The Top 5 Ways Labels Limit Us | IT 036

Sep 9, 2020

Labels help us make sense of the world when we are young and we need them to put everything into context to understand it. But if as adults we cling tightly to these labels, we ignore the complexity of human beings. Human beings are beautifully complex creatures, each one different from the next. So while labels can help us, if we hold tightly to any one label, it is easy to ignore the complexity of the other person who shares the opposite label

The Top 5 Ways Labels Limit Us

In This Podcast

Summary

  • Creating labels as humans
  • Assimilation vs. Accommodation
  • 5 ways labels limit us
  • Blueprint to thrive quickstart

Creating labels as humans

As humans we create labels. We need to label something to define it and understand it in relation to what we already know – to put something in context. Picture a file on the desktop of your computer. You might have a folder labeled house. You might have another folder labeled car, work, school, medical….and many other labeled folders. The reason you labeled the folders is so you know exactly where to place new documents, where they belong. If you just had several folders with no labels, you would not know where to put information, and you would know where to find the information when you need it.

This is how our brain works. When our brain receives new information, it does one of two things – it puts information in an existing folder or creates a new folder for the information. Our brain either assimilates or accommodates.

Assimilation vs. accommodation

Assimilation occurs when we modify or change new information to fit into our schemas (what we already know). It keeps the new information or experience and adds to what already exists in our minds. 

In other words, if we have a file folder on a particular subject already in our brain, we may take similar information and modify it to fit in that folder. We might have a folder labeled “car” for instance, and when we receive a bill for car insurance, we will put it in the “car” folder instead of creating a folder just for car insurance. 

That’s assimilation. Now the other option for our brain is accommodation.

Accommodation is when we restructure or modify what we already know so that new information can fit better. This is when we create a new folder. If we do not have a current folder already labeled for the new information to fit with, we must create and label a new folder. So if you receive a bill for car insurance and you have no folder for car and no folder for insurance, you create a folder for this new subject matter.

So anything and everything we learn becomes a basis for understanding what we learn next- as a sort of lens through which we see the world and experience it

5 ways labels limit us

5. They make it easy to create assumptions. Because we know a couple of things about someone, we think we know all about them.

4.  Labels exclude opportunities.  I’m not telling you to ignore your instinct, but just to think about what thoughts you had that leads to such categorization. Maybe that person was just having an off day, I know I have off days all the time. 

3. They limit curiosity.  If we slap that label on too quickly we won’t allow ourselves the space to be curious and to learn more about it. We’ll move onto the next things.

2. Labels can be divisive, especially right now. It seems as if choosing a label right now means you are automatically the enemy of anyone else who does not associate with that label.  Extreme judgment, fear, and anger come along with labels right now.

1. They form and limit our identities. Our own labels can be rigid and absolute and can most definitely determine the course of our lives and what we allow ourselves to do.

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Kathryn Ily

Meet Kathryn Ely

I’m Kathryn Ely and at age 50, I’m enjoying my very best life. I spent years as a lawyer and then stay-at-home mom helping others go out into the world and live their best lives. While this was very important to me, I did not realize that I was losing myself in the process. I followed all of the “shoulds” like “women should always care for others” and “taking time for yourself is just selfish”.

As two of my children were getting ready to go out into the world I realized I was lost, without my next purpose, and it was scary. So I went back to school and over the course of several years, I not only found myself, but I designed the formula for women in midlife to achieve their most fulfilling lives. It is my mission to equip as many women as possible with this design and the tools to make this chapter of their lives the best chapter.

Thanks for listening!

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Imperfect Thriving is part of the Practice of the Practice Podcast Network, a network of podcasts seeking to help you thrive, imperfectly. To hear other podcasts like the Bomb Mom Podcast, Beta Male Revolution, or Empowered and Unapologetic, go to practiceofthepractice.com/network.

Podcast Transcription

Kathryn:

As humans we create labels. We need to label something to define it and understand it in relation to what we already know- to put something in context. Picture a file on the desktop of your computer. You might have a folder labeled house. You might have another folder labeled car, work, school, medical….and many other labeled folders. The reason you labeled the folders is so you know exactly where to place new documents, where they belong. If you just had several folders with no labels, you would not know where to put information, and you would know where to find the information when you need it.

This is how our brain works. When our brain receives new information, it does one of two things – it puts information in an existing folder or creates a new folder for the information. Our brain either assimilates or accommodates.

Assimilation occurs when we modify or change new information to fit into our schemas (what we already know). It keeps the new information or experience and adds to what already exists in our minds. 

In other words, if we have a file folder on a particular subject already in our brain, we may take similar information and modify it to fit in that folder. We might have a folder labeled “car” for instance, and when we receive a bill for car insurance, we will put it in the “car” folder instead of creating a folder just for car insurance. 

That’s assimilation. Now the other option for our brain is accommodation.

Accomodation is when we restructure or modify what we already know so that new information can fit better. This is when we create a new folder. If we do not have a current folder already labeled for the new information to fit with, we must create and label a new folder. So if you receive a bill for car insurance and you have no folder for car and no folder for insurance, you create a folder for this new subject matter.

So anything and everything we learn becomes a basis for understanding what we learn next- as a sort of lens through which we see the world and experience it.

This explains why we all have biases- we look at the world based on our own experiences and the information we have already processed based on those experiences. 

This is why we like to label everything and share our labels. We stick bumper stickers on our cars: democrat or republican, vegan or meat lover, dog or cat person. 

Some of us take it further with stickers on the car. We see those stick figures where there is a family of a man stick figure, a woman stick figure, and 3 kids stick figures along with two dogs and one cat. We have signs in our yards. We hold signs in our hands in protest. We want the world to know what our labels are so that everyone will know who we are.

But think about how your labels define us. Do they tell the whole story?

Unfortunately, many of us are unintentionally or intentionally labeled when we are very young by someone important to us.

I have a quick story for you….I’m not sure exactly how old I was, whether it was elementary school or middle school because I went to one school all the way through 1st-8th grade. But I remember talking with my father one night, who was a great dad by the way, and he talked with me all of the time-whenever I needed to. But in this one conversation out of the many conversations we had when I was growing up, I remember him saying “Your sister is the outgoing one who everyone likes and you are the smart nerdy one like me”. Now he was probably trying to compliment my intellectual ability but that was not what my immature brain did with that conversation. It grabbed onto that label and held it for dear life. In fact that one label affected my life more than any other label from that time on until just a few years ago. 

Let’s go back to the desktop file analogy. I created my own file and labeled it smart and nerdy. And that was the lens through which I saw and experienced my life. Because I held so tightly to that label, it became my identity. Because of that label, when I received information about any other area of my life- besides school and grades, I dismissed it and let it fall to the floor. I believed I was smart. I believed I had nothing else to offer in all other realms of life—be it social, friends, athletics, you name it-everything was about school for me.

Because of this label and how I held tightly to it, I pushed myself all of the time when it came to learning but I was scared to death of everything else. I played sports but I held myself back by playing scared with no confidence. I had a couple of friends but I was petrified in every social situation that they would figure out I had nothing to offer. Now this is not a pity party. I’m not that person anymore. But I see this with my clients so often. Tightly held labels that just become tightly held limiting beliefs. 

This story is not unique to me. Another example is Michael Phelps, look what happened to him the minute he was not swimming. Heavy drinking, DUI arrest, and depression. He was lost. He did not know who he was because his identity was so tightly wrapped up as “Olympic World Champion Swimmer.”  Who was he if he was not doing that thing that earned him that label.

So let’s get on with the top 5 ways that labels limit us:

  1. Labels make it easy to create assumptions. Because we know a couple of things about someone- a couple of categories that she fits in or a couple of labels that apply to her, we know her——we think we know all about her. In reality we have barely scratched the surface. You know what they say about assumptions.
  1. Labels exclude opportunities.  How important is it when you are creating your description, or your labels, on all of your dating apps? Extremely important, because besides the photo, someone picks you out of the crowd because of how you label yourself. How you describe yourself. How many great people are you excluding from your search just because he/she might not paint a beautiful picture with the labels he/she choses. We do this even after a first date, or one time meeting a person. This is why we say first impressions are so important. It’s because in one interaction, we might decide someone is placed under the friend category, datable category, or no way in hell will I ever spend time with that person again. I’m not telling you to ignore your instincts….but just to think about what thoughts you had that leads to such categorization. Maybe that person was just having an off day….I know I have off days all the time.
  1. Labels limit curiosity. If we can associate something with a label, we will slap that label on it in a heartbeat and move on. We are so busy these days. We can check that thing off of the list and move on. If we slap that label on too quickly we won’t allow ourselves the space to be curious and to learn more about it. We’ll move onto the next things.
  1. Labels can be divisive, especially right now. It seems as if choosing a label right now means you are automatically the enemy of anyone else who does not associate with that label. Democrat or Republican, mask wearer or supporter or supporter of not wearing masks. Extreme judgment, fear, and anger  come along with labels right now.

Labels help us make sense of the world when we are young and we need them to put everything into context to understand it. But if as adults we cling tightly to these labels, we ignore the complexity of human beings. Human beings are beautifully complex creatures, each one different from the next. So while labels can help us, if we hold tightly to any one label, it is easy to ignore the complexity of the other person who shares the opposite label. It is easy to see them as someone to be feared or fought, instead of someone with whom we also have many things in common with. Labels can get in the way of seeing beyond the labels and seeing the actual person behind the label.

  1. The number one way labels limit us takes us back to my story at the beginning: They form and limit our identities. Think back to my story at the beginning. How much more enjoyment could I have taken from the first 48 years of my life if I had not created that label out of one conversation. What Michael Phelps has discovered now through therapy with a counselor is there is more to him, there is more to his identity than just being a world class olympic swimmer. He is a father, he is a husband, he is a man with much more to offer the world than just his swimming. Our own labels can be rigid and absolute and can most definitely determine the course of our lives and what we allow ourselves to do.

I do not hold tightly to my labels any longer. By doing so I allow constant change and growth in my life. 

It all begins with noticing your self-limiting labels. Start paying attention to how you categorize and label yourself. Do you have tightly held beliefs about yourself that allow no room for curiosity and growth. Labels keep us stuck if we hold to them tightly. If we think we know exactly who we are, we will not allow ourselves to change, to grow, to become who we want to be. Recognizing how you limit yourself with labels will help you recognize biases that have formed in how you see others. Once we recognize our own limiting beliefs and biases we can begin to see others through a lens of respectful curiosity. And if you ask me, our world could definitely use a little more of that.

So what is the one imperfect action you can take today to move closer to your best life? I encourage you today to take this one imperfect action toward your best life today- explore your limiting labels and begin to let go of them. Begin to release that grip and don’t hold onto them so tightly that you can’t move towards your best life. And when you do that and take that action of acknowledging and understanding your tightly held limiting beliefs and how they affect you, I want you to applaud yourself to congratulate and celebrate yourself for taking that imperfect action toward the life you want to have.

And I will meet you right back here next week.

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About Kathryn

I’ve created Imperfect Thriving to help you get back to who you really are, and live your best life possible, imperfectly.

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