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What is a Label? Improve your self image, improve your performance

Label: la∙bel /′lᾱbəl/ [ley-buh-l] 1. a short word of phrase descriptive of a person, group, intellectual movement, etc. 2. a word or phrase indicating that what follows belongs in a particular category or classification.

Each day we are inundated with labels. Just open up Facebook and you will find a barrage of labels disguised as cute little cartoons or catchy phrases, or worse – paired with smilies and LOLs.

I’m an introvert… I’m a disappointment… I’m an extrovert…

I am a diet failure… I’m shy… I’m conservative… I’m crazy…

I think we often find ourselves drawn to articles or memes that somehow “justify” aspects of ourselves that we may not like, or that we feel we need to explain to the outside world in an effort to get them (or ourselves) to be OK with who/what we are.

Several years ago, I made an effort to stop labeling myself when I found myself asking for the millionth time—am I an introvert or an extrovert? The truth is, I am neither and both at the same time. So, why did I feel the need to try to put myself into a category?

I had defined myself as an introvert for so long that I actually avoided things that would typically be associated with extroverts. But once I challenged that label, I found that I am actually both – while I do have many traits that are commonly associated with introverts, I most definitely also have traits that are commonly associated with extroverts. Neither is better than the other, and by defining myself as only one, I was not giving myself enough credit for all of my traits.

That made me wonder—do any of us need a label to define or justify who we are? The answer turned out to be—no, not at all. So, the next time I found myself trying to slap another label on, I started asking myself why. Was this something that would truly help me to better understand myself, or was it something I was using to try justify or to explain myself to others? More often than not, I was assigning labels to myself that were actually limiting who I actually am.

If we desire others to stop judging us and to stop labeling us, we must stop judging and labeling ourselves first. Maybe I just don’t like the generalizations of some of the typical labels I see… I don’t believe we are ever all one thing or the other, we are each a complex creation of our own character and experiences, and I feel that generalizing our personalities is not only a little bit dishonest, but very unsupportive of ourselves. I am who I am—I have strengths, I have weaknesses, I have amazing qualities, and I have flaws. I am a unique combination of all of these things…

One of the key components of the Mental Management System is the Self-Image Function. The Self-Image Function is what makes you act like you, it is your comfort zone. You will never perform better or worse than your Self-Image. This is the area of your mental game that is most affected by “I am” statements and labels. While “I am” statements can be helpful as they can be used to help grow your self-image (for example, through the use of Directive Affirmations), I believe it is critical that you only use labels with reflection and purpose. I am strong, I am kind, I am a winner, I work hard… and of course, my all-time favorite—I am batman!

But anytime a label is used in a way that may limit or shrink our self-image, it may be keeping you from being all that you can be.

When I think about all the labels I have heard fellow competitors assign themselves: I am weak, I am not flexible enough, I am nervous, I won’t win… I have to think how are these helpful? They’re not. Sometimes we confuse being “humble” with needing to discount ourselves and our abilities. Another very simple label that I hear all too often is “I don’t take good pictures”. It seems people have a laundry list of reasons why they don’t want to have their picture taken:

I’m too fat… My hair is a mess… I’m too ugly… I’m too frumpy… I hate my smile… No one wants to see me…

If someone asks to take a picture with you, it is most likely because they are seeing you as a whole person. A “Whole Person” who they enjoy, who they love, who they respect, who they care about. They are not fixated on your weight, your clothes, or your hair. They absolutely do NOT care if you always take “bad” pictures.

They want a picture with you because you:

  • are exactly who you are
  • at exactly that moment
  •  and that is what they want to remember.

In group shots, please do not hide behind the group and pretend like you are not there. We want to see YOU, all of you! Smile, shine, be silly… let the world know and see that you were there!

Trust me, I know the feeling! I was one of those who always avoided the camera at all costs because I “took bad pictures”. But surprisingly, once I let go of that label and worked on changing my self-image about having my picture taken – I actually started taking better pictures.

Remember the subconscious moves the body to match what the self-image is picturing. If you are mentally picturing yourself taking bad pictures, what are you most likely to get? A bad picture! Once I stopped labeling myself, my self-image changed. I was able to picture myself having fun taking pictures, of looking good in the pictures, and guess what – that is now what I usually see in my pictures. My new found attitude and confidence started actually coming through in the pictures.

It is also important to remember that what we immediately think about, talk about, and write about after something has the biggest impact on our future performances. No, not all my pictures are perfect. But instead of looking at each shot and picking apart every negative thing I can find, I just laugh and move on… or admire that amazing pair of shoes that I decided to wear that day! I enjoy these memories, and so do your friends and family. So, please do us a favor—if someone asks to take a picture with you just smile, have fun, and show the beautiful person that you are! Beautiful and Special do NOT require being perfectly shaped, groomed, or dressed. Special moments with friends may be short and we never know how many we may have—so smile, enjoy it, and capture the memory.

And all of this applies to our performances too—if we allow ourselves to focus on our nerves or what might go wrong, we are not protecting our self-image. If we post training videos and label them with disclaimers such as “I’m not very good”, “this is horrible”, “I’m uncoordinated”, we are not protecting our self-image. We do not need to say it is something it isn’t, but we do need to allow ourselves the grace of not being perfect. Instead of putting a label on it, seek or find the solution. Instead of saying “this was horrible”, you can say “I’d love to improve this, does anyone have any suggestions?” This will get both you and your friends thinking about solutions, how things could be done to be even better… and you will be more likely to make those improvements in the future rather than getting dragged down by your label.

It just makes me sad when I see so many friends putting negative (or at least not constructive) labels on themselves or what they do. Absolutely love and accept who you are, for what you are! If there is truly something about yourself you would like to change or improve – by all means, work on it. But do not punish yourself for it, and do not damage your self-image in the process. Finding our ideal “self” is a journey, it is what life is about… and ideal does not mean perfect – it is simply making an effort to be the best you can be.


Kris Hurley
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