Mental Fitness Friday: Labels, fixed mindsets and emotions

Last week’s Mental Fitness Friday covered labels, namely The Naturals versus The Busts. To recap — though I encourage you to give it a read if you haven’t already — both of those labels are based off a fixed mindsets. They’re simply labels, and labels certainly are things we want to avoid.

But how do you throw away labels? Afterall, some labels can be helpful; some create a path and appeal to the element of certainty that humans organically crave.

When fixed mindsets come into play, that’s when labels are toyed with. Labels help us avoid the fear of embarrassment and challenges while creating that illusion of certainty. Labels are an emotional management strategy that carry an elimination agenda which seeks to harden emotions from the experience (i.e. embarrassment, uncertainty, anxiety, fear, guilt and maybe even shame).  

When these types of emotions come into play we often feel incredibly self-conscious, alone and/or scared. Labels then become an alleged recipe for feeling safe from all emotions.

So now that we have that sorted, how do we help ourselves when in these types of situations of fixed mindsets, labels and emotions? Let’s start off easy (but also incredibly hard as well) with a spoonful of self-forgiveness.

Self-forgiveness might be one of the hardest things to do. It’s hard to forgive yourself for transgressions, mistakes, misplays or letting mom/dad/coach/team down. And often when people are too quick to forgive themselves it’s perceived as not caring (though it’s far from that).

The funny thing is, we have a far easier time forgiving someone else than ourselves.

For instance, here are the four steps we take when forgiving someone:

Step 1) Whoever hurt you acknowledges how what they did impacts you (basic accountability). 

Step 2) They say ‘sorry’ and relay how they will keep it from happening again.

Step 3) You accept the apology and make a decison to let go of the hurt and pain. 

Step 4) Although you don’t forget you, you move on with optimism. 

The process needs to be the same for self-forgiveness. But in self-forgiveness we know, that the biggest obstacles are the mental toughness myths, primarily the one that tells us we need to hold on to mistakes to get better (a solution that doesn’t work longterm).

Self-forgiveness also has the obstacle of strong emotions. We often let the emotions trick us into believing that we are the worst athlete on earth; that the mistake we just made has exposed us for what we really are: a big bust.  

And now we get back to labels.

It’s important to be mindful of these labels for ourselves, and not just when people label us. It seems like being labeled a natural should be a compliment, but in reality it discounts hard work, and creates heroic expectations.  Being labeled a bust is a backhanded compliment and a put down at the same time. It means you did have it but you choked it away.  

When people do the exercise from last week, we often find the four words that describe the natural are almost always heroic and unattainable. The ones that describe the bust include failure, or loser, and are often harsh and mostly based on outcome. The Bust usually reflects the strong emotions of embarrassment, guilt, and shame, and suggest that you should be isolated from the rest of your team (often, both sets of messages we get from the mental toughness myths). 

Actively self-forgiving yourself will be awkward at first, and maybe even a bit hard habit to establish, but I promise you it’s worth it.  Learning how to self-forgive is part of being mentally fit. Watch this video clip of Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez.  https://youtu.be/ljqzULH9jRw