Labels and limitations – the good, the bad and the ugly

We use labels to describe each other based on characteristics, gender, roles, backgrounds, affiliations, etc. The labels are limitless but their impacts can be limiting. Depending on how identified we are with these labels they can restrain our behaviour, actions and growth.

The “Shy” Girl

When I was young, I could have been considered “shy” or “quiet”. An example that demonstrates this quality took place one afternoon while we were camping. My sisters and I wanted a snack so we jumped on our banana seat bikes and headed to the camp store. My older sister Heather and I were shy, so when we wanted to know the cost of a pack of gum, we immediately turned to our little sister. Janice was around four years old at the time. She is two years younger than me and four years younger than Heather, but was much less timid than both of us at the time. We quietly asked her to ask the lady at the counter how much the gum was. Without hesitation, she posed the question for us while we eagerly listened for the answer. We were a good team with Janice compensating for her older siblings’ shyness.

This “shyness” lasted through my teen years. I remember meeting my boyfriend’s parents and spending time at his house, where I spoke no more than I had to. At our wedding his parents reminisced at how quiet I was when they first met me.

What if?

Thankfully, I never had to wear the label “shy”. My parents weren’t into labelling. But what if I had been given that label? Would it have shaped my perception of myself? Perhaps I would have held myself back from activities.

When I was eight years old I went to a Girl Guide sleepover camp for a week by myself, without knowing a single person when I left. Would a “shy” person have done that?

At my university business school, when I found out that 40% of my final grade would be based on participation marks, I felt more than a little uneasy. I was always more comfortable processing my thoughts internally. Now I would have to compete with seventy-five other people to make meaningful contributions to classroom discussions.

Would a “shy” person be able to succeed in such an environment?

Luckily I didn’t wear that label, so I went for it. I would just have to figure out a way to get comfortable with speaking up in class. And slowly, I did. I certainly wasn’t the chattiest, but I became more confident as the months passed.

And now, more than twenty years later, I’m more likely to have to stop myself from talking too much.

Labels

We use words to describe ourselves since words are what we have to communicate. However, descriptors or labels used to describe us and others can be limiting.

There are all sorts of things we may say about ourselves, which may be true about a behaviour or quality at a point in time, but are not definitions of who we are. We are much more complex as people than words can ever encapsulate and, importantly, we are not static. We are growing every day. So behaving in a “shy” way at one point in time doesn’t mean “I am shy.”

Here are some examples of things I’ve recently heard people say about themselves.

“I’m not brave.”

“I’m not an organized person.”

“I’m not a good writer.”

“I’m not patient.”

While it’s helpful to reflect on ourselves and our behaviour, it’s not constructive to identify with a certain quality as if it’s who we are. With a growth mindset, we can always add the word “yet” to the end of any of the above sentences.

Growth Mindset

A big part of life is about growing. That’s what our experiences do for us, they help us learn, grow and evolve. From the moment we are born we are growing, not just physically but mentally. When we put labels on ourselves it can have the effect of slowing or impeding our growth. It can put a box around us and we may unknowingly spend our lives fitting into a particular identity. We may even hold ourselves back from participating in certain activities or behaving in certain ways because of a label we carry with us.

Labels for everything

Labels can come in many different varieties and for different things.

As with my shyness example, we can put labels on ourselves and each other based on characteristics and personality traits.

Profession or skills-based labels

We can label and identify ourselves based on our job or profession. However, what we do for a living today may be different a few years from now. We may develop new skills and interests that move us in different directions. And we can do more than one thing. As an accountant and then a regulator, I came close to holding myself back from becoming an author because the labels didn’t seem to coincide with each other. Creative pursuits may seem at odds with the nature of the financial services industry and corporate world. But they aren’t mutually exclusive. We need creativity and new ideas in all industries. Dropping old perceptions and limiting beliefs can open up new possibilities. Creativity is important for leaders in an ever-changing and dynamic environment.

Gender-based labels

We can put ourselves into boxes based on gender and biases that may exist. Being a full-time working mom with a husband that stays at home, I find I relate to some of the memes on social media that depict men. For example, there’s a meme that shows men in the grocery store on their phones, presumably asking their wives for advice. However, in our house this would be me in the grocery store asking my husband for advice.

Gender-based labels can lead to biases in the workplace as described in this article by Dr. Pragya Agarwal, where the same behaviour can be labelled differently depending on whether the person is a male or female. For example, the same behaviour can be described as “decisive” in a man, but “abrupt” or “brusque” if it’s a woman. Instead of putting labels and judgments on others, we should aim to be open and give people a chance to be themselves. We should all be free to grow and develop as we are each individually meant to, no matter our gender or role.

Affiliation and race-based labels

Some people identify with a certain political ideology. Doing so can limit our perspective and openness to learning about different aspects of an important matter.

And unfortunately we continue to see the detrimental effects of our human tendency to judge each other based on skin colour, country of origin, and religious affiliations. This not only puts ourselves and each other in boxes but it also separates us. It divides us where there is no need for a division. It prevents us from truly seeing each other for who we are as individuals, as humans.

Humans are diverse

The reality is humans are diverse. We have a myriad of different attributes and are meant to grow over our lifetime. When we unnecessarily put labels on ourselves and each other, we put up walls, dividers and limitations for our individual and collective potential.

And when we must use labels, let’s be mindful to use positive, encouraging labels rather than negative and limiting ones. Here is a list of positive labels we can use for children and each other rather than negative ones. For example, instead of using the word shy, we can use reflective. Changing labels can change attitudes and perceptions of ourselves and each other.

Seeing people for who they are and not based on any characterization helps us to relate to one another with compassion.

So let’s break out of our own box and break others out of any boxes we may have put them in. Let’s free ourselves to grow and develop without unnecessary limitations!

When we are aware of our inner-growth potential yet have no pretensions about ourselves, when we are vulnerable, then we can change.

Amit Goswami

Let Go.

Labels can limit our growth
Photo by Jean-Guy Nakars on Unsplash

Mindful Media: Is social media friend or foe?

Social media is like our mind and mindfulness is the key to making it a friend

My family and I recently spent a beautiful summer evening on the lakefront in a nearby town. We had a picnic and took a stroll along the water, enjoying the warm weather and lovely sunset. I took some social media worthy shots. They depicted a happy family along with colourful scenic views. But they didn’t show the whole picture.

What they didn’t show was the unhappiness that came towards the end of the evening as the boys were getting tired and their mom was trying to eke out every last bit of relaxation and enjoyment on the last few days of her summer vacation. I love walks, nature and quiet evenings, however my thirteen and eleven year old boys don’t appreciate it quite as much. They’d much rather be playing video games with their friends or working on YouTube projects. While I don’t want to detract from the family bonding time and good parts of the day, the reality is there were tears, frustration and unhappiness towards the end of the evening as our interests and energy levels were at odds.

I’m fairly sure we are a typical family, going through natural challenges as we navigate our different interests and try to find balance. Oftentimes we don’t get the balance just right. In this case, we stayed up too late. I’ve learned over the years that tiredness is a big culprit of negative emotions that are hard to control.

My pictures didn’t capture this part of the evening.

Continue reading “Mindful Media: Is social media friend or foe?”

Finding Time With Mindfulness

Practicing mindful awareness helps me find time to do the things I love.

I recently listened to an impactful podcast with Michael Singer, author of The Untethered Soul. Episode 3 is titled Giving Meaning to the Time Between Your Birth and Death. It starts with a reminder of the simple fact that you were born and you are going to die. It’s a truth that we sometimes avoid but we shouldn’t. He suggests a basic question to pose to ourselves: What are you doing in between the time that you were born and the time you die?

It’s precious time that was given to you. It’s YOUR time. Not your spouses, your kids or your company’s. It’s your time. How are you spending the time you have on this Earth between your birth and your death?

My problem with time

As a busy working mom, it always felt like I was maxed out from a time perspective. Any suggestion of an added activity or commitment would make me feel anxious. I read articles that had so many suggestions of things I should do to improve my life – make meals from scratch, do these 10 activities before 7am, do this workout, read these books, attend this conference. The list is endless. And I could easily fall into a mindset that it’s impossible to do all these things and I would never be happy because I couldn’t possibly “have enough time in the day”. Time was a cause of stress for me until I changed my mindset. I talk about the concept of time in Good Morning, Life! I’m currently reading Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson and found it interesting how Einstein’s special theory of relativity explains that time is not absolute, but rather relative. The rate at which time passes depends on our frame of reference.

My frame of reference generally comes from my mind, so I needed to improve my relationship with time.

Improving my relationship with time

When I first started practicing mindful awareness I didn’t realize how it would change me. Particularly I didn’t realize how it would change my relationships, including with time.

By spending time away from my thoughts and just observing my surroundings, my breath and body, it really feels like time slows down.

I did this exercise the other day with my husband and son – We stood in our driveway and chose something to focus. We all chose a cloud in the sky. I set a timer to two minutes and we committed to focusing on our chosen cloud for the duration. The two minutes seemed to creep by. It felt much longer than a couple minutes. Incidentally, I find that doing planks is also a great way to slow down time, as 30 seconds feels more like 30 minutes. Lol.

The problem is without being intentional about being present and living in the now, my mind will easily take charge of my whole day. It generally fixates on events that occurred in the past or frets about my to-do list or something in the future. I miss the actual moments that are happening. No wonder I ask myself Where did the day go? Because I basically lost my day while in my head.

Time well spent

On top of feeling like I have more time by experiencing my life more fully, I also spend my time more purposefully and intentionally.

When I start my day with mindful time I remind myself of the bigger picture. I am closer to that question of what am I doing with the time between my birth and death? I’m more aware of my purpose, values and the things that are important to me. This makes me focus more quickly and easily throughout the day on things that bring value to my life. I can critically assess my to-do list and drop, defer or delegate some of the less important tasks. However, if I dive into my to-do list without centering myself I can easily get carried away with tasks that are not as valuable.

When I’m mindful I also don’t get bothered by things that can trigger me and waste time in negative thoughts and drama. It’s amazing how much time this saves!

Ditching the drama

One of the big things I save time on is unnecessary negative thoughts about events or things people say. I more easily let them go or deal with them directly immediately and move on. This can be a huge time saver. Negative thoughts and actions can be very costly for companies as well as it can lead to workplace drama, such as gossiping, venting, complaining, and spreading rumours. According to research from workplace drama expert Cy Wakeman, the average employee spends two hours and twenty-six minutes per day on drama and emotional waste. That’s just at work! Imagine the damage and time spent in our personal life if we get caught up in negative thought patterns and behaviours.

When I let a negative thought go quickly and just move on, I can save not only hours but days of my time on more productive things. It not only saves me a ton of time but also emotional stress.

Am I perfect and do I never get upset? Of course not, it’s called practice for a reason 🙂

Mindful helps me find time

People ask me how I found time to work full time, parent and write a book? Other than having an amazing and supportive partner, my answer is that mindful awareness helped me find the time.

You can find the time to do the things that matter most to you too!

Presence. Purpose. Intention

Mindfulness helps me find time
Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

My Hidden Self

When I stopped hiding parts of myself I found freedom and true happiness.

When I was a child I was on the shy side. There were moments when I distinctly remember wishing I could be invisible and not have any eyes or attention on me. I just wanted to blend in, shrink back, whatever it took to ensure no one would look at me. I didn’t feel like this all the time, just in certain moments.

There were also certain parts of me that made me feel different. I spent a lot of time in my adolescent years trying to hide these parts.

Continue reading “My Hidden Self”

Change and Mindfulness Lessons from a Kitten

Every day provides an opportunity to practice mindfulness. As we welcomed a kitten to our family and introduced him to his new home this week, he reminded me of lessons in change management and gave us an opportunity to practice mindfulness. Here’s our story. . .

How did a “non-cat” person end up with a kitten??

First of all, for those who have known me since my teenage years know that I have never been known as a “cat person”. I lived with cats growing up, thanks to my sister Heather, who brought home any animal she could get her hands on, and my post-university roommates, Janis and Kate. Mainly though, I accepted the cat’s presence in my house but kept them at an emotional distance. We co-existed. I saw myself more as a “dog person” but mostly as a “people person”.

As I’ve learned and I’ll talk about more in an upcoming blog, judging and labeling ourselves can be extremely limiting in our lives. With this in mind, I’ve dropped the idea of being a “non-cat person” or a “dog person”. Now, I’m simply a lover of all creatures. This includes cats, especially cuddly, kind and affectionate ones!

So when my good friends, Janis and Kate, recently brought home Ragdoll kittens that were extremely affectionate and cuddly, I couldn’t help but adore them. At the same time my thirteen-year-old son, Carter, struggling with finding joy in online school during the pandemic, started asking for a pet. That is when the stars aligned as we learned Janis’ new kitten had a brother looking to be adopted. Our family has not had any pets yet, and now, within a week of starting a discussion about adopting a kitten, we brought home little Jackie.

Change Management is easy right?

From studying change management (CM) at my work over the last few years, and as a member of a CM leadership network, I understand the behavioural effects of change on people. I also know that learning the theory can be very different from applying it. The effects of, and responses to, change seem like common sense when learning about it in a classroom. However, like mindfulness, it’s all about the practice!

Not adequately thinking through how a change will impact others is something that happens all the time in workplaces – for example, when a new project is introduced. Questions that should be asked include: How are all the people impacted going to respond? What’s your plan for preparing people for the change? Is there a communication strategy?

You see, the people initiating the change usually understand it and have already accepted it. Without thinking through the impact on others it’s easy to think, “What’s the big deal? The change isn’t going to be bad, so let’s just get on with it and get it done!” It takes a mindful approach to think about all the stakeholders that the change will affect. Putting ourselves in others’ shoes is a key step in this process. What will their concerns be? Likely concerns are very different across stakeholder groups and from the people involved in the project and initiating the change.

And this was my mistake with Jackie.

Welcome Home! Hiss.

Since this is our first pet it is a change for our family. We did some research, I talked to friends and borrowed or purchased what we thought we would need. We had seen pictures, and Carter had even come up with a name for the new kitten. So when we arrived to pick up Jackie, we thought we were prepared and had visions of the cuddles and snuggles we’d all have when we got home. Let’s not forget we are the change initiators.

When we arrived home we excitedly brought Jackie in to show him his new surroundings. We brought him in to the living room ready to settle in to the sofa with him for cuddles. Unfortunately, rather than cuddles we got the look of a terrified kitten who darted under the couch. No worries, I thought, I’ll just reach in and scoop him out. Hiss. Yikes, this isn’t the cute, cuddly kitten behaviour we were expecting. What have we done?!!

Of course, what I missed was thinking about this change from Jackie’s perspective. What a rookie change management mistake! While we were prepared for the functional part of owning a new kitten, we hadn’t prepared ourselves for the behavioural aspect of the change from Jackie’s point of view. Kittens have feelings too you know!

How does it feel?

After speaking to my friends and watching YouTube videos by cat behaviourist Jackson Galaxy, I started to understand my mistake. While my instinct was to get Jackie out from under the couch immediately, I realized he likely just needed some space. And some time to adjust. Forcing him out would scare him even more.

The boys and I discussed how Jackie must be feeling right now being away from his mother for the first time and all the other cats he was used to. Now he is with people he doesn’t know in a big, strange house with different scents. Of course he would be scared. We agreed that we would be scared too if we were in his place. My ten-year-old son, Austin, felt sad thinking about Jackie’s point of view. The empathy started flowing.

We played some relaxing music and quietly sat in the room with Jackie, who was still under the couch, so he could get used to our voices. It gave him the space and time he needed to adjust to his new surroundings.

Mindfulness and Change

Jackie gave a gift to all of us when he went under the couch. It was a chance for us to slow down and practice mindful awareness (and patience). We got out of our practical doing mode and took some time to be present with each other. While we enjoyed each other’s quiet company, it was a chance for us to adjust to the change as well.

Change is a funny thing – it’s helpful to plan for it and think through outcomes, but you never really know entirely what it will bring. Everyone reacts differently to change. Change can feel scary, but it should never prevent us from embracing it. By its nature, life is full of change. Change is what helps us learn and grow. Oftentimes we just have to prepare for it as best as we can (recall Do Your Best from the happiness formula in Good Morning, Life!) and dive in and figure it out as we go. And as Ross from Friends would say, pivot as needed.

I learned that change management and mindfulness go hand-in-hand.

Dandelions and Mindset Shifts

This spring I was reminded of the importance of awareness, curiosity and openness, which led to a mindset shift.

When the spring arrives, so does a subtle dance that my husband and I have when it comes to our lawn and the dandelions that seem to enjoy it. As the yellow plants start to emerge one by one, I find a quiet afternoon day and, with my garden trowel and gloves in hand I descend upon my backyard.

I start the arduous job of digging them up, one by one, being careful to get as much of the root as possible. I spend hours slowly and methodically combing through the backyard, foot by foot, extracting these “unruly, ugly weeds” from the lawn.

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The Secret to Sticking with Good Habits

Despite practicing mindfulness for almost twelve years, I still need reminders to stay mindful. Even more important than these reminders is remembering the “why” – why am I doing this? Why is it good for me? Understanding the why can have a positive impact on whether or not we stick with healthy habits such as mindfulness, healthy eating and exercise.

Throughout my life I have read countless articles, attended numerous talks and heard time and again the importance of a balanced diet, regular exercise and getting eight hours of sleep. Even so, it’s easy to fall out of good routines with all of these things. And based on the industries that have formed around diet and exercise, I’m not the only one this happens to. I experienced a game-changing moment when my son Carter was 18 months old, about eleven years ago.

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How a Powerful, Simple Question Changed My Life

A few years ago, I learned the power of a simple, well-placed question when combined with an honest response. It can quite literally change a life.

As a bank regulator, I ask questions for a living. We query bank leaders – senior management and Board members – about the business to understand and explore its safety and soundness. I know how powerful questions can be. Questions can create an opportunity to get at the root of a problem. What I didn’t realize was how powerful one simple question would be in my own personal life.

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Happiness Superpowers – Part 3: Gratitude

When I was about to get married a common piece of marriage advice that I often received at bridal showers and pre-wedding events was, “Never go to bed angry.” It’s great advice. A similar piece of wisdom for anyone who chooses to embark on the goal of living a fulfilling and happy life is, “Never go to bed without being grateful.”

Gratitude is one of the key happiness superpowers that we have as humans. It’s one of the most powerful weapons we have in our arsenal to truly change our lives for the better. The importance of gratitude for happiness and well-being may not be new to you. I know I’ve talked about it in previous blogs, as well as in Good Morning, Life! – it’s part of my happiness formula! The amazing thing is that gratitude literally has the power to rewire our brains. It’s truly remarkable.

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Happiness Superpowers – Part 2: Curiosity

In my last blog, we discovered that ordinary humans, like Avengers, have superpowers. I learned that trust is a superpower for happiness, and now let’s delve into another happiness superpower – CURIOSITY. And just like trust, the power of curiosity transcends all facets of life – at home and at work.

About three years ago, I was exploring different guided meditations to listen to during my morning train commute to the city. As detailed in Good Morning, Life!, I was in the midst of a journey to happiness. I came across a meditation that intrigued me called The Meaning of Life. What a bold title, I thought to myself. As if there is one answer! But as I listened that bold title didn’t disappoint. The meditation lesson outlined three main qualities that bring meaning to our lives and they are: loving, learning and being happy.

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