Reframe Your Thinking

It happens with siblings and with close friends. You talk about something, agree on the facts, but see the meaning of it, or what was really going on, in a completely different way. It’s crazy, right? It makes us wonder “What’s the truth here?”

That important question applies as well to the stories we tell ourselves, the narrative that plays in a continuous loop inside our head. We take facts, assign them a meaning, and then make that meaning the truth about ourselves or our situation. That truth may serve us well by reinforcing the positive in us: we are kind, helpful, powerful, competent, and so on. Other “stories we tell ourselves” do the opposite:

  • Anyone can do what I do
  • I am an imposter
  • I am not smart/thin/pretty/whatever enough
  • If others really knew me, they wouldn’t like me
  • I am too emotionally wounded to change
  • I can’t handle this
  • I am unworthy of…
  • Something bad is about to happen

These messages, and many more like them, hold the disempowering beliefs we have about ourselves. They shape our experience, influence how we engage with others, and determine how we show up in the world. When we treat these messages as the truth, their negative impact is significant: they mess with our self -perception, our self- esteem, our confidence, and our pursuit of what matters.

But here’s the thing: we get to choose what’s true, and that’s how we disempower these messages.  I had a very close friend in high school who told me that I would always “be” where I came from, that I would never get beyond my circumstances. My friend was dead-right about the facts, but dead-wrong about their meaning. At the time, though, her interpretation, her “truth,” stung and it got in my way.

The poet Mary Oliver wrote, “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.”

My friend gave me such a box. I eventually learned that I could make my own meanings when someone or something tries to hand me a box full of darkness.  We make our own meaning by “reframing,” a thinking technique that allows us to change our perspective on a situation, person, or relationship to give it a more positive or beneficial meaning to us.  We can also use reframing to replace our own limiting beliefs, change our negative thoughts, or help appreciate the positive in ourselves, others, or a situation.

In other words, we can choose to see something differently. Reframing isn’t about changing what can’t be changed, about disavowing facts. It works by allowing us to narrate our stories from a place of lessons learned, of found strengths and abilities, and of turning difficulty into opportunity. It puts us in command of our own story in ways that make us feel more powerful, fulfilled, and inspired to focus on “the good.”

Consider these simple but powerful “reframes”:

FROM: I can’t do anything about this.

TO: I can take this first step toward what I want.

FROM: I am no good at relationships.

TO: I have learned something helpful from every relationship.

FROM: I’m not good enough to reach my goals.

TO: Every step I take to learn and grow brings me closer to reaching my goals.

What you tell yourself about yourself matters.  Here are five tips for writing a story you WANT to be in:

  1. Remember that you are the meaning-maker, period.
  2. Separate fact from the current interpretation.
  3. Use questions to shape your personal power narrative. In terms of this experience or situation:
    • Is there another way to look at this?
    • How would I feel if I looked at it in this new way?
    • What behaviors and beliefs would I adopt if I looked at it this way?
    • How would that contribute to how I experience myself? My life?
  1. Craft a story that stays true to facts while inspiring you.
  2. Find someone who listens to you with a heart wide open.

It is never too late to change any story that keeps you stuck, angry, afraid, or discouraged. That’s the power of reframing! Where is your opportunity?


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