How often do you notice yourself labeling others? How about when you label yourself? Why do we do it?
Our brains like predictability and continuously scan for patterns that indicate a collective group. Once we identify a category or group, we assign labels.
The problem, of course, is that we make an awful lot of assumptions and judgments based on our "intuitive" labeling. We might look at someone and think to ourselves "she's smart" or "he's funny" or "he's Type A" or "she's dramatic." Or we label according to race, career, income, etc. It seems we are always categorizing.
Moreover, what are some of the labels we assign to ourselves? How about "I'm stupid" or "I'm fat" or "I'm ineloquent." Too often the labels we attach to ourselves are negative. How often do you suppose self-labeling is accurate and honest?
One of the problems with labels is that the minute we do, we compare ourselves to a generalized definition we assign to that name. However, what if each of us has a unique definition? What happens if the definitions are incongruous?
What if we shift from noticing categories and labels to noticing strategies? The behaviors we present ourselves with, whether authentic or inauthentic, are strategies; strategies we use them to get through life. Perhaps that perfectionist is trying to get things "right" so everything runs smoothly; they're not just trying to make your life difficult. Maybe that person who is indecisive is seeking to keep the peace by letting you make the decision. And maybe that self-deprecating person is anticipating disapproval and avoiding rejection by beating you to the punch.
I find compassion in being curious about strategies. All I have to do is consider the strategies I use and the labels others might assign to me to appreciate our creativity and resilience. And so, what if we pay attention to the labels we assign to others, both good and bad (a label is a label is a judgment)?
What if we listen to the labels people use to describe us and consider the strategies behind our behaviors?
What if we've put ourselves in labeled boxes through patterned, predictable behaviors?
Maybe it's up to us to get ourselves out of the boxes we've strategized as comfortable.
Though I meet with resistance on this opinion, I believe it to be true.
During a race, at times I felt I could push no more — while biking for example — and I gave myself permission to quiet the voice telling me to go faster. Then when EVERY race is over, I tell myself I could have done better if I had ridden faster. It turns out both of those thoughts are true — at the moment I had them. So while I'd like to critique and dismantle my effort on the bike, at the time, I was doing the very best I could with the tools I had (that includes the mental support the body requires).
If I had the physical stamina to speed up but my mind thought not, I did not have all the necessary tools. Next time, perhaps I'll have the mental stamina because I'll have a previous inner dialogue to recall. And maybe next time I'll have the mental stamina but will be plagued with an injury. Either way, I am doing the best I can.
How many decisions have you made that you regret in your lifetime? Too many to count, probably. And yet, at the time, they were the best decisions you could have made — at that point. To look at them in hindsight and determine you could have done better is to add skills and knowledge that you didn't have before.
The third leg of the tripod that needs balance to support our best decisions is emotional. Regret is an emotion, as is elation, gratitude, pride, and fear. It's an emotional response we experience after a job well-done or a missed attempt. And it is feelings that guide us to future choices — feelings we advance toward and those we avoid — adding and subtracting skills and knowledge along the way.
Doing your best requires practice and insight, both of which take action. If your best doesn't yet include self-reflection, your toolbox will remain limited. And, this is still your best because of course, if you were able, you would add tools that give you growth options.
What of the people we judge as making bad decisions? What will it take for you to see that they, too, are doing the best they can with the tools they possess? How does judgment represent your best? And where does compassion fit into your best self?
My last blog topic was about blind-spots and low and behold; I have seen a new one of my own! I receive a daily meditation topic unique to my personality structure and yesterday's insight was about defense mechanisms.
A defense mechanism is something we create to protect ourselves, for those times we feel threatened in some way. Do we want our defenses pointed out to us? No way! But, if we are to grow as human beings, running on autopilot will not support us.
So what's the remedy you ask: Going against our instinctive defenses, of course. Sounds like fun, huh? Keep in mind that we have created our defense mechanisms over a lifetime to keep us feeling secure. Unless we make an effort, we don't notice when we're utilizing a security strategy, it's simply automatic, and our egos like it that way.
For instance, I'm pretty well versed in denial as a defensive strategy, especially of my physical limitations, so when my foot began to hurt a few years ago after months of exercise without a day off, I knew it would eventually pass. Wrong! I broke my foot. I denied my physical limitations, and finally, my body took control and said: "Guess what, if you're not going to listen, I'll stop you." If I had been listening rather than denying, I would have avoided months of almost no activity.
Now, I'm learning to recognize when I deny my responsibility when things begin to break down (such as relationships and myself) and do the inverse of what I'd prefer. It turns out I like myself more when I thoughtfully choose my actions and words, and I have a whole lot fewer regrets.
Do you know your emotional defense mechanisms? Some of the common ones are: blaming, redirecting, projecting, rationalization, denial, repression, withdrawal, displacement, judgment, criticism, passive-aggression, introjection, and isolation.
What will it take for you to notice when your defense mechanisms (blind-spots) take over and then do the opposite? And what benefits might arise from going against what's comfortable when emotional defenses show up?
What's your blind spot? Strange question since the name implies you don't see it, right? A blind spot is something that regularly trips you up, or triggers an emotional reaction, yet you just keep doing it and feeling the same way. (Also know as the definition of insanity.)
A blind spot is something that we like to think is someone else's flaw or something someone else is doing (or not doing) that "makes" us mad, sad, irritated, frustrated, etc. However, if it weren't something we're blind to, we'd see that it is OUR problem or issue, not something someone else is doing "to" us.
A blind spot is hard to, well, spot, because we're adept at hiding it from ourselves. A helpful clue is paying attention to that "one thing" that always gets under your skin. For instance, if you frequently feel unappreciated by your partner despite all you do for them, perhaps a closer look at codependency would be helpful. Yikes! I can already hear the rebuffs to that implication — yet another signal to look at YOUR part of the equation.
The more you resist the possibility that it's up to you to resolve your negative feelings or reactions, the more useful it will be for you to dig deeper.
It's up to you to illuminate your blind spots and to try something different. The same old reactions will keep giving you the same old outcomes. So, how badly do you want change in your life?
Learner and sharer of all things healthy, active, esteem building, growth promoting, witty and Hawaiian