Depression Series 8 Labelling

Depression Series 8 Labelling

How to effectively deal with the cognitive distortion of labelling


Do you “Do You Call Yourself Nasty Names?”

“We are our own worst critics.”  I know I am.  Can you identify?  Today I want to talk about the “Cognitive Distortion” of “Labelling.”  Labelling happens when we arbitrarily assign ourselves negative “labels” such as “loser,” “jerk,” “dumb/stupid,” “lazy,” “fat,” “failure,” “useless,” or any one of several other not-so-nice possibilities.  Do you do this?

If you do, you’re engaging in “labelling” behaviour, and it’s not only not helpful, it’s untrue.  How do I know it’s not true?  Simple.  Until you can create for me a uniform definition of each negative trait you’re assigning yourself, I can’t know what you’re talking about.  If I can’t know what you’re talking about, then what you’re saying is nonsense, hence untrue.

So, if you’re doing this, then – in the words of Dave, one of my past mentors – “Cut that out !”  Seriously, though, try not to if you can, but if you don’t know how, read on.  I think what I have to share might help.


Who Am I?

My name is Mike MacKinnon, and I’m a personal trainer in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.  I serve the Greater Toronto area and beyond, offering 1-on-1 personal training, as well as online training programs.  I am also a life coach and weight loss coach, offering both face-to-face coaching, as well as distance coaching via phone or Skype.


“I’m a Failure” or “I’m a Loser”

These are the two “labels” I’m confronted with the most in my practice.  I hear people say this about themselves all the time.  They didn’t lose the weight they wanted to, or they didn’t lose it quick enough: they’re a “failure” or a “loser” because of it.  Or they didn’t achieve the goals we had set out in their life plan, so they “failed.”  They say that they “always” gain the weight back (the Cognitive Distortion of “Overgeneralization”), and that they’re a “loser” because it happened again (“Labelling”).

The best way to evaluate our thinking, in my opinion, is to ask ourselves the following questions about it:

  1. Is it kind?  Does my thinking serve to make me feel better about myself?
  2. Is it helpful?  Will this sort of thinking help to propel me towards my goals?
  3. Is it true?  Is this thinking based on fact, or is it merely an opinion?


Run your negative thoughts through this 3-question filter, and I think you’ll find that the thought patterns you’re experiencing are flawed.  Take note that this doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, or that you have a mental illness of some kind.  It simply means that your thinking is off-base, as it is for many of us, to varying degrees, at various times.


How to Challenge the Labels We Assign Ourselves:

I believe that many of us suffer from the faulty belief that, by being hard on ourselves, we’re increasing our chances of successfully reaching our goals.  Of course, we need to have a plan, and to have checks and balances to ensure we’re staying on that plan.  But being TOO hard on ourselves is counter-productive.  When we are unrealistic about, say, our weight loss goals, and don’t factor in the odd potential slip, we increase our chances of not losing the weight we want to.  Why is this?

Because we set for ourselves a standard that we cannot possibly achieve, and then call ourselves all kinds of nasty names if we go off track.  Then, because we feel terrible about ourselves, we’re that much more prone to emotional eating, which worsens the problem.

I think we believe that, if we’re not tough on ourselves, we’re not “doing something” about the problem.  In the game of weight loss, the opposite is true.  We need to have goals, and we need to have a timeline on which we expect to achieve them.  Then we need to have a plan designed to get us to our goal.  This plan, coupled with the right accountability (think a weight loss coach or personal trainer), is a potent tool for creating success.

After we’ve set this foundation, we need to execute, and try our best.  We then need to detach from outcomes.  If we lose weight quickly, that’s good, but let’s not get overexcited about it.  If we lose it slowly, or if we’re struggling with staying on plan, we choose to be gentle on ourselves and to not beat ourselves up.  By doing this, we create an environment where getting back on track is easier.

We do not label our “slips” as “failures.”  Most of all, we do not label ourselves as “failures.”  We simply get up and try again.  By being gentle on ourselves, we allow ourselves to be honest about the magnitude of the slip.  Remember the solution I offered for “All-or-Nothing Thinking,” namely “Thinking in Shades of Grey?”  We assign a number to the problem we’ve encountered.  Say we’ve “slipped” by having a piece of cake.  Is this a 10/10 problem?  Well, it might be if we decide to hit the “SCREW IT” switch and binge all weekend.  Realistically it’s a 2/10 problem.  So, we choose to be gentle on ourselves, and to simply get back on track.  2/10 isn’t worth fretting over.


Defining Our Labels
Here’s an exercise for you.  Let’s say you’re calling yourself a “loser.”  To combat this – and any other “label” we assign ourselves – we use a tool called “Defining Terms.”  We simply create a definition for the label we’re giving ourselves and see if it works or not.

Here’s the problem.  To define “loser,” you need to come up with a label that covers all kinds of losers everywhere in the world, who have ever lived, who are living, and who will ever live.  You can’t do it!  There is no such thing as a uniform definition for a “loser.”  Ergo, there is no such thing as a loser.

Just get back up, try again, and you can be sure that you’re not a “failure” or a “loser.”


But I Can’t Help It: My Mind Just Goes There

Perhaps you don’t think you’ll be able to make my advice work for you.  You believe that your thought patterns are too strongly entrenched.  You may need some help.  Why not consider reaching out, if that’s the case?  I’d be happy to help, and if I can’t, then I have several other professionals I work with who are qualified to work with you to help you to change your thinking patterns., or 647-677-6025 (phone or text) gets me.  You can also send me a message here:  I’d love to hear your story and figure out a plan to help you start thinking happier thoughts.  Call or message me today!