How Reframing Really Works

In reframing, as in life, perspective is everything.

Most people will tell you that there are only two types of reframing:

1 – Change the meaning of the information
For example, someone might have sensations in their stomach just before giving a presentation. They might be interpreting those sensations as nervousness or ‘stage fright’. However, it may be equally valid to interpret the sensations as excitement or even indigestion!

2 – Change the context for interpreting the information
For example, suppose someone says “hurting people is wrong”. We might ask: what about self-defence? What about during a war? In these different contexts, the experience is transformed.

3 – Change the frame
Wait – didn’t I say there were only two types? This is the one that most people do not talk about when discussing reframing. Why? Many people are used to ‘applying’ a reframe – basically, telling others how to think. It’s lazy and a poor use of the skill of reframing.

To show you how this one works, I’m going to tell you a story:

Don Pedro was a poor farmer who lived with his son in a shack on a small plot of stony land. One day, he was out walking and he found a cloth bag on the road. The bag was full of seeds.

His neighbours said “Ah Don Pedro. How wonderful! Now you can grow some food which will feed you through the winter. What a blessing!”

Don Pedro just shrugged and said “Maybe”.

So he laboured over the next weeks, clearing stones and weeds from the soil, planting and nurturing the seeds until he had several rows of green shoots. The next day, they were all gone.

His neighbours said “Ah Don Pedro. How dreadful! You’ve worked so hard and all for nothing. Curse the very day you found those seeds!”

Don Pedro just shrugged and said “Maybe”.

So he sat up the next night to see if he could find out what had happened to the seeds. And as dark descended, he heard a strange harrumphing noise. The next morning found Don Pedro standing with a beautiful white horse that he’d captured in the night – the same horse that had eaten his crops.

His neighbours said “Ah Don Pedro. How wonderful! Now you can travel to town and back quickly and this beast can be used to plough the land. What a blessing!”

Don Pedro just shrugged and said “Maybe”.

The next day, Don Pedro’s son fell from the horse and broke his arm.

His neighbours said “Ah Don Pedro. How dreadful! You’ve so much work to do and your son is injured and can’t help. Curse the very day you found that horse!”

Don Pedro just shrugged and said “Maybe”.

Several days later, the army arrived in the village, conscripting boys for war. Don Pedro’s son, being injured, could not go.

His neighbours said “Ah Don Pedro. How wonderful! You boy’s injury saved him from conscription. Now he will be here to help you and will not risk his life on the battlefield. What a blessing!”

Don Pedro just shrugged and said “Maybe”.

The story goes on, but I’m sure you get the idea. Each time the frame changes, the neighbours’ perceptions reverse – they are ‘reframed’. Most interestingly, look at Don Pedro’s outlook. He functions outside all of the frames, so his outlook keeps him off the emotional rollercoaster and he moves forward steadily instead.

This, to me, is the true skill of reframing.

How Reframing Really Works by

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