion to competition, but I deep down knew it was more than ‘just nerves’.  Over time I have come to realise that back then the notion of ‘competition’ was conflicting with aspects of my ‘self image’.   My ‘self image’ in those days was generally not supportive and nurturing, and it prevented me from relaxing and enjoying my talents. 


Competition for me triggered feelings of insufficiency, being ‘less than’, not good enough, having to be perfect.  I used to compare myself to other competitors, feel like a failure and ashamed when I didn’t win or didn’t set a new personal best.  I carried a belief that I had to win to be accepted, to fit in, and be liked.   


Even on the occasions I did win, it was only the recognition of others that counted, and I couldn’t enjoy the moment.  Instead I’d put more pressure on myself by telling myself I had to repeat the win over and over again.  


Kathleen Cameron (Diamond Academy for Mindset Coaching) describes self image as the set of unconscious opinions or beliefs we hold about ourselves.  It can lift us up or pull us down.  Kathleen wants us to become more aware of our self image and to change it if it is preventing us living the life we want.


It’s easy to blame our unhappiness, or lack of fulfilment, on things going on outside of you – in my youth this was competition and athletics.  But the real issue was inside.  My self image, the beliefs I carried about who I was, were causing my stress. 


Long after I stopped competing, the stories I told myself impacted on my life in other ways.  I continued to feel inadequate and as if others deserved more than me.  Sometimes I avoided opportunities that I thought I somehow didn’t deserve.  I gave myself a hard time when I made a mistake, or wasn’t ‘perfect’.  


It took me a long time to truly believe that I have useful knowledge to share.  But I came to follow my passion, change my career, and help other women along the way.   I have slowly but surely come to change my limiting self image and grown into a ‘new me’.  My new self follows my passion and helps other women love their bodies and enjoy their lives.  I think, feel and behave more positively. 



What would your new self image be like?

Change is always a process and a journey.  The start of the journey in my experience is to recognise this will take time, take the first steps and have the patience to continue.  


Here are some steps you could take to get you started on this journey of changing your self image:


Become more aware of your self image right now, as it is today.  What do you believe about yourself that is not objectively true? 


Go into your imagination.  If you could wave a magic wand, how would you like your life to change?  You may want to choose just one aspect of your life to focus on.  Eg your dream job, where you’d like to live, the sort of holidays you’d like, your relationships.  Make sure you are not thinking of what you ‘should’ be wanting instead of what you really want.  Avoid telling yourself to ‘be realistic’.   We all have an imagination so let it flow without restriction.  Images from the internet or magazines may help.


Visualise yourself actually living that part of your ideal life.  How do you behave, think and feel in this part of your ideal life?  You are now starting to look at a new version of yourself.  


Start to embody this new version of yourself.  What ONE thing or action could you implement now to take you closer to becoming the new version of yourself?  This takes time.  I still fall back into the old version of me – especially when I do something that scares me.  I am beginning to become aware of when I do this and am able to bring myself back to the new version fairly quickly. 


Changing my self image is still a work in progress.  I did say it was a long journey.  I’d love you to share what you have learnt about yourself and your self image by leaving a comment below.


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