Sticky labels

“The thing is, I’ve made a bit of a mess of things.  I don’t normally talk about it ‘cos it’s embarrassing.  I’m an idiot.  I don’t have any options now.  What else could I do anyway, I’d just make another mess.”

The problem with being human is we make mistakes, and then we let our own thoughts lead us to believe the mistakes we make define us as people.  Our brains are clever things and those stories we tell ourselves stick.  We stick a big “idiot”, or “useless” or “not good enough” label to ourselves then we look for evidence we are right and, because we are searching carefully, we find it.  “Oh, look!  I knocked the milk over.  What an idiot!”, or “I didn’t finish that piece of work on time – I knew I wasn’t good enough to do this job”.

Oh boy, that evidence is sticky.  Ever tried using super glue?  It’s strong stuff.  There’s a reason there’s a warning on the packet.  Pretty soon we are covered in big sticky labels.  It’s tricky to move around with all those labels stuck everywhere.  The evidence you’ve got says, “yes, you are an idiot.”  That’s one way of looking at it.  “You are an idiot, you’re not good enough, you’re useless, you’re never going to get out of there.  You’re never going to enjoy your work.   You’re always going to make a mess of everything you do so you may as well not try at all.”  Those are all ways of looking at where you are right now. It doesn’t mean they are true, it doesn’t mean that is the only way of looking at it, but that’s how your brain has interpreted the world.  The great news is there are always other ways you could choose to look at you and your situation.

Choice. Funny little word. We often forget we have a choice.  But we do.  We always have a choice.  It sounds glib.  Many people face situations that are far from ideal, if not downright horrific and, even in those dark places in life, we have a choice in how we respond.  Stories abound of prisoners in the horrendous World War Two concentration camps who chose not to be robbed of their internal selves and freedoms.  Prisoners who gave up their meager rations to help another, or chose to take a stand.

How can we choose another way if all we can see is what’s written on our sticky labels? Let’s try finding another way of looking at ourselves and our situation first. What if your best friend shared with you what they think?  Maybe it would go something like this: “Yeh, you had a really bad experience and you made some rubbish decisions, but look at you!  You’re really good at X, Y and Z and you always make us laugh.  You’re always here for your mates.  Loyal, that’s you – and isn’t that why you made the decisions you did, you were just being loyal.  That’s great!”   Hmm, that could be an interesting way of thinking about it.  Not an idiot or not good enough – loyal and funny, and a very good friend.

What about your old teacher from junior school?  Perhaps they would say: “You were always kind when another child hurt themselves, and would help them out in class if others were struggling”.  Not an idiot or useless – kind and caring.

Let’s try another.  What can that bright red, shiny, very fast sports car you dream of have to say about it all?  Yep, sounds crazy, doesn’t it?  Go with me here… You dream of driving it too fast on a race-track because you like the rush of speed – it feels good to have control.  You put music on and sing loudly because you love it.  Not an idiot, not useless – in control and musical.

Do you see the power of looking at things in another way? Suddenly you’ve gone from being an idiot, useless or not good enough to being loyal, funny, kind, caring, in control and musical. Now you have a choice.  You can stay stuck and keep believing the old labels, or you can choose a new one.  Maybe all the new ones.  “I’m an idiot” becomes “I’m loyal and caring”.  It’s not easy.  Our minds keep pulling us back to our old ways of thinking, over and over again – it’s a safety net and it’s a challenge to break free. And each time we choose to believe the new label and respond differently we climb a little further out of the net into freedom.  It might just let enough light in that we remember our situation isn’t quite as hopeless as we thought and maybe, just maybe, we can take a little step forward.


What are two different ways of looking at yourself, or your situation, today that mean something for you?

Use the prompts in the post above, or look around you for ideas (e.g. how would your grandparents see this, what would your boss see, how would your situation change when you look at a pair of bright red shoes/driving a tank/dressed as a cartoon character).

Pick one, and choose to believe it today.  Choose it especially if it makes you feel uncomfortable or silly. Write it down where you’ll see it again and again.  Use your phone to send you prompts.  What’s different?

Share it below!

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