The Art of Reframing

As referenced in my blog “The 5 Most Frustrating Lessons in Life”, one of the biggest frustrations in life is being able to accept what is. 

“For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is let it rain.”  -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Why do you mentally fight the rain, wasting so much of your precious energy? For example, if you plan an outdoor party and it rains, you find yourself spending time getting frustrated with the weather and thinking about what went wrong. This can cause you to get stuck into a negative downward spiral. If you choose to accept the situation, then you can start using your energy problem solving or making the best of the situation. This is where reframing your thoughts can help with acceptance, transforming any situation from inferior to superior.

When we are not accepting a situation we often get stuck in a mental loop… “This can’t be happening, this can’t be happening, this can’t be happening. Please say it’s not happening” Well, it is happening! Everyone has experienced denial but the sooner you get to acceptance the better you will be able to deal with the problem or view it in a different light. 

Put on new glasses!

The art of being able to reframe what is happening to you is like adopting a healthy mindset. Most of us have had bad stuff happen to us, there is no way to escape that because it’s part of life. People that have the ability to reframe things that are undesirable are often happier, bouncing back quicker than those that cannot do this. This is different from positive thinking, it is purposeful thinking. 

Think of reframing your thoughts as getting new glasses which change your perspective of the situation. In essence you are changing your lenses in order to put a new spin on how you see the world. This can help you accept your situation because you see your situation in a new way through these different glasses. 

We have two types of thinking we can engage in — objective and subjective thinking. Objective thinking states the facts. For example, “it’s raining outside.” Subjective thinking is how you see the world based on opinion. For example “The rain will ruin my day.” The fact that it’s raining is less important than they way you view it. What if when it’s raining you thought “This is a great opportunity to plan a fun indoor activity with my family.” or “I might see a rainbow today!”

Let’s try reframing three examples of thoughts by using different glasses:

Rose Colored Glasses – Through these glasses you are always looking for the silver lining.

“My boss hates me so that is why I did not get the promotion.” A thought like this can make you feel like you have no control which can lead to feeling bad about yourself and the situation. 

Ask yourself: “How does this thought help me? Is it moving me towards where I want to go?” It may be true that your boss dislikes you and that is part of the reason you did not get a promotion. Regardless, this thought is not moving you towards where you want to go. In this case, perhaps the direction you want to go is getting a promotion. Feeling like you have no control because your boss is not fair will only make you feel worse and does not change the situation. 

Accepting the situation and reframing it would look more like this: “What can I learn from this experience that will make me better in the future? Maybe I can talk to my boss and see where I can improve. Maybe I need to change departments. This is a great opportunity to look at what direction my career is going. I am so glad I had this wake-up call to improve my situation.” The silver lining could be that you realize that you are in the wrong career and start to move in a direction that is more fulfilling. 

Self Compassion glasses – Giving yourself a break instead of getting caught up in the guilt.

“I hate when I overeat at night feel very guilty. I can’t seem to control myself” Guilt can create a downward spiral of self-destruction because we feel very bad about ourselves. It is more helpful to accept your choices from the past because they cannot be changed. Decide to learn from your past actions instead of giving yourself a mental beatdown. Would you feel compassion for your best friend who is having a hard time? Try to do the same for yourself. Does the guilt move you toward your goal or does it keep you stuck in self-destructive behaviors?

What is done is done. Ask yourself “Is there anything I can do to change a past situation or make amends?” If the answer is “no” then it’s time to let go of the guilt and move on to better choices. The reframed thought might look like this “Tomorrow is a new day to try a different approach to handling my food choices. I will see what worked and did not work with my mindset. I get a chance to be more intentional tomorrow.” 

Self compassion can look like not expecting perfection from yourself. Giving yourself grace to make mistakes and learn from them is a healthier approach. For example if you have a busy week and sleep past your alarm one morning then the thought would look like this “I guess I needed extra sleep today.

Funny Glasses – You are looking at the humorous side of things!

“I wore the wrong outfit to this event I am attending and now I feel self conscious about my appearance.” Adding humor to your reframe can be fun! In fact you can practice not taking yourself too seriously in situations and this can lower your anxiety. In this situation you can reframe the situation by laughing to yourself and saying something like “This will make a funny story one day!” OR “Yes I may have not dressed appropriately for this event but I am making other people who have made this mistake before feel better about themselves! I am actually helping mankind see that people are not perfect.” 

The fact is we all make silly mistakes in life but it feels better to laugh them off. When we get caught up in others judging us this can cause us to have unnecessary anxiety. Will it matter in one year that you wore the wrong thing to an event? Will you ever see some of the people that were at the event again? Acceptance through making light and laughing can be the healthiest thing we do for minor mistakes or setbacks. 

Try this reframing exercise at home: Reframing the past!

Write down all the bad stuff that happened in your life that you can’t seem to accept:

Past experience example: “I got divorced and it was one of the most painful things I have ever experienced.”

You may still be struggling with accepting that this happened in the past and you feel stuck. Take the bad and reframe it into a more helpful perspective that aligns with your goals. In this example, your goal may be to find another person to share your life with. 

Reframe example: “Because of the struggles in my relationship, I learned a valuable lesson of what I will and will not accept in the future. I am now free to find the person that I am supposed to be with.” 

Even if your life is really hard, you can learn something from it — that is the beauty of reframing. Painful things will happen to you but the pain can be given a meaning, even if it’s as simple as being able to help others going through similar pain. In other words, anything that happens to you has no inherent meaning other than the meaning you give it. 

You are the one who gives your events meaning. Therefore, it is beneficial to give meaning to events that help move you towards your ultimate goals. Reframing your thoughts by looking at things through your new glasses can help you change your experiences.

Want more? Check out this great PDF on reframing Leave a comment on how you have reframed a situation.