The Power of Labels

Reframing as attitude shift: transforming negative self-labels like “lazy” to positive ones.
Reframing as attitude shift: transforming negative self-labels like “lazy” to positive ones.
Labels, labels everywhere

When you walk into a supermarket, you’re aware of the vast array of products before you. It can be overwhelming. You have to know why you’re there and what you need to purchase, otherwise you’ll leave the store with something random that you don’t really want or need. It’s a skill to make a list, stick to it, and leave with exactly what you wanted instead of wasting time, energy, and money entertaining yourself. If you’re centered and have a sense of self, you can discriminate.

Labels, labels everywhere

Many don’t read labels: for them, ignorance is bliss. They were never taught to examine the ingredients in the products they buy. Once you know to look at a label, it can be the beginning of awareness. Now you know what you’re putting in your body. Still, you have to make a choice to have it or not—if you’re in the habit of eating certain foods, it might be hard to abstain, even if you know it’s unhealthy.

Labels can be informative, but there’s a danger to labeling people. What if as a kid you were labeled as “weird” at school because your way of thinking was original and out-of-the-box? Or what do you do when someone has a condition like cerebral palsy or bipolar disorder or Lyme disease? While these categories are useful for prescribing medication, they’re unnecessary in the practice of building strength and flexibility. When we coach clients and athletes, we can determine the place they’re starting from in the moment; we don’t need a history of what they’ve been doing in the past. In fact, too much information can be misleading if it prejudices us to miss what’s in front of us or establishes expectations that aren’t accurate.

So we’ve learned not to predict how someone will perform. But what do you do when the labels come from inside? We’ve heard many clients use labels like lazy, undisciplined, weak, slow, and unmotivated to describe themselves. Often they don’t even know they’re doing it. Again, you have to discriminate. If you notice you’re using a negative label, the first step is to inquire into it, to deconstruct it and discover why you’re dooming yourself to fail by boxing yourself into a category. Going beneath the label might only prove that what’s inside doesn’t match what the label says.

If my client calls herself lazy (5 times!) I may first point out all the areas of her life where she isn’t lazy. If she’s committed in other areas, why would she be lazy in this one? There’s an element of fear and dread in this kind of labeling, and it can fuel the wrong belief. It’s unnerving to confront the unknown as you embark upon a new lifestyle that can take you from what’s familiar. When we analyzed the idea of being lazy, we came to the simple idea of being unmotivated. How, then, do you motivate yourself? In case of this particular client, it was that she didn’t like how she looked. “I hate to be fat,” she said.

Instead of being negative, I posed the question: Is it loving to be fat? We’ve found out it’s not. And as the opposite of hate is love, so the opposite of fat is lean. Leaner means self-control, smaller portions, better food. Loving means care, and self-love will drive you to deconstruct this belief by taking action. And now my client has a new label for herself, something that may become a self-fulfilling prophesy: Amazon, a woman warrior.

Warrior Woman


Why is there a need to label? Have you been labeled by others, or are there labels you apply to yourself? Has your perception of yourself been shaped by this? Is it accurate? Is there a positive label you may have forgotten? What stops you from formulating a new idea of yourself?

Leave your response below in the comments.

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