There’s a lot wrong with labelling people, I think. Labelling someone as clumsy or stupid is limiting. It sets expectations. And it leads to lazy thinking and ‘-isms’. Labelling someone ‘a typical blonde’ or ‘black’ is just asking to be shocked when they don’t behave as you’re treating them. And quite right, too. We’ve all heard the stories of someone at school being labelled as ‘stupid’ or ‘lazy’ and it all too often becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
On the other hand, there’s a lot to be said for personal labels in terms of productivity. Think of a label as a form of mask or uniform and you’ll see what I mean – I hope.
- I’m thinking here, in particular, of those times when you:
don’t know what to do in the situation you’re in; or
- are feeling low, knackered or otherwise unproductive.
I figure I spend half my life to quite knowing what I’m supposed to be doing, or saying. It freaks me out and can surprisingly easily upset and unsettle me. But here’s a trick I’ve used, that other people tell me has been useful for them, too.
Pick a label that appeals to you and has implicit value in what you’re trying to do. An aspirational label, if you like. It’s not quite “fake it till you make it” because that’s to do with pretending to other people whereas this is about pretending (if that’s the right word) to yourself.
My wife is a coach and we have an ongoing joke between us about some of her coaching style questions:
Me: Do you know where the car keys are?
Her: No – do you?
Me: Of course not – if I did I’d not have asked
Her: Okay, I know you don’t know, but if you did know, where would they be?
It’s a standard coaching-style approach. Here’s how it applies to my use of labels. “I know I don’t know what to do, but if I pretend I did know, what would I do?” Still silly, I know, but you’d be surprised how often it frees up your head to figure something out.
If it doesn’t, let’s take it to the next step.
Pick yourself a label
Think of the label you’ve picked and ask yourself what would that label do? Suppose I pick the label “Experienced International Traveller” (hey, I’m flying around Europe a lot for work at the moment!). I get off the plane at Dublin airport (for example) and head towards the buses and coaches. I struggle to find the stand for the coach that Google says I need to board to get to my hotel. I’m anxious and a bit unsure of the best thing to do. Simon doesn’t know what to do, perhaps, but my EIT does. I ask myself what the EIT (my label of choice) would do under these circumstances and – so long as I’ve chosen my label correctly – I’ve got a much better chance of figuring out the next step.
It’s a trick I picked up of some (very!) in-your-face-Christian friends of mine who continually asked themselves (and me) the question What Would Jesus Do. As a moral guide it worked a treat, so I’ve just broadened the approach.
It might worry some of you to know that my usual question when I don’t know what to do isn’t to ask what Jesus would do, but to ask what Batman would do. What would Batman do is usually a good answer.
- I don’t feel like going to the gym today, but I sort of know I sort of should. What would Batman do? Get off your backside and hit the gym.
- I don’t want to write this report but it would be a good idea if I could get it sorted by the end of the week. What would Batman do? Find a way to get the report written.
- I’m a bit shy of asking this person for help ‘cos I feel embarrassed. What would Batman do? You’ve got three guesses 😉
So let’s take this idea one step further and get things like
- I’d like to be a productivity ninja but I’m not sure what to do next. What would a productivity ninja do? How about starting a search for productivity books on Amazon? Or if you’ve got a few that you’ve not applied yet, how about putting them in order of how you feel about them: then, tomorrow, apply the one on the top.
- I’d like to be fitter than I am but I feel a bit ‘meh’ about going to the gym. What would a fit person do? Start packing their gym kit. Even 20 minutes in the gym is better than no minutes in the gym!
In other words, labels can be something we step into as well as something that holds us back/down.
So confess… if you wanted to pick a label to live up to, who or what would it be?