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Reframing - The Master Key

TIGNUM Thoughts

November 7th, 2020

Insights from the author

By Scott Peltin

In a busy and chaotic world, we don’t have the time or energy for complex tools or solutions. In my past life, when I was running into burning buildings (a great example of conflagration and chaos), our motto was first to always have a tool with you at all times, and second to make sure that the tool could be used to complete as many functions as possible. Having only two hands, trying to juggle ten tools would be fatal. For human beings who want to maximize their performance and impact (at work and at home), and who want to grow their Performance Mindset to be able to rule their future challenges, reframing is that tool.

So what is reframing? Imagine looking at a beautiful photograph of someone or someplace that you love. What do you love about that photograph? Is it the subject? Is it the context? Is it the lighting? Is it the angle that the photographer applied? Change any of these things and the entire photograph feels different, it has a different meaning, it has a totally different impact. That is the power of reframing.

For humans, this act of reframing is critical to our performance, our impact, our well-being, our ability to collaborate, our ability to learn and grow, and even our ability to survive. Just like the tools I used to carry into a fire, reframing can be applied to a multitude of challenges. You can reframe your beliefs. You can reframe your perspective. You can reframe your story. You can reframe your self-talk. You can even reframe your self-image. Here are some examples.

I had a client I was coaching who had a terrible temper. Whenever things would become contentious, he would explode in a rage of insults, threats, and anger. As you can imagine, this response was destructive and surely would prevent him from any future success. I asked him where he felt this learned response came from. Through reflection and introspection, he concluded that as a child, he had seen this behavior from an abusive father, and he saw that others backed down (a perceived positive outcome). This shaped a deep belief in him that whenever he is cornered, using his temper gains control of the situation. We challenged the framing that this belief created, and quickly he saw things differently. This belief that may have served him when he was ten years old would only lead to failure as a father, as a husband, and as a leader. What beliefs do you harbor that need reframing?

Dr. Greg Prudhomme, a leading performance psychologist and top collegiate tennis coach, believes that teaching his players to reframe their perspective about competition is one of the most critical reframes they need to learn. Many competitive athletes grow up with the perspective that competition is war. This is ingrained in them from a young age with war metaphors such as: go out there and kill your opponent; don’t just win, slay them; teach them a lesson that they don’t want to mess with you; and on and on. Dr. Prudhomme teaches a totally opposite framing of competition. He teaches that competition is a partnership. With this framing, suddenly competition is an opportunity to learn, grow, develop, and achieve your full potential. It requires that your opponent push you out of your status quo. It requires that you learn to master your emotions and inner dialogue. It helps you learn to love the sport you compete in, to love your opponent, and to love the opportunity that competition provides you, even if you don’t win. Research shows that those who choose the latter framing enjoy their sport more, they have longer careers, they create better relationships, they develop more transferable mindset skills for future endeavors, and they are healthier (fewer injuries, less hypertension, less anxiety, less burnout). What is your framing of competition? Who are you competing against? What perspectives could you reframe?

Human beings are storytellers. We love listening to them, we are inspired by them, we are guided by them, and we love telling them, but we also need to challenge them and reframe them. Laura Penhaul, a physiotherapist in the UK, was working with Paralympic athletes when a close friend was diagnosed with, and quickly died from, breast cancer. The combination of these experiences forced her to challenge the stories she had been telling herself about her own self-imposed limitations. This started her on a journey to find something that would not only truly challenge her limitations but also put her in a position to not be able to quit. As captured in the fantastic documentary, “Losing Sight of the Shore”, she assembled a team of four female rowers, and they rowed from San Francisco, California, to Cairns, Australia. In her preparation, she was faced with the story that this was impossible, that four female rowers could not achieve this never-done-before goal, and that it was too hard (physically, mentally, and emotionally). Laura decided to reframe that story, and to hear her tell the new story changed my perspective forever. As she says, “We all have a Pacific Ocean to cross, but you can’t cross it until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.” What story are you telling yourself about your limitations? What is your Pacific Ocean?

This brings us to our own inner dialogue, our self-talk. We have written about this before, but this is probably the place where constant diligent reframing can be the most powerful. As humans, in an attempt to keep us from doing anything risky, our brain bombards us with thoughts like, “I am not good enough,” “I’m stupid,” “I can’t do this,” “I should just quit.” The brain wasn’t evolved to make a greater impact, to be a higher achiever, or to become a better person. It evolved to help us survive and seek comfort. Luckily, due to the complexity of the challenges we had to face as a species, this forced us to develop this unique and amazing ability to think and, therefore, also to think differently. When we challenge these low impact thoughts and reframe them into thoughts and statements that empower us to action, everything changes. By recognizing the thought, “I am not good enough,” and quickly reframing it to, “I am a learner and prepared to take on every challenge,” I suddenly lean into adversity, and I take the most important step forward - the first step. What thoughts are you allowing to defeat you? Are you reframing them?

Finally, and probably the most fundamentally important reframe, is to reframe our own self-image. At TIGNUM, this is the foundation of helping our clients become Sustainable High Performers and Impacters. We are all born with a clear self-image (we have no idea of who we are), and then quickly our parents, our siblings, and our environment tell us who we are. As we go through life, we often let others (social media, our friends, society, etc.) define our self-image. Through coaching our clients and helping them proactively reframe who they are and who they want to be, it's amazing to see how quickly they can let go of their status quo and start to make a greater and more sustainable impact. What is the self-image you have been given? Who do you want to be at your best?

These are all examples of the many places you can apply the Performance Mindset skill of reframing. So how do you do it?

The technique we apply at TIGNUM is to take the belief, story, thought, bias, whatever, and imagine putting it right in the middle of a table like an object you can set down. The way you see this object is your original framing. Now, walk around the table with curiosity and vulnerability and see this object in a different framing. Is the object true? Is the object helping or limiting you? Is the object full of drama, noise, and splash? As you walk around and you gain new perspectives, you will see the object with many other frames. Ask yourself some different questions. How can I reframe this object to serve me and others better? How can I make this new framing more solution/action-oriented, more in my control, more impactful?

Often, people mistakenly see reframing as an esoteric pollyanna practice of just looking at the bright side. Good reframing is actually anything but this. Good reframes are action-oriented, solution-oriented, and move you back to being in control.

Reframing is a skill, and therefore, must be practiced or it will atrophy. In certain high-stress situations, and when fatigue is high, constant reframing may be required to deal with the onslaught of low impact thoughts. Luckily, life will give you many opportunities to do this every single day if you are open to making that choice. If you really want to accelerate your journey to Sustainable High Impact, you may want to journal and reflect on some of these reframes along the way. You may find thoughts like, “I am a great reframer,” “I am in control of me,” and “Anything is possible with my mindset,” taking residence in your brain.

With the current public health, economic, and political challenges looming, and with the new opportunities that our future crisis will present, reframing may be one of the most valuable Performance Mindset skills you could develop.

As always, I would love to hear what you think.

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