Labels are a way we use to identify others, and ourselves. They are the words we use to describe who we think we are, and add up to the sum of our thoughts. We repeat our thoughts often enough until they become beliefs, and we become the labels that we believe make up our identity. Our thoughts have a profound effect on the way we see ourselves as athletes, determining what we think we can and can’t do, and the challenges we set ourselves. This is the way we often live our lives, living limited by the labels we have chosen. Negative labeling precipitates and encourages negative self-talk, also increase our levels of anxiety, and this can impact our ability to perform at our best.
The good news is that we have a choice to decide not to follow those negative labels, we can undo negative labeling, and replace them with positive ones that empower us as athletes.
Labels can be either positive or negative. Negative labeling that we use when we talk to ourselves, also known as negative self-talk, can hold us back from being the best version of ourselves we can be. We end up settling for less than our full potential. Just as in our physical training as athletes, we perform at our best, and have better experiences, when we engage in positive stimuli that help us become stronger, faster, and build endurance. If we are always training at a high intensity, this ends up having a negative impact on us, and our training, and performances suffer as a result. We have the choice to train our minds in the same way; we have the power to choose positive thoughts, and positive labels, to describe ourselves, and others too. Negative labeling means we end up metaphorically carrying a weight around with us – when we let go of this weight it is like having a surge of positive energy that enables whatever our dreams contain.
Often a label will come to us from an external source. A coach or a physical education teacher may tell you, “you’ll never be a runner.” You then repeat this label to yourself, until you believe it to be true, even though it may never have been true in reality. You internalize the label until it becomes so much a part of who you are, that you can’t see the truth behind the label, and it sticks. Think of any negative labels that you use for yourself – common ones that we hear from athletes are:
“I am slow;” “I suck at hills;” “I’m not a marathon runner;” “I can’t run;” “I’m too heavy;” “I’m a wimp;” “My thighs are too big;” “My thighs are too skinny” fill in the blanks with whatever labels you use….
You probably heard negative external labels when you were younger. Now is a good time to stop repeating those negatives. You owe it to yourself to take responsibility for your thoughts, and decide to interrupt anything that doesn’t support your athletic goals. If we want to be extraordinary, we need to think of ourselves as extraordinary – nobody achieved great success as an athlete by empowering negative thoughts and negative labels. Every success story comes with moments when athletes took a step beyond the ordinary, and became the best version of themselves they could be.
How do you know when you are engaged in negative labeling? One easy way is to keep a log of how many times you think about yourself in a negative, limiting way. Try this for one day, get hold of a small notebook, and write down every label that you use to describe yourself, and note it as either positive or negative, and then review at the end of the day. The next day, make a point of switching any negative labels to positives. Even if it feels like it’s not true, do it – you will reap the rewards that result from interrupting the negative flow. You can get really creative with this, so that it actually becomes fun to be engaged in switching labels around. Once you see through the serious facade, you have taken a huge powerful step forwards, and you will never look back.
Let us know how your label log works for you – take responsibility for your own thoughts, and speak only great things about yourself – your life will change as a result.
Terry provides positive coaching sessions for clients, working with athletes to enable a positive focus on their status and goals. He can also create personalized guided imagery sessions for clients, delivered as an mp3 audio file that you can listen to on multiple devices.