When the past and the present collide

I once read a book about how to become a millionaire. That wasn’t really my goal (though I wouldn’t complain!); I was more looking for inspiration while I was in the process of opening up my own fitness studio. One of the homework assignments they had me complete was to reflect on how money was viewed in my family as a child, adolescent, and into young adulthood. It opened my eyes to how I view finances and what my needs and wants are. If I sincerely wanted to become a millionaire, I would need to change my thought process and behavior to reflect that.

I like to have my clients apply this exercise to their fitness and eating habits, as well. People will often say, “my parents are/were overweight and unhealthy, it is just my genetics” or, “we didn’t eat healthy growing up, so that is why I eat the way I do”. I once had a client tell me that her mom would make fun of thin women when she was growing up. She believed that was an issue for her when she was trying to lose weight. Her mother’s voice was in the back of her head saying “it would be dumb or silly to be thin, why would you want that?”.

The reality of all of this is, we can change our beliefs and behavior if we want to. Using childhood upbringing as an excuse for certain behaviors is likely holding some back from going to the gym or eating healthy. They just may not have made that connection yet.

Getting a bit more serious for a moment to provide another example, I once worked at a Children’s Home for at-risk youth and adolescents. I counseled a 16 year-old girl who sticks in my mind when I discuss past experiences and present behaviors. Through therapy sessions, she revealed that as a child, her father had sexually assaulted and molested her. This young girl weighed over 250 pounds, was rapidly gaining weight, and said she had no desire to lose it. As we dug deeper into our sessions, we discovered that she believed if she were unattractive, men would not be interested in her and would leave her alone. It broke my heart. Fortunately, with an amazing team at the Children’s Home helping her, she was able to accept her past for what it was and move forward, even at a young age. I am sure she still has to work on this today, some 18 years later.

It is important to take some time to reflect on your upbringing and beliefs from a fitness and health standpoint. To understand where your current beliefs and behaviors stemmed from. In connection with this, I don’t believe in blaming parents or others for our current behavior; but it does happen often. We can’t control what has happened in our past, but we can control our present and future. When we start blaming our earlier years on our behaviors today, we set ourselves up for failure. When we take time to reflect, accept, and acknowledge our upbringing and how it relates to our current behavior, we have a much greater chance at changing our negative behaviors and incorporating healthier ones in their place.

It is also important to pay attention to how those around you today affect you and your behavior. If your significant other has a differing opinion than yours about food and exercise, for example, that can play a large role in your current behavior. Even if you don’t share their beliefs, you may be acting in a manner that is similar to their beliefs and behaviors. Do you suppose this could be holding you back from achieving your goals?

Humans are capable of change. It won’t happen overnight. You will “fall off the wagon” occasionally. You will need to learn to forgive not only others in your life, but also yourself. Take some time to reflect on why you maintain habits you wish to change. You may not need to dig deep and bring up significant and hurtful situations from your past; but just being aware of how they are affecting you today can help you heal and move forward and in the right direction.


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