Reframing – The most powerful skill in my arsenal.

Over the years I have learned, tried, and practiced many techniques for managing my state of mind.  One of the most powerful skills I’ve learned is reframing.

Many people teach about reframing, so I’m not quite certain where I first learned about it.  Most likely it was Tony Robbins, but the credit goes out to other people as well.  Basically, what I’m saying is that this isn’t MY technique, although it is probably my favorite.

Tony Robbins teaches that one of the most powerful questions we can ask when something upsets us is, “what else could this mean?”

Since we never have 100% of the information regarding ANY situation, we already do a lot of guessing and imagining.  We take what we think we know and assume that it is the Truth.  If we’re operating from a lifetime of negative thinking, and someone we admire is rude to us, chances are, we will assume that person dislikes us.

What we don’t know is that the person may have had a terrible day.  He may have eaten a bad burrito and was on his way to a rest room.  Maybe his dog pooped in his shoe and he didn’t know it until he put his lucky sock wearing foot into the pile.  Or maybe he’s just a dick.  Either way, his rudeness probably had absolutely nothing to do with us.

When we assume things that upset us or cause us to feel sad, there is no benefit to anyone.  However, if we start to notice and then take control of our assumptions – reframing them to mean something positive – we can light up the world.  If nothing else, we can light up our world.  From there, we can become beacons for others to follow and emulate.

Picture the following scenario:

Side A: Kevin sees Renny walk in to the cafeteria at lunch, and he thinks she looks PISSED.  He relives the curt conversations they had earlier that day and decides (subconsciously!) that she is angry with him.  He then thinks she is over-reacting and greets her with a nasty, disapproving look.

Side B:  Renny woke up late that morning with a terrible hangover.  Her fiancé had unexpectedly left her after work yesterday and she lost it.  She drank until she passed out.  She woke up on the floor at 2 a.m., still drunk as shit.  After cleaning herself up, she went to bed and cried herself to sleep, forgetting to set her alarm.  The screaming baby next door woke her up in time for her to make it to work on time, but she was NOT focused or feeling well at all.  It took all of her concentration to keep from losing her breakfast of coffee, aspirin, and more coffee.

She managed to fake her way through the morning and was looking forward to having a quiet lunch with her best work friend.  When she walked in to the cafeteria, it took her a moment to find Kevin.  When their eyes met, he looked at her with such disgust that all of the pain and shame of her night came rushing back.  Her entire facade shattered and she turned around, heading for the door.


At several points in this story, a bit of information about the other Side could have changed the course of this friendship and of the day both participants were having.  Keep in mind, these people are dear friends!  Imagine how much information we’re missing about people we don’t know!  Seriously.  Try it!

Many of us skew toward the negative, because that’s how we’re conditioned.  That’s what movies, TV, books, and other media have shown us again and again.  For several years, I have been working to change this mindset, for myself and for those closest to me.  It can feel impossible at times, but I am a stubborn ass.  And I have caught myself assuming the best in certain situations where it once would have been damn near impossible for me to even fathom anything better than complete failure.

Yes, what I make up might be completely delusional.  But is it any more realistic to imagine something great than to imagine something terrible?  (Hint – the answer is NO!)  Also, fuck realistic.  One of my role models, Will Smith, said:

“Being realistic is the most common path to mediocrity.”

Look at his life.  I think the dude is on to something.

Instead of thinking about real vs. not real, let’s look at what hurts us vs. what serves the greater good.

If you’re assuming the worst, you will most likely behave as if the worst is true, and the world around you will respond accordingly.

If you’re assuming the best, you will most likely behave as if the best is true, and the world around you will respond accordingly.

If Kevin had assumed that Renny was having a bad day and greeted her with a caring smile, she might have taken the chance to explain her situation to him.  Then he would have had the opportunity to comfort his friend and help her get through her terrible day.

If Renny had sent Kevin a brief email telling him what happened, or even let him know that she was having a terrible day, he would have known that she needed a bit of slack.

This is NOT about blame.  I think blame is completely pointless, unless it is ONLY used for teaching and learning, without guilt or threat of retaliation.

The point is, if someone assumes the best, even if the worst is true, the situation will only be better because of it.

I encourage everyone to at least try reframing and see how it works for them.  At first it will probably feel fake and artificial and ridiculous, and maybe it is!  I’m a big fan of being ridiculous.  It’s fun!  It shakes things up.  Once you see how useful of a skill it is, I’m sure you will use it more and more.

Did some dumb bitch just cut you off in traffic?  Maybe her grandfather fell and can’t get up, and she’s on her way to help him, so she’s distracted.  Or maybe she has a gunshot wound and is hauling ass to the ER before she bleeds out.

Did some douchebag just run a red light in front of you?  Hey, remember that guy I mentioned earlier, who ate the bad burrito?  Yeah …

This isn’t about making excuses for people.  It’s about increasing our awareness of what other people might be experiencing and realizing that maybe, just maybe, they aren’t all out to get you.  Maybe, like you, they just need a little compassion.


One Response

  1. Matthew Hutchison
    Matthew Hutchison August 18, 2014 at 8:14 pm |

    This is a great post and brings up an awesome point. It is not only a valuable tool for keeping our relationships healthy but it can be a huge factor in helping us alleviate some of our own stress. When we let small things frustrate us, there can be serious negative effects on our overall mental stability and it can hinder the way we function for the rest of the day. This was a good read and an appreciated reminder. Thanks.

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