Recently, I was talking with someone about running when he asked me if I was a runner. I hesitated, and he quickly replied, “That means no.” For many years, I would have agreed with him. I have never considered myself to be “a runner.” It’s not something I particularly enjoy; I certainly am not setting any records for running. But does that really mean I’m not a runner? What would make me worthy of that label? Because really, in those few minutes on the weekend when I’m running, I am a runner.
Likewise with being an introvert, a characteristic that has been celebrated somewhat more recently. Most psychologists acknowledge that people may fall at different places along the introversion-extraversion continuum in different circumstances, though people tend to be labeled as one or the other. I have always considered myself more of an introvert and fit comfortably into that role. Except that it doesn’t always fit. When I was described once as being outgoing, I was taken aback, but when I paused to reflect on the things that made me outgoing to that person, I realized that my interpersonal style doesn’t always follow the same script.
The stories we tell ourselves about who we are and what we can do are powerful. In reflecting upon the stories I have about myself or the labels I have given myself (or have been given by others), I see that I have been limited at times in trying something that I wanted to do because it didn’t fit the mold. In saying “you’re (I’m) not a runner,” I am excused or inhibited from engaging in a behavior. When we let go of the script that we follow and instead engage mindfully in an activity that may be interesting or important to us, we don’t have to think about what we’re supposed to do; we can simply do.
For more information on building this type of psychological flexibility, read about ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy).