I got home from a late work-day a few weeks ago and after pulling into the driveway, sort of collapsed into this drained state. “Whew, that was a day!” I said, and I felt properly exhausted and a little down. But then I heard and saw myself go this way and realized what I really needed was a “reframe”.
The day had a diverse and lengthy list of completed tasks. As I reviewed the day for reframing I realized there were some good reasons for exhaustion.
In my reframing I realized how every part of the day had utilized a myriad of my skill sets, with a healthy but achievable set of challenges and more importantly, I realized how perfectly the day aligned (I reminded myself), with the sense of mission that drives me to do what I do in the world. There was a fulfillment in this…
I felt a physical shift in my body. I regained a sense of Flow…
I still had a bit of fatigue, but it was reduced as I felt the energy of being released into Flow, infused with gratitude. My breath naturally slowed and deepened as I appreciated a healthy and functional glow of well-earned completion of a good day. I found myself smiling, and this good feeling informed my evening from there.
This is the power of reframing, which is one of the core tools in a therapist’s tool box. As the quote from Shakespeare says, “There is nothing good nor bad but thinking makes it so…”.
First, to understand the idea of framing; think about how each of us is walking around the world constantly translating our experience into our own unique view, our "frame" of understanding.
Human beings are meaning-making machines. We process an almost overwhelming amount of incoming data about the world in any given moment. To “tune in” to a coherent and motivating sense of Self amidst potential chaos, we create a narrative - a frame - to organize our awareness.
Frames are a “cognitive shortcut” to this meaning-making, creating a unique and compelling worldview out of all the incoming stimulus.
But sometimes, for many different reasons, our frames start to get a little wonky. We can let a negativity bias – something most of us can experience on occasion - help create the frame. We become used to focusing on our problems, and this darkens the frame.
We might notice that our worldview is darker and more painful than we would like. And, more often, we don’t notice, and we become a captive of our increasingly dark frames.
This is the time for a reframing. This can be a small shift, such as the attitude-adjustment I described at the start of this, or it can be more global, a deeper re-examining of how you approach your life.
If the frames – the sense of meaning, or lack thereof – that you have been working with are really not serving your greater happiness, how useful are they? You have the power to choose a reframe to a more positive view.
So the million dollar question: how do you do it? As a therapist there are a bunch of ways I attempt to facilitate this in session - shifting from a negative view to a positive one, shifting a time perspective (what would this problem look like to you in 10 years?), shifting the personal point-of-view - but at the core what we are trying to do is zoom out to a larger perspective, and to a perspective more likely to align with your core values.
The most important guide is to remember that you, whether you realize it or not, possess the freedom to choose what you would like your perspective to be…
In the example above, my reframing was most powerfully impacted by remembering my sense of mission. What would your reframing look like? Here are some things to remember in answering this:
• Where do find your sense of meaning?
• You are in charge – this is your personal truth you are seeking.
• Does this perspective serve your happiness?
• Really, if it doesn’t serve you, change it.
• There is always another view, another perspective…
Reframing is an ongoing and useful process, as we challenge our assumptions and follow a healing path. It’s a shortcut to a more positive way of experiencing the world.
A Quick Exercise:
If you are having a “stormy” day and just need a moments break, a positive shift, perhaps give this a try. This is adapted from a mindfulness exercise I teach in my workshops, for a quick reframing as you go about your day. It takes just a few moments…
S – Stop! T – Take a deep, slow breath, in and out… O – Observe the situation, zooming out for a larger view of things. R – Reframe your perspective toward a more positive view. M – Move ahead with your day.