Paradigm Shifter #37: Labels are not permanent

Paradigm Shift

The great motivational speaker Earl Nightingale stated that the greatest secret lies in 6 powerful words:  “You are what you think about.”

While this advice has often been used to help you dream about what you can become, I also believe that it reminds us that the past does not always equal the future.

Labels can be either positive or negative.  In every family, there is the “smart” one and the “artistic” one. In companies, there are the “lucky” ones and the “failures.”  These labels color our perceptions and assumptions about not only who we are, but also who we think others are.

The most challenging and destructive effect of labels is that they are predictive.  The “smart” child is generally not considered to be “artistic,” so he or she doesn’t try to learn an instrument or paint a picture.  When a “failure” experiences luck, it is often dismissed as a one-time fluke.

But the most destructive effect of labels is when the labels that we stick on others turn into biases, prejudice, and illegal discrimination.

There is an incredible amount of research on the negative effects of the labels used to discriminate against other people.  But what about the self-defeating labels that we use to describe ourselves?

The glue that adheres the “stickiest” of labels is often the result of what we believe about ourselves.  Consider these self-defeating labels:

  • “I’m too old to (fill in the blank).”
  • “Why should I even try?  I’m not the type of person to (fill in the blank).”
  • “I guess I’m just unlucky because I’m a (fill in the blank).”
  • “If I haven’t made it by now, I’m never going to make it. I’ll never be a (fill in the blank).”

Fortunately, there is hope:  the adhesives that we use to attach labels are not permanent.  By changing what we think about, we can change the attitudes and beliefs that construct the foundation of our future.

Instead of viewing the labels as unchangeable edicts about who we are, maybe it’s time to view the label as a reminder of our self-defeating thoughts.  Even if the labels that we use appear to be positive, it’s important to realize that everything can and will change.  The all-star high school athlete might not achieve the same level of success after school.  And the nerdy wallflower can blossom into a successful, charismatic CEO.

What labels are you using to describe yourself?  How would your life change if you boldly stripped that label from your self-identity?  What would happen if you also stripped away the labels that you use to characterize others?

Labels can only be sustained if we believe that they are indestructible and unchangeable.

There is an alternative to using labels that limit our opportunities and define who we are:  committing to living our lives truthfully, authentically, and without delusion.  It takes courage to recognize our self-imposed labels and their impact on our daily lives – and it takes even more courage to strip them away if they are not helping us to move forward.  By stripping away these self-defeating labels, we build the foundation for a new level of self-confidence that is both sustainable and adaptable.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to

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