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Choose and use your labels wisely!

Labels can help us flourish and grow or they can be limiting, dangerous or harmful. So you need to choose them wisely and handle them with care.


So this blog is all about labels. Why they’re useful, why they’re dangerous and how to choose and use them wisely:

  • Labels can help with understanding

  • Labels can be limiting…so handle them with care

  • Treat labels as assumptions. Respond to reality

  • You’re normal. You don’t need a label

  • If you really want a label, make sure you choose a helpful one!


Labels can help with understanding


We don’t know what we don’t know so labels, and the information behind them, can be really useful as they help us build understanding.


For example:

  • I’m an introvert, so that means I’m likely to need time alone to think about things or recharge my batteries.

  • You’re an extrovert, so that means you’re likely to want to brainstorm ideas with others and time with others will help you recharge your batteries.

You’ll notice I used the word ‘likely’ in those examples, and that was deliberate.

Without it, labels can enter the danger zone!


Labels can be limiting…so handle them with care


If you treat a label as the absolute enduring truth with no variation possible, it can become limiting, unhelpful and even damaging - to you or others.


Sticking rigidly to a label will limit how you think. And limiting how you think will limit how you feel, what you choose to do and what happens as a result.


Labels can limit

  • how you think and feel about yourself

  • the options you consider

  • your views about other people

  • how you respond to people and situations.


To illustrate...


Labels can limit how you think and feel about yourself
…and what happens as a result


I have imposter syndrome.

That means I don’t feel I’m good enough.

I’m scared that I’ll be found out.


This can limit how confident you feel going into a situation.


People may assume you’re great but sense your lack of confidence.


This can lead to them doubting their first judgement and assume you don’t really know what you’re talking about.

…so assuming the label is true can make the label true!


Without the label (or with a more useful label), other options become available and your reality can change.



Labels can limit the options you consider
…and what happens as a result


I’m a pessimist. Glass half empty.

That means I always see the negative side of things and expect the worst.

I won’t bother trying as I don’t think it’ll work.


The result of that? You’ve just closed the door on a world of possibility that could enrich your life through a fear of failure. And ‘failure’ is another unhelpful label.



Labels can limit your views about other people
…and that will impact how you behave with them and the relationships you form (or don’t)

Labels about others are particularly problematic when you label yourself at one end of a spectrum and a person or situation at the other



For example:

  • I’m an introvert so I hate networking and avoid it if I can

Networking with other people opens up possibilities (not just for work, but for fun and meaningful relationships). So sticking to the label can be limiting.



  • I’m an introvert. I think before I speak.

  • Extroverts are at the opposite end of the scale and don’t think properly before they speak.

  • That means they don’t allow anyone else to speak and they haven’t really thought anything through.


Sticking rigidly to these labels could lead to you (as an introvert) not getting on well with extroverts or discounting their opinions or ideas. And that’s limiting - particularly in a team environment where any idea could make a big difference.


Even from these simple examples, I hope you’ll get my point that over-reliance on labels can limit how you respond to people and situations and limit what happens in your life.


Treat labels as assumptions. Respond to reality

So…labels can increase our understanding, and the problems arise when we assume that

  • the label is 100% true for all people, in all situations and will always show up in the same way and/or

  • there is nothing we can (or should) do about it

Treat labels as assumptions

...because people and situations are unique.

  • How ‘being an introvert’ shows up could differ slightly or significantly between any two introverts.

  • I may fit the ‘introvert’ description most of the time, but in some scenarios or on some days I may not.

The safe way to use any label is to treat it as an assumption or a loose guide. To give you a clue to act on.


and

Respond to reality

You need to check to see if your assumption is valid and adjust if it isn’t.

You need to pay attention, notice what’s going on and be flexible enough to respond to reality.


Using a label as an excuse for doing nothing, not being flexible or avoiding something you don't want to do is as limiting as believing its 100% true.


…which brings me on to…



You’re normal. You don’t need a label


It’s ever so easy to compare and judge.


…and it often goes something like…

  • I’m not like them, so there must be something wrong with me, or

  • I couldn’t do that, so I must be inadequate in some way

And that can lead us to go looking for a reason WHY


Finding a label can be helpful as it can lead us to understanding and possibly resources that can help us find a way round our perceived challenge.


But remember you’re unique, and so are all the situations you’ll find yourself in.


No label will ever be true for you 100% of the time …but if you find one and decide “it’s you” then you run the risk of that label becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.


You risk the label becoming your truth and limiting your life in some way.


…but…


If you really want a label, make sure you choose a helpful one!


As labels can impact how we think, feel and behave, then if you’re going to choose one, make sure you choose a HELPFUL one!...for your life in general or specific situations :)

  • If you’re off to a networking event, why not label yourself as an extrovert who loves meeting new people? Borrow how an extrovert thinks for the event.

  • If you’re faced with something new, choose an optimist label and actively challenge yourself to go looking for the possibilities, as if a good outcome were the only option.

Look for a label or way of thinking that makes what you've got to do feel simple, manageable and comfortable! Even a glass that's half empty can seem full if you hold it at it from the right angle :)


Now, I know it doesn’t always feel like it all the time, but we do actually get to choose how we think and what we focus on, so challenge yourself to choose and use a helpful rather than a limiting label or way of looking at things!


And if you’d like to explore coaching with me as a way to help with that and find a way to manage your labels (and the impact on your life), then let’s have a chat. You can book a time here.


And if you'd like to sign up for a regular shot of how to think differently to make work and life feel more simple, manageable and comfortable, you can sign up for my monthly newsletter here.

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