April 24, 2009

Thought Trap #10: Labeling and mislabeling

Thought Trap #10: Labeling and mislabeling

Continuing on in the series on Thought Traps.

This is an extreme form of overgeneralization. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself: "I'm a loser." You make a mistake, but instead of thinking, "I made a mistake," you label yourself: "I'm an idiot."

When someone else's behavior rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him. "He’s a stupid jerk!" Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded, and generally not factually descriptive.

Just think of all the names you've called people who cut you off when driving, and there you have the perfect example of labeling. You really have no idea why the person did what they did; you call them an idiot anyway. You're angry at the behavior, but you label the person.

As speakers or performers, we are often way too hard on ourselves. We strive for perfection and fear letting down our audiences, never mind the anxieties about being judged or criticized.

Sometimes in this striving, we forget that we're human, that it's okay to make mistakes and it's especially okay to learn from them. We criticize the person instead of the behavior. We don't even think about it before we say it (either out loud or in our heads).

Time to rethink those automatic responses. We all have them. What's yours? Mine is "stupid." When I say or do something that feels wrong or awkward, I say "stupid" to myself. Sometimes I say it out loud and my husband has to remind me, "You're not stupid."

When you catch yourself judging yourself as a person instead of analyzing the mistake and making it better, be aware. Really listen to yourself. There's a better, more factual response, I guarantee it.

Messed up someone's name? (Idiot!) No! Tell yourself that next time you need to prepare better and make sure you have it right in advance.

Lost your place? (Stupid!) No! Tell yourself that next time you'll have better notes on hand to help if you lose your place.

Forgot part of your presentation? (Pathetic!) No! Remind yourself that the audience doesn't even know what you missed. Next time you'll practice a few more times to make sure you have it all down.

Look to the future and how you can do better, rather than judging yourself and labeling yourself as a bad person. Your actions might have been less than desirable, but you are still the good person you always were!

Here again, are some additional suggestions on how to approach these negative thoughts once you become aware of them (from a Mother Jones article about cognitive therapy and thought traps):

1. Write it down. Writing automatically provides perspective and helps reveal distorted thinking.

2. Identify the distressing event. What's really bothering you?

3. Identify your negative emotions.

4. Identify the negative thoughts tied to your emotions.

5. Identify distortions and substitute the truth.

And my addition:

6. Take action. What will you do differently next time?

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2 comments. Please add yours! :

KareAnderson said...

When reading your wise guidance re overgeneralizing I thought that a great companion resource to this post Lisa is the book, Learned Optimism.

Those at the pessimistic end of the emotion scale tend to do three things with something bad happens "to" them. They see it as permanent, pervasive and personal

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for the book reference, Kare. That is so true; I'm so glad I'm not a pessimist. Life must be really hard when you think that way all the time!

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