Now, sit in a comfortable place and take a deep breath. Let’s have a little thought-provoking and perhaps liberating five minutes. Take a look at your life, your surroundings, and experiences. Think about which ones come to mind first. How do you feel after your reflection, how does your body feel? Try to think about how the day went, what happened, in detail. Maybe even write them down briefly on a piece of paper if possible; what you experienced, what you felt, what are the implications at the end of the day?
Now consider this: What kind of language do you use in your comments about your day? Do you describe an incident with labels such as good, bad, boring, fun; or do you simply state what happened? If you find yourself doing the first one, you’re not alone.
Let’s think about some scenarios. You get into your car in the morning, you have somewhere to be, but you realize that the car isn’t running. You feel angry, you feel helpless. Meanwhile, there’s a warm, bright sun outside. Maybe you get stuck in traffic or get caught in more red lights today than normal. At the same time, you notice a couple passing by, holding hands and laughing. Maybe someone bumps into you and walks by without any apology while you’re walking down the street and as this happens you see someone donating a considerable amount of money to a street player. Perhaps you accidentally spill coffee at a cafe and the person who offers you a napkin becomes a new friend.
We all know that our daily lives aren’t this balanced. Still, try to evaluate your day at this level of detail. Where do you feel your center of attention: Is it on the events that affect you personally or those that happen around you? Maybe both… Maybe you’re attributing emotional labels to all of this whether you intend to or not. Maybe your focus is on the red light, the car that doesn’t start, the spilled coffee, the person offering the napkin… Now imagine that you’re explaining all these events to someone you know. Notice the words you choose while describing what happened and how you’re commenting on events.
First of all, I’d like to say that labeling is a complex concept. Labels are the descriptors we give the people in our lives and to the events we experience. The element that deepens the concept of the label is that its effect on us goes beyond words. There’s meaning behind every label and those meanings shape our thoughts about ourselves and our environment. At the same time, our thoughts can determine the labels we employ.
Depending on whether you like a vase your friend bought for you or not, you may give it a label. A beautiful vase, a functional vase… This label can even extend to your friend. A tasteful friend, a practical friend… Another example would be to tag a behavior. You may have noticed that your spouse accidentally knocked over or broke something at home a couple of times. Then you might say something like, “You’re such a careless person!” Whereas, calling someone careless based on a few examples is inferring a general comment about the whole personality or character of someone by only looking at a single event. Maybe you think, “I’m not saying it in that sense, you know I’m just saying.” or “But they’re really clumsy and careless, what can I do?” Yet, these labels we tag on that person can be quite impactful, fixing them in place.
Considering the examples above, we can say that one of the reasons we may label things is due to our expectations of life. When our expectations are not met in some way, those negative connotations may come to mind and reduce our energy to see beyond.
Labeling is also a way to cognitively distance ourselves from reality. We all construct our labels in line with our perspective, values, beliefs, and thoughts in life. For this reason, labels often don’t reflect the truth. Hence, it’s useful to slow down a little and take a closer look at the labels’ effects on us.
Let’s take a look at what it means to minimize labels. Minimizing a label means transitioning to a neutral lifestyle. It’s about finding happiness in the “imperfect”, not in the “perfect“. Here are some effective suggestions on how to minimize our labels:
Carrying on without labeling events is a powerful way to keep our minds calm. To live a life without labels is to recognize those labels at the moment and switch to observation without judging ourselves. When we approach an event without a tag, we signal our brains that we accept the situation and that we are at peace with it.
There’s actually an emotion behind all the events we label. Our emotions are like clouds passing over a huge mountain: they come and go. Yet, our automatic labeling impulses stay right there, and the feeling they create can reduce our energy. Instead of trying to stop or amplify our emotions, we can simply try to communicate with them, invite them in with compassion, and watch them with a childlike curiosity. Remember: Our feelings influence our thoughts, our thoughts influence our actions.
Lessening the impact of labels means accepting the life we’re living. Trying to do this without burdening ourselves while investigating how to avoid labels can be a good exercise in building a quality relationship with ourselves. The changes we make in our psychological landscape can be radical. It’s good to give ourselves some time for this change and focus on the process, not the result. One of the beauties of life is that two things can be true at the same time. What would it be like to enjoy both happy and unhappy moments? Maybe tomorrow you’ll see that you’re labeling an event you experienced during the day; you’ll stop, realize, and see if, slowly, you can remove that label…