8 Ways to Reframe for More Successful Outcomes
Whatever your political views, the last couple of days have been a roller coaster of emotions. We as a nation were experiencing a great deal of uncertainty along with the anxiety and fear that goes with it.
Now that the election outcome is decided – whatever you’re feeling about the results – there are many that are confused, upset and in a place of even more fear. And when there is too much fear, it’s difficult to make good choices.
When something happens that we aren’t expecting or that we perceive as bad, our minds naturally want to figure it out, to understand how or why it happened. We seek an explanation as if understanding the cause and the effect will somehow make it easier to accept.
This reaction is perfectly natural and it can help us. Taking the time to consider and evaluate unexpected or inexplicable events allows us to see the lessons that they can teach us.
But sometimes our attempts to dissect a situation can have a more negative outcome. We focus on what happened, and as we turn it over and over, we magnify it in our minds. We then try to project what will happen from here. When we’re already fearful, confused, or anxious, it’s easy to focus on all of the ways that things can go even more wrong down the road. This then leads to more anxiety, worry and fear… about a future event that has not yet happened – and may never happen.
No matter who you supported in this week’s election, there’s an important lesson available to us all that’s worth considering. When complex, inexplicable or stressful things happen, how we interpret them matters a great deal – sometimes even more than the thing itself.
Research shows that reframing challenging events and difficult situations positively allows us to improve communications, build consensus and achieve more successful outcomes.
Stressful events, big and small, can ruin our days and weeks. We feel frustration, anger and fear. We often look for someone or something to blame. Over time, this not only clouds our thinking but can add a great deal of stress and anxiety to our lives.
But we don’t have to get stuck there. We can choose to feel and then move through the upsetting emotions, accept our reactions, and then reframe our focus. Reframing is a powerful technique that enables us to take what opportunities we do have and to make the most of them. It involves identifying unhelpful thoughts and replacing them with more positive or adaptive ones.
What’s reframing and how does it help?
The basic principle is that events or situations do not have inherent meaning. We assign meaning to situations based on how we interpret what happened. Every thought we think has a frame behind it. This frame is based on our underlying beliefs and assumptions about the world. We always have the opportunity to choose to see things from a different perspective.
This can be a difficult concept to accept at first, but there is a good deal of research behind framing and reframing. Even when a seemingly worst case scenario happens, it is ultimately a worst-case scenario because of the way we frame it.
This is not to make light of tragedy or to say that there is anything wrong with feeling anger or fear in an upsetting situation. We are all human and it’s natural to be upset when something that is upsetting happens. That said, there’s a step beyond the anger, upset and fear that is more freeing and expansive… a place where we can begin to move forward. In doing so, we can be a part of the solution and not add to the problem with more anger, confusion, worry or fear.
Even in the most difficult of circumstances, we can choose to reframe our thinking so that a negative event can be given a more positive meaning.
How do you reframe a complex, inexplicable or upsetting situation?
The basics of reframing come down to two steps:
- Notice your negative thoughts (especially projections into the future) and
- Replace those thoughts or beliefs with more positive ones.
Here are eight ways you can use reframing for more successful outcomes:
- Ask: The next time you notice yourself feeling frustrated about a situation or perceiving something to be ‘bad’, ask yourself what is the best way for me to face this difficult circumstance? Consider how you can reframe it.
- Time: Try looking back on today from 25 years out and ask yourself how you’ll feel about the event or situation then. While this isn’t always comforting, it will usually give you some perspective.
- Challenge: Challenge your belief or assumption by saying “let’s look at this another way.” This can have a huge impact over time as you start to recognize your most common negative thoughts and have a reframe available whenever the thought arises.
- Compare: Find something worse to compare it to: “At least ‘X’ didn’t happen.”
- Turn it around: Try to turn the situation around to gain a positive from it.
- Learn: Consider what you can learn from the experience. Challenges truly offer us an opportunity to learn. Taking time to “find the lesson” can give you a more positive reframe.
- Watch your words: Language truly does matter. We can often reframe a situation by using language that is not as strong. For example, instead of thinking: “I really hate him,” you can reframe to: “I’m not a fan of that guy.”
- Move ahead: How can you use the experience to help you move forward?
All of these take practice. But reframing is a powerful tool that can become second nature over time. Remember that failure is often one step on the road to success.
Using the election results as an example, there is an understandable and considerable fear. For many this even feels like the end of our country as we know it.
And yet projecting negative thoughts into the future can cause serious anxiety – without changing or improving the outcome. One of the most common cognitive distortions is our tendency to predict the future in a negative way. Even when we feel we have no control in a situation, it can be helpful to remind ourselves that we don’t know everything and certainly don’t have the power to predict the future.
Sample Reframe #1: “I’m not sure what the future will bring, but it’s likely that it will be better than today.”
For reframing to be of most benefit, it’s important to find a reframe that you can believe in. If the reframe above feels too far-fetched, you’ll want to try a different one.
Sample Reframe #2: “I’m not sure what the future will bring, but I am open to the possibility that it will be good.”
Sample Reframe #3: “I’m not sure what the future will bring, but I am open to the possibility that it will not be as bad as I fear.”
What reframing is NOT is simply putting a happy face on a serious situation. It IS a way of acknowledging and experiencing what you are feeling, and finding a way to face the difficult situation in a way that can lead to more positive outcomes in the future. As Changing Minds explains, you can reframe:
- A problem as an opportunity
- Unkindness as lack of understanding
- A weakness as a strength
- An impossibility as a distant possibility
- A distant possibility as a near possibility
- Oppression (against me) as neutral (doesn’t care about me)
By finding the positive behind your thoughts and emotions, you can work with your mind to reframe a situation. This is more effective in the end than stirring in a pot of worry, fear and upset.
Reframing is a powerful way to shift our mindset. With practice, it helps us remember how very many options we have even in what can seem like limited circumstances – and it gives us the ability to intentionally accept and work within a world where there are a multiplicity of truths.
How can you use reframing to make your inner dialogue more positive?
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