Yesterday I heard something in a yoga class that shouted out to me as a valuable leadership lesson:

The idea of putting a label on an experience.

Think about how many times a day you get caught up in labeling. We endlessly label our experiences (and sometimes those of others), we label our feelings, moods and thoughts as positive/negative, good/bad, strong/weak, etc. Our brains benefit from our ability to categorize and label; it is a way of accessing the huge amounts of data stored there. A label can help the brain find a “similar” file drawer quickly and efficiently. Processing data would be difficult, if not impossible, without our highly developed capacity to label.

The shadow side of labeling

The process of affixing a label for our own experiences takes an already active (often reactive) mind and occupies it fully. By giving an experience a label from a similar past experience or attempting to classify it in order to help predict and control a future outcome, we are harmed. Our tendency to label beyond the need for analysis can hinder leadership because it keeps us everywhere but in the here and now. We miss being present to “what already is.”
Learning to pay close and mindful attention to sensation without the need to label or categorize is important for leaders.

All that is required of you is to simply be in the experience rather than outside of it.

Why does “not” labeling matter?

It matters because when you are aware of what is happening in you’re here and now, be it any problem or challenge, a person or a situation you will pay close attention to its essence. The essence of your experience defies labeling. The essence must be experienced. There is no other way. You must be in it, and not outside of it.

Your heightened awareness can be experienced in your body. Because it will speak to you in a language that may be unfamiliar at first, here is a process to get started:

1) Stop and be still
2) Breathe deeply from your abdomen for 3-5 breaths; lengthen the inhalation and the exhalation with each new breath
3) Attend to the pure sensations going on in your body; learn its “language”
4) If the tendency to classify or categorize comes up, simply continue to breathe in a relaxed manner. Watch the tendency to label drift, as with a cloud moving across the sky
5) Be curious; open yourself to the potential that may have escaped if you had tried to label first!

The Proper Use of Labels:

Using labels can paralyze you from being present because the act of labeling attaches feelings and emotions that may not be responsive to the moment at hand.
Instead, save labels for organizing, collecting, and grouping data. Labels are useful when used for analysis; less so when they cause leadership paralysis!

Author's Bio: 

Susan S. Freeman, MBA, ACC, NCC
Executive Success Strategist
Author and Speaker
Founder, Step Up Leader

Susan Freeman is author of the new book, “Step Up Now: 21 Powerful Principles for People Who Influence Others,” and the Founder of Step Up Leader. She is an experienced and respected Executive Success Strategist whose passion is helping entrepreneurial leaders go from “stuck” to “unstuck.” She has created a unique system that helps people access their emotional intelligence so they can lead powerfully and authentically. Susan has helped clients in diverse industries and roles obtain passion, clarity, and exceptional results.
She received her B.A. in Psychology from Wellesley College and her M.B.A. in Marketing from Columbia University in New York. She brings to her clients more than 25 years of strategic marketing, non-profit, and retained executive search experience in London and New York. She received her coach training and certification from The Newfield Network. Susan is an accredited coach with the International Coach Federation, as well as an MSP-certified business facilitator.
Susan is a native of Kansas City and resides in Tampa, FL. She is an active member of The Athena Society and a Leadership Tampa Alumna. Committed to education, Susan has served on several educational boards at the secondary and university level. Her global passion is developing young women entrepreneurial leaders in Rwanda, where she is currently involved with The Akilah Institute, a school that empowers young women with the skills, knowledge, and confidence to become leaders.

Susan is happily married and has three grown sons. Rarely a day goes by when she doesn’t eat a piece of dark chocolate