The Value of Reframing

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Life on earth is not perfect. You won’t get everything you want. Some bad stuff will happen to you and those you care about. Even worse, you don’t have any control over a large portion of this.

But you do have control over how you react to it. That’s where the value of reframing comes in.

Reframing is the art of changing how you look at a person, situation, or event by adjusting where you focus your attention. If you do it well enough, you can reframe a host of negative encounters to add some positive elements, or even substitute positive for negative ones. This can help you make lemonade from a wide variety of unwanted lemons.

Here’s how to reframe most effectively:

Expand Your Focus

The first step in effective reframing is to recognize that your current “frame,” or understanding, of the person, situation, or event is a narrow one. There are nearly always other possible causes, motivations, and meanings that could be involved.

Start by thinking about what these alternative “frames” might be.

  • Look for alternatives in your history with this person, situation, or event (or similar events).
  • Ask people you trust for their understanding of what’s going on.
  • Step outside your own personal point of view and consider how a total stranger might understand things.

During this process, be generous and kind in ascribing motivations to other people. Also, the broader your consideration of possible “frames,” the better.

Look for Positive Elements

Once you’ve developed a list of alternatives for understanding what’s going on, consider the positive aspects of each one.

For example, suppose you’ve been waiting too long for a message from a friend, a lover, a client, a prospect, or anyone else. You’re likely to feel disappointed, possibly hurt, perhaps rejected or otherwise deemed to be unsuitable.

However, if your alternative frames include possible reasons for the delay in getting the expected message – reasons such as a heavy schedule on the other end of the connection, technical difficulties, or perhaps even preparations for a surprise celebration with you – you will likely feel much less disappointment or pain.

Suppose you’re procrastinating work on an important project or challenge. Developing an alternative frame – such as a focus on similar projects or challenges you’ve completed before, or on the rewards you’ll receive once you’ve finished it – could make starting less daunting and increase your motivation to work on it.

If you utilize a suitable frame, you can usually find and focus on something positive about nearly every person, situation, or event you encounter.

For example, by proper reframing you can usually make important adjustments, such as:

  • Convert a problem into an opportunity
  • Transform a situation in which you’re weak into one in which you’re strong
  • Reorganize a difficult task so it’s more pleasant or even a fun game
  • Recognize a person’s unkindness as the fruit of miscommunication or faulty thinking

Retrain Your Brain

Having found an acceptable frame with positive elements, you can make it a point to use this frame instead of the original one. To help you do this:

  • Start using this frame when talking to others about the person, situation or event in question
  • Employ tricks – like putting up a visual reminder or coining a relevant nickname – to keep your thoughts within the new frame
  • Back-track in your conversations, writing, or thoughts every time you revert to the old frame, and consciously replace it with the new one

We naturally use frames to help us perceive, understand, and share thoughts about nearly every person, situation, and event we encounter. This notion of consciously reframing is therefore not a strange, new approach to your work and your life. Instead, it’s a simple tweak of normal, natural behavior that can bring powerful and positive improvements to your level of success and productivity.  

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