All of us have challenges and difficulties in our lives. How we handle those challenges is extremely important. As we grow up, we like to give meaning to our experiences. We start creating stories about our lives. If you listen to others (and yourself) you can start to hear the story lines. “I’ve always been fat. It’s in my family genes.” “I never win. I always come out on the short end of the stick.” “I’m a great cook. Always have been.” “So many people in my family are divorced. I knew it was only time before it happened to me. I was right, I’m divorced.”
These story lines or frames affect how our life unfolds. Negative frames create negative patterns. Positive frames create positive patterns. This is where reframing comes into the picture. If you can consciously reframe your experience, you can change how you think and feel about it.
Here is an example – “I’m 65 years old and my spouse of 35 years has left me. I am crushed, humiliated and embarrassed. My life is over.” Now, if this person consciously chooses to think about it differently, actually catches the inner dialogue which is creating the story and pivot to something more constructive, their life will unfold in a new way. “My marriage of 35 years is over. I wasn’t expecting that. However, nothing is forever. I am sad and I will recover. I will start planning all the things I want to do in my life and do them. I will change my focus and see this as an opportunity.”
This reframing process may happen over time. The shift can occur quickly or it may occur gradually but the effect is the same – a conscious shifting of the story to something more life enhancing and future focused. It takes awareness and practice. Here are some steps that will help the process.
Tune into your feelings. Catch yourself feeling your emotions and if they feel negative you know the story you are telling yourself is not a constructive one.
Watch the wording. Listen to how you tell the story in your head (or even out loud to friends and family).
Choose to pivot away from the negative and toward the positive.
Keep at it. Eventually it becomes easier.
Reframing may take time, but stick with it; the effort will pay off. It is a powerful tool to help you create a new story and the life that you want.
Deborah is a writer, teacher, speaker and senior faculty at the Centre for Conflict Resolution at the Justice Institute of British Columbia.