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The Labels Given To Us. And The Ones We Give Ourselves

Have you ever put labels on things? Labelling a thing as good or bad, positive or negative?

They help us make sense of the world. Places label toilets as “Men’s” or “Women’s” so we know where to go and pee.

But they aren’t all useful.

Telling a child “they’re a good kid, grade A, top of the class”. Or say “They’re a bad student, failed, bottom of the class”.

You’ve put labels on that child.

What will the outcome of each be? It’s hard to tell. But we will have a good idea.

And that’s the problem with labels. They can be self-fulfilling or society-fulfilling.

But, the great thing with “sticky labels”, is that you can “peel them off in seconds”

The Labels Society Gives Us

The Labels Given To Us. And The Ones We Give Ourselves

We get labelled by society all the time.

It starts from a young age too.

The book “Mindset” by Dr Carol S. Dweck writes about the impact of this.

She discusses that if you tell a child “you’re so smart”. This can develop a fixed mindset inside that child. It can hold them back later in life when things get tough.

If you tell a child “You worked so hard”. This can develop a growth mindset inside that child. That benefits them in later life, they adopt a mindset of pushing to overcome a challenge.

Now, it can get even worse for a child. If they’re told that they are a failure, that they are bad?

There are exceptions to the rule.

I’ve heard stories from the childhoods of Gary Vaynerchuk and Steven Bartlett. They have become successful despite a lot of negativity from the school system.

As I said, these are uncommon examples.

Many of the “bad” students I went to school with haven’t become very successful. I haven’t checked in with them and I hope life is treating them well. But you never hear many success stories about these people.

Only the extremes that break the rule

We Care About What Other People Think Of Us

As humans, we are social creatures.

We want people to like us, love us and society to accept us.

That can cause a problem. You are ‘X’. Wow, you’re such a ‘Y’ person. That’s awful, why would you do that, that’s so ‘Z’ and that isn’t good.

I’m guilty of listening to these statements.

One thing I’ve found out about myself over the last few years. I don’t always listen to what people say. Or care too much about what people think about me. And that’s something I’ve been working on for a long time.

But, I seek a lot of external validation from people.

I may not care about what a lot of people think. But from a small number of people, validation was what I wanted, in a positive way.

Yearning for them to ‘label me’, in a way that would be good for me.

That’s the problem.

We care too much about the thoughts, opinions and feelings of others.

Whether they are right or wrong, have good intentions. Or are trying to hurt us.

The Labels We Give Ourselves.

Now, for me, this can be worse than the labels others give us.

The way we label ourselves.

I’m going to start with a phrase I heard many years ago. It’s one of my favourite quotes of all time. One I try to say to myself as much as I can.

And it’s a quote by Henry Ford, the founder of Ford Motor Company.

“Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right”.

Holy. Fucking. Shit.

My take on this quote is that we talk ourselves out of a lot of things. I’ve done this far too many times in my life.

This quote shows you that you can do the opposite and talk yourself round. To start working towards something that you want.

Even if you don’t think you deserve it. Or have the skills or talent to achieve something.

It comes down to our inbuilt “defence” system.

Evolution Is Holding Us Back

We evolved from cavemen.

The world has evolved so fast. But the way our brains and the way humans have evolved. We can’t keep up with this fast-paced change.

Our brain treats almost everything as a threat.

It’s looking out for that animal that is going to jump out and kill us. Or that wild fruit that can poison us. Watching out of the other tribes in the area to protect our tribe and the people we love.

But, the modern world doesn’t work like that.

So our brains are still operating from a place of fear. Looking for threats and potential life-or-death scenarios. Trying to find things that have a downside.

That’s why we talk ourselves out of things.

We label ourselves as something to protect ourselves.

We use them as excuses to mask failures or lack of trying.

And that is a problem

The “Comparison” Game

We also don’t label ourselves as something. Because our belief is we need a stack of evidence before we are worthy of that label.

Take running for example.

If an amateur runner trains 4 to 5 times a week. And has run many marathons. Has 3 or 4 events booked and planned out. And, is always posting on social media photos from his running escapades.

You will say, even he will say, that “He’s a runner”.

But you won’t label yourself a runner.

“I only started 3 months ago. I’m running 3 times a week currently. And have only built up to doing 5KM runs”.

“I’m not a runner”

I call bullshit.

And I’m sorry if this is going to hurt your feelings and piss off that “caveman” part of your brain.

But you are a runner.

Being a runner doesn’t have a barrier to entry.

You don’t have to have done X number of miles in training for some huge event. Or have had to do 87 ultra marathons. Have a subscription to Strava and track every single mile you run.

Yes, there are different levels to “being a runner”

But they aren’t set in stone.

If you’ve bought all the running gear, and have downloaded a basic training plan. And have started running, even if you haven’t been able to work up to what the plans say.

Well. Then. You are a runner.

All Great Achievements Start With A New Label

Do you think Micheal Phelps, who is one of the greatest swimmers of all time. Was labelled as a world-class swimmer? Either by himself or others the first time he got into a swimming pool?

Did he even get called “a natural” in the early days?

He didn’t listen to anyone and didn’t label himself in a negative way.

What he did was to label himself as a swimmer. Then turn up every day and back up that new label.

The same goes for Conor McGregor

He told himself, labelled himself as “A World Champion MMA Fighter”. Long before this happened. Before he was even a semi-professional.

I am using world-class performers as examples.

You may not think that they are relevant.

But, I disagree, that they are important because of what we can learn from them.

It’s not about having the goal to top the world at something.

But, if we want to improve areas of our life. Then we have to start by labeling ourselves as that said thing and get to work.

Labels Can Taken Off Or Put On

Have you ever been to a conference or networking event?

The first thing that happens is you put on a label.

You go to the welcome desk. They check that you’re registered and give you a welcome pack. Then they give you a blank label so you can write your name on it and stick it to your chest.

Then, when you leave the event. I bet the first thing you do is to rip that label off and throw it in a bin.

Life is one big networking event.

Society will write on a sticky label and smack it on your chest.

You will write on a sticky label and whack it on your chest.

These labels that are stuck on might not be good for us.

We don’t realise that we can peel a label off at any time.

How Can We Use Labels To Help Us?

So, both society and ourselves stick labels to our chests.

A lot of labels we stick to our chest are “self-limiting” we are trying to protect ourselves from harm.

We don’t use them to help us grow or improve.

And very rarely do we take these labels off.

Now we are aware of all these labels on our chest. What can you do about them?

Cross It Out And Rewrite It.

Some of our personality traits have labels put on them.

We view these labels or words as a bad thing. A negative.

But, you shouldn’t see them that way. They need reframing and rewriting to help us. So that ingrained trait of ours, works for us, not against us.

I did this recently.

I’ve always been a drinker. And I’ve developed a bad relationship with alcohol. I’m starting to think there aren’t any good relationships with alcohol. That’s for another blog post.

In August 2023. I decided that I was giving up alcohol for an extended period. And I managed to not drink booze for over 100 days. I did over a quarter of the year alcohol-free and got close to a third of 2023 without hitting the demon drink.

Over the Christmas period of 2023, I did have a few drinks.

Then on New Year’s Eve, I said to myself that I was not going to drink for the first four months of 2024.

To go the first third of the year without drinking.

I’d forgotten that I was going on a Stag Do in February.

UK Stag Dos are all about the drinking. No sightseeing. No activities, not even a meal in a nice restaurant. It’s all about the booze.

I’d committed to not drink and I was sticking to it. Even on the Stag Do

Stubborn = Driven

A few friends tried hard to get me to drink.

I didn’t crack.

It shocked me what a friend then told me.

After seeing the shit I was getting, the “abuse” aimed at me from one or two friends. Another friend came over and sat next to me.

He said:

“Phil, I’ve not tried to get you to drink, I know you won’t, so there is no point trying. I remember the first few times I met you, I thought to myself. He is a driven young man. You’ve decided not to drink and that is that”.

It blew my mind.

I stared at him, with a blank expression. Said thank you and started laughing, saying “Do you mean stubborn?”.

That’s when I realised, I knew I could start reframing things. Changing how I viewed myself, my personality, and parts of me that I deem as a negative.

Stubborn is a label that I’ve had throughout my life.

The word “Stubborn” needs to be crossed out on the label on my chest.

I can now write “Driven, Committed”.

I’m no longer annoyed by the way I am. Now, I can use it to my advantage.

Take Off The Old. Put On The New

That’s the great thing about a sticky label.

You can rip it off.

So why can’t we rip off these labels stuck on us? Yes, it’s easier said than done. But it is doable. You can rip it off.

Start by becoming aware of a label.

Then ask yourself a question “Is this label serving me?”. It could be a straight Yes or No answer. Or it could be more complicated than that.

If you find you’ve got lots of labels given to you by others. That makes you feel like shit, then rip them off. Discard them.

But What If They’re Right

I’ve seen a lot of content from the entrepreneur Alex Hormozi recently.

One of his riffs which he talks about a lot, is about labels.

“What if someone calls you a piece of shit? What if they’re right? And??”

What I love about this. Is the label could be right? It could be a label you don’t want. But you can still take it off, ignore it. More so if that label prevents you from taking action, or from working towards something.

If ripping the fucker off your chest means you start doing the work.

Regardless of whether it’s right or not.

Then take it off, NOW!

New Labels = The Future You

Giving ourselves new labels could be the best way to get what we want in the future.

It starts with a vision of a “future you”

Let’s go back to my running example.

One of my goals for 2023 was to run a half marathon. I’d run a few before, but this time I’d set myself a target. To look at how quickly I wanted to run it. A time that would mean I’d push myself, in both the race and in training.

I wanted to run the half marathon in under 1 hour 50 minutes.

So, I started labelling myself as that.

Not telling myself, well I’m not a runner. To start making excuses about why that time is too hard for my age and running ability. I didn’t think that if I don’t hit that time, it proves I’m not a runner.

Fuck that.

“I’m a runner”

6 months before the race, I drafted out a weekly training plan. To hit peak training levels 2 weeks before the race. Then I stuck to the plan.

Yes, I missed some days. Others were a slog, some a breeze. But I did the actions anyway. Because now, I was a runner. A half marathon runner, with a tough target.

What happened?

Every Second Counts

I ran the race in exactly 1 hour and 49 minutes 59 seconds.

Mental, a simple label helped me hit my target. With only a second to spare

Results from a half marathon I ran in October 2023

Me with my medal after running the Manchester half marathon in October 2023

What I’m getting at is you need to have a vision of “future you”.

Then put the labels on yourself that will turn the vision into reality.

It won’t be easy. It will be hard, you will feel like you’re lying to yourself. You are and you aren’t.

But if you start identifying as a said thing.

Then you become said thing.

It starts with a label.

Conclusion: Labels

We, others, and society throw around labels all the time.

Some might be true, others may not.

What tends to happen is that these labels become true in our minds, when they may not be. Also, thinking that they are permanent, that you can’t take them off.

We don’t realise that we can cross out a label and rewrite it, to go from a negative to a positive.

You can take a label off at any time too. It feels impossible. It isn’t.

If that label isn’t serving you, it hasn’t got future you as its priority. Rip the dam thing off.

Then, get yourself a new set of sticky labels and a Sharpie. And start writing and sticking the labels you want for yourself on your chest.

Take control and responsibility for what you want from yourself.

Otherwise, society will continue to label you instead.

And that will make you feel worthless.

Wait, want more tips & tricks? Yes, please!

Who Is Phil Hughes

I am a coder, content creator & software consultant for start-ups and FTSE 100 companies. I am obsessed with productivity, self-improvement, and building a lifestyle business.
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