That’s such a loaded, emotional question, isn’t it?
When said in that tone (you know the one!), it’s been used to challenge and even belittle us - so much so I get a little ‘antsy’ just typing it.
And, whether you realise it or not, it’s also the cornerstone of self-doubt, fear, insecurity, unwillingness to speak up or stand out and our sense that we don't belong or aren't ready or good enough.
Just who do you think you are?
The stories you tell yourself
Who you think you are (or aren't) is found in the stories you tell about yourself.
I use the word 'stories' to refer to the incessant, sometimes irrational and often emotional, chatter that goes on inside your head.
We tell ourselves stories all day, every day.
Stories about what we should or shouldn't do or say, who we are or aren't and what we can do and what we can't.
The voice of the Imposter that says you aren't an athlete, you're not a real runner, that you don't belong, aren't ready, good enough or that any minute now, someone is going to say you don't belong on the start line — those are stories we tell ourselves.
These stories form the basis of our identity; how we see ourself and our place in the world.
Now the greatest trick of the Imposter (and the secret to its power and influence over us) is that it convinces us that these stories are true.
And so, we don’t question or challenge them; instead, we believe them. We take them at face value, accept them as fact and so they form part of our identity.
But guess what?
They are only your perspective; a lens or filter through which you see the world.
And just like a filter on Instagram, they don’t always cast an accurate light.
They cast a dark shadow over, or soften the edges of, the truth of who you are, your ability and your potential.
One identity I’ve carried much of my life is that I’m not good at maths. I struggled to learn fractions in Year 4 and have a recollection (a story I tell myself) that my 4th grade teacher threatened me with the cane if I didn’t learn them.
Ok so, I’ll be the first to admit that seems pretty unlikely and it may not have happened. But that’s how I remember it. So that experience, and the fact I’m shit at maths, was the story I carried for 30+ years.
So, until recently, anytime I faced a maths challenge, I threw my hands up in the air and said to myself "I can't work that out. I'm shit at maths".
Now, I don’t think I’m genetically programmed to be hopeless at maths.
But the experience I had formed the basis of the story I told myself over the years. And that story has influenced the actions I’ve taken, like throwing my hands up in the air and thinking maths is “too hard”.
And so the story became my reality. It became part of my identity.
And likewise, you have an athletic identity too.
Your athletic identity has nothing to do with speed, distance, fitness or strength.
Your athletic identity is who you think you are. It’s how you see yourself as an athlete.
And yes, YOU are an athlete. Yes, I’m talking to you! If you don’t think you are, well, that’s part of your athletic identity too.
Jo Bailey recently revealed on Sparta Chicks Radio part of her athletic identity is:
“I’m that fat girl, at the back of the pack, from High School walking it in. That hasn’t left me. That is still in me. I look at myself when I run and I still see that girl.”
Jo has run 9 ultra-marathons over the years and yet she still struggles to shake that part of her identity.
I know many women who share Jo's experience of not being a "sporty kid" and who have carried that self-perception, story and identity throughout their lives.
Can you see how this feeds into the Imposter Complex?
If the story you’re constantly repeating over and over again to yourself is “I’m not a very good runner”, “I’m not athlete”, “I’m just a plodder” or “I’m not very sporty”, then you stand on a start line, it’s not really that surprising you might find yourself thinking “holy shit, I don’t belong here. I’m not good enough”.
Your athletic identity (ie, who you think you are)
Over the last 6 years of coaching women, I’ve realised the source of much of our self-doubt, insecurity, sense of feeling like a fraud or that we don’t belong, aren’t good enough or ready, comes from the stories we tell ourselves and our athletic identity that develops from it.
Not to mention what happens when we compare our athletic identity to the athletic identity we give to the people around us.
When you recognise the stories you tell yourself, you can clearly see - with less emotion and more objectivity - why you feel the way.
And, most importantly, you have the information you need to change the script of your stories (and your identity) to one that supports and helps you achieve your goals, rather than undermines them.
This is why the concept of an athletic identity was one of the first topics I covered during my conversation with Dr Simon Marshall on Sparta Chicks Radio
It’s also at the cornerstone of my work with the athletes I coach - whether they realise it or not 😉
And it’s why it is one of the key tools we’ll be working through inside the Sparta Chicks Arena.
So who do you think you are?
I have a longer process, but it starts with asking yourself questions like:
1. What are your facts?
Age, weight, marital status, FTP (if you've done any testing), age group, PBs, races completed etc.
Facts are measurable and certain (“I’m a slow swimmer” is a story - it’s not a fact).
2. Describe yourself, as though you were introducing yourself to a close friend and a complete stranger?
Write down the warts-and-all, unfiltered answer.
If you sent me an email, how would you introduce and describe yourself to me?
Then underline the facts in your story and circle the stories. Remember facts are certain and measurable.
Stories are subjective comments or opinions, often related to speed, position in the pack or duration in the sport. Also, look for words like ‘just’, ‘only’ and ‘but’.
3. How do you think others would describe your athletic ability?
4. What motivates you?
What brings you the most joy in your training and racing? Why do you do the training and the sessions you do? Are you motivated by chasing faster times or different experiences?
5. What are 30 things you've achieved in life you didn't think you could?
This question is one of my favourites — and one of the hardest! The first 15-20 answers might be easy. But don’t quit when you get stuck; keep pushing until you get a list of 30.
These answers are facts you can add to Question #1.
Then, go back through your answers to the previous questions and see if any of your achievements prove your stories actually are, in fact, false (or, at the very least, aren’t as accurate as they seem).
I also love this question because so much of our attention is focused forward, at our next race, distance or speed and this can feed our sense of never being "good enough". But this question will help you reflect on and appreciate what you’ve already achieved.
Remember what I said about our stories being our perspective or a filter through which we see the world?
That’s the thing about your identity and how you see yourself; it's your brain’s default setting.
So the first step (and sometimes the hardest) is to recognise your stories and how you see yourself (i.e., your identity).
Then you can, with more objectivity, look back on your past and understand why you felt the way you did.
You can see more clearly why you didn’t feel confident, ready, good enough or that you belonged. You can understand why you weren’t satisfied or fulfilled by a race result you’ve been working towards for months.
This approach is encapsulated by the first line of Gandhi's quote I mentioned last week:
“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
Once you can understand your beliefs and stories, you can slowly but surely, start to understand and then change your thoughts, words, actions, habits and ultimately results too.
As I said last week, this is the piece in the puzzle that most people miss when they only focus on changing their actions and habits (the training sessions they do, the groups they train with and the goals they set) and don’t also address their underlying stories, beliefs, self-identity, thoughts and words.
Instead, this process will help you see your ability and potential in a more objective and realistic light.
The way I see you.
I know you are capable of far more than you can possibly ever imagine.
This process will help you see it too 🙂