Labels are dangerous

Leader, writer, speaker, thinker, golfer, strategist, procrastinator, runner, hiker, decorator, gardener, boater...the list could go on and on. We should take great care to never label ourselves, label others, or accept labels from others. Labeling is one of the most dangerous things we do to ourselves because they immediately limit us. Note than I am not differentiating between "good" or "bad" labels because they are all bad.

All labels are things we do but not who we are. This means that just because we do something doesn't mean we are that thing. Conversely, it also means that you can do something without being labeled as such. The challenge is that we like labels because they simplify our thinking and it makes it easier for us to categorize people (including ourselves). Our brains want our world to be simple, so it makes decisions for us in terms of how we identify and understand people. Our brains do not want to "think" too much because that burns energy so it will quickly work to put labels on situations and people in order to be efficient.

Once we place a label on a person (ourselves included), they are now constrained in our minds. If we have labeled someone a procrastinator, then we will seek out confirmation of that label every chance we get. We also tend to accept labels so we begin to take on more and more characteristics of that label as well. This makes us accept these characteristics as if it were in our DNA and believe me there is "procrastinator gene".

So if labels are complete and utter bullshit, what might that mean to us?

  • You can modify your behavior at any time. You can stop or start behaviors if your current ones are not serving you. Sticking with the procrastinator example, you can start being early if you want to. There is absolutely nothing stopping you...except your own self-inflicted label. Don't get me wrong, it won't be easy but it can be done.

  • You must own your behaviors as choices. There is not pre-destination when it comes to your behaviors. There is certainly conditioning that plays into this but that can be overcome if we really want to make the change. The fact is that we are lazy and don't want to put the effort into changing. Change is fucking hard which is why so few people do it. Labeling our behavior makes it easier for us to accept it and write it off as "the way we are" and this is total bullshit. We act the way we act because we it is the easiest thing for us to do even if we don't like the results.

  • Focus more on who you are than what you do. Stop defining yourself and others by their job, hobby, or any other activity. When we meet someone, the first question we ask is, "What do you do?" Once they answer, our brain has slapped a label on them and that is that. If you meet someone and they share with you they are in sales, you immediately begin seeing them through your own lens of "salesperson". This means that your opinion of them is already set according to how you view all other sales people you have encountered and they are powerless to change it.

  • Encourage and allow yourself and others to shed labels. Don't let those close to you accept labels. Show them how these are artificial constructs that do not represent reality in any way. When someone does take action to make the change, see them differently. One of the hardest parts of change is for those close to you allowing you to change. Just think back to last time you or one of your friends decided to stop drinking/partying. How did that go over with the rest of the group? Probably not very well because it impacted others and they did not want to change. Support is paramount to success.

  • You can do something without being something. Try new things all the time without fear that you are not someone who does that thing. Play music, golf, write, lead, sell, garden, hike, whatever you think might be fun to try. You don't have to be something to do something. Conversely, even if you begin doing it, don't perpetuate the labeling.

Labeling is efficient which means our brains will fight us every step of the way if we try to avoid it so it will be work. I don't believe labeling is good for us because it allows us to accept certain behaviors and it can also prevent us from growing as a person. Perhaps we would all be better off if we looked at ourselves as "human becomings" instead of "human beings"?

The dangers of "drive-by delegation"

Happiness should not be pursued