Your Subconscious Is Holding You Back: Here Are 5 Steps to Find the Success You Deserve

In the last podcast, we discussed labelling theory and the negative effects of labelling. I also shared my experiences of labels that I continue to subconsciously live up to.

The labels we take on affect our decisions without us even realising it. That’s why it is so important to avoid these labels in order to prevent the self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe you are fat/alcoholic/pessimistic, you keep repeating the behaviour. You become convinced you have no alternative.

Labels destroy our self-esteem and hold us back from progress in life.

We all have labels, and I’ve been working on shaking my more negative ones lately. I’ve used a five-step method that has really helped with this process and I want to share it with you.

Step One: Who Are You?

Make a list of all the roles and labels that you have taken on in life.

“I am a[n] __”

You’ll want to think about:

1) domestic roles – father, sister, aunt, etc.
2) employment roles – engineer, retailer, entrepreneur, etc.
3) personality traits – introvert, listener, empath, etc.
4) extra-curricular roles – baker, philatelist, athlete, etc.
5) other roles – Democrat, Republican, driver, insomniac, etc.

If you’ve added an adjective to a label, list it twice, once with the adjective and once without.

“I’m a good cook.”
“I’m a cook.”

“I’m a bad friend.”
“I’m a friend.”

Step Two: Reality Testing

It’s a fact that many of the labels on your list will have been given to you by other people. You will have absorbed them, and once they’re in your core identity, you don’t give their veracity a second thought.

Your brain doesn’t analyse the truth of your labels. This is partly why there are so many negative effects of labelling.

It’s time to read over your list, and ask yourself a question for each item on it: “Is this true?”

Whenever you answer “yes,” it’s time to look for evidence. For my “I’m stupid”, this evidence is the reminder that I have multiple university degrees.

If you can’t find evidence to support the label or if you answer “no”, think about why it’s on the list. How is that label serving you?

The label of “depressed” enabled me to defend myself against those who accused me of pessimism. It also let me avoid treatment, since I convinced myself that the label was unavoidable.

Step Three: One Label Wonder

If I labelled you with just one of the labels on the list, how would you feel?

I’m pretty sure that you’d not feel like I’d done your personality and life experience justice. You’re way more than a mother, a friend, a yogi, or an addict. In fact, you’re way more than all the things on that list.

So why are we so keen to jump to one label so often?

For me, it’s been the “I’m fat” label. It became an excuse against many things: too fat to show up on Instagram; too fat to eat a treat; too fat to go to LA. The list was endless, and I was seeing the negative effects of labelling in action.

What happened to me was that I became fixated on one label because I saw it as protecting me. That label allowed me to stay in my comfort zone. My weight didn’t stop me showing up on Instagram Live, but it gave me an excuse to avoid the scary thing (the video itself).

This has been a part of the IGNTD Podcast and recovery platform’s campaign about the label of addiction. They are asking people to complete the sentence: “Once an addict, always a[n] __.” We are so much more than that single label that we and others use in a negative way against us.

We adopt the negative label and often forget that we have positive labels. Back when I was living out my “I’m fat” tag on a daily basis, I never noticed any of the other labels that I had. I forgot that I was “a gardener”, “an empath”, “a reader”.

When we forget the other labels, we become focussed only on that one negative label. This means we live it out in our daily lives, ensuring it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Step Four: Who You Want to Be

Look through both of your lists of labels – those you can see simply aren’t true, and those you’ve decided are true. Which ones do you want to keep?

Although all these labels are in your core identity, the negative ones niggle you most.

Which of your labels, true or not, are negatively impacting your life? How are they holding you back? What lies and excuses are they perpetuating that you tell yourself?

Here’s a mind-blowing truth: you do not have to adopt the label, even if it looks like it is correct for you.

If you drink too much, labelling yourself an alcoholic merely acts as a reminder to live up to that tag. It doesn’t enable you to get treatment, and it’s unlikely you’ll forget your drinking if you don’t have the label!

The label gives you the excuse to drink. It reiterates that because you’re an alcoholic to your core, you don’t stand a chance of being anything else. You don’t stand a chance at recovery. Yet more negative effects of labelling.

Arguably, in the 12 Step Programmes, the labels are considered useful by some. I’ve shared about my eight sober years in AA and how those labels were actually detrimental to my mental health. I’m not here to argue against 12 Step – work whichever programme works for you, it didn’t work for me.

It’s time to make the decision about which labels you want to keep and focus on.

Step Five: Losing the Labels for Good

Let me give you a quick ‘spoiler alert’ before we get into the ‘meat’ of step five: this will be uncomfortable. You are dragging your brain and subconscious kicking and screaming out of the illusory world they’ve built for you over years. They will try and convince you that losing certain labels is the wrong decision.

It’s time for you to regain control.

There are two options for you at this point: continue to hide behind those labels, or do the work to shake them.

We’re going to look at the labels you want to lose, and thinking about some opposing beliefs. This will be easier with some than others, dependent on whether the label is evidentially true or not.

“I’m stupid” becomes “I’m intelligent.”
“I’m not good enough” becomes “I’m enough.”
“I’m fat” becomes “My weight doesn’t matter.”
“I drink too much” becomes “I’m learning to moderate my drinking” / “How much I drink does not define me.”

This concept of opposing beliefs may not feel at all comfortable for you yet, and that’s okay. It might be too big a leap from the current things you’re saying to yourself, to something so neutral or positive. When I felt like this, I used the following templates to come up with an alternative ‘affirmation’:

“I’ve created the thought that I’m _, but [evidence]_ suggests that I’m not.”
“I’ve created the thought that I’m __, but I choose to see that it is not an appropriate thing to define me.”

“I’ve created the thought that I’m stupid, but my degrees suggest that I’m not.”
“I’ve created the thought that I’m fat, but I choose to see that it is not an appropriate thing to define me.”
“I’ve created the thought that I drink too much, but my learning to moderate my drinking suggests that I’m not.”


Remember that you once had no labels in your subconscious. You absorbed the labels you heard, and that’s how you ended up with the list of tags that make up your self-identity. The great thing about this is that it means that you can take in new labels.

When we have a thought repeatedly, our brain accepts it as true. That’s how all those labels ended up being pumped out unconsciously. I have the opportunity to flood my brain with new thoughts to replace the old labels that cause me pain.

We will occasionally fall back on the old way of thinking, but we must remember we get to create our own thoughts. Our brains don’t care if the thoughts we have are true, so we have to step in and create the most beneficial thoughts for us.

Those positive thoughts will then be used by the brain on autopilot. They will overwrite the old labels that you clung to. Your labels do not have to last forever: we all change many times across our lives.

You get to choose new labels today!

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