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    « Parking Issues | Main | It's Never the Perfect Time »
    Thursday
    Jun032010

    Labels and Self-talk.

    What’s your identity?

    We assign labels to ourselves all the time – sometimes intentionally, sometimes not so.  We also allow, usually passively, others to assign labels to us.  Some of those labels are constructive.  Too many are destructive.

    Think for a moment: how do you describe yourself?  Here are some possible labels that you might have used: “I’m fat.”  “My thighs/butt/hips are big.”  “I’m too tired.”  “I don’t like to exercise.”  “I love food too much.”  “I hate vegetables.”

    Statements like those have an impact on how you see yourself and how you behave.

    We reinforce beliefs about ourselves by repeating them, either to ourselves or others.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve looked in the mirror or stepped on a scale and reinforced to myself that I’m fat.  I also used to tell people that there were 3 things of mine that you shouldn’t mess with – my family, my money and my food.  Because I reinforced my identity (as a fat glutton), I lived my life accordingly.  I ate poorly, rarely exercised, and my body reflected my behaviors.

    Personal labels can also be unspoken.  I’ve seen people wear clothes that tell me they embrace a slothful lifestyle.  A year or so ago I saw an early teenager (13-14ish) wearing a bright yellow shirt that looked like a Lay’s potato chip bag.  It said “Lays-e” No surprise this kid was obviously overweight. 

    Do a quick search for “Lazy t-shirts” or “Fat t-shirts” and you’ll see that many people don't mind assigning the ‘lazy’ and ‘fat’ labels to themselves.

    You might be saying, “Those shirts are supposed to be funny.”   That may be so, but the fact of the matter is our brains can’t tell the difference between truth and fiction.  Every time our eyes see the message on a self-deprecating shirt, a message is sent to our brains that tells us we’re lazy or fat.  Our subconscious mind files away that assertion and helps us conduct ourselves accordingly.

    Looking at this from another angle, we sometimes passively allow others to label us.  I know a mom who used to call her son “little Buddha” due to his abundance of baby fat.  Not surprisingly, the child has been noticeably fat through toddlerhood and into childhood.  Unless the child is de-programmed (by parents or by himself), that label may well follow him into his adult life.  Spouses label each other all the time – often as a term of endearment – but with similar negative overtones.  The labels often become self-fulfilling prophecies.

    Any of my readers own a La-Z-Boy recliner?  The chairs are not so named because they encourage 30 minutes of physical activity every day.

    The offset to all of this destructive input is to identify ourselves with uplifting descriptors.  “I eat healthy foods and live a happy and active life.”  “I eat exactly what my body needs every day.  Nothing more.”  Think healthy thoughts, say healthy words, and your brain will help you behave accordingly. 

    Make your thoughts and words action oriented rather than person oriented.  Saying, “I’m a good person for choosing water over soda,” actually sets us up for future self-recrimination later on (e.g. does drinking soda make me a “bad” person?).  This goes for talking to others as well.  Saying “good job” beats “good girl” every time.

    Don’t let negative labels sabotage your progress.  Over the next few days, try paying particular attention to what you say and think about yourself.  Notice whether your self-dialogue is uplifting or desctructive.  If you find yourself being "mean" to yourself more often than you are being "nice," it's time for some re-programming.

    A good remedy for destructive self-talk is to write down the negative labels you assign to yourself and thoughtfully consider alternatives that put your situation in a positive light.  For example, instead of “I’m fat,” you can say, “My body is in a state of constant improvement.  My actions are in line with that process.”

    Give it a go, and see how your body (and mind) reacts.

    Be well!

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