Everything we observe or experience comes with a “frame,” a perspective, a point of view, a history of past experiences that outline our expectations and interpretations. Change the frame and many other things can change as well. These interpretations are often so automatic that we are not aware of them. Yet they can powerfully serve us or greatly hinder us.There is a technique called reframing, which allows us to take conscious control over this process of interpretation and use it to help us achieve goals to create the future we desire. Reframing is simply a way of choosing to view a situation differently. Two people gaze out an open window. One sees a muddy field, the other a starry sky.
A classic example is from Apollo 13’s near disaster, when mission director Gene Kranz (played in the movie by Ed Harris) reframes the situation beautifully. Told that the space program is facing disaster and ruin, he asserts confidently to the contrary, “No. It will be our finest hour.”
Both statements potentially were true. Disaster was certainly a possible outcome. So was “our finest hour.” Yet which outcome is the most productive to focus on? Which frame summons the most energy and enthusiasm? If I were one of the astronauts in that space capsule, you can bet I’d be hoping my support team was focused like a laser on creating the finest hour outcome.
When you are walking a tight rope, it is much more effective to choose the frame of the safety awaiting on the far side rather than on the depth of the fall below. As my instructor in extreme driving school said, “Look where you want to go.” He was speaking specifically of controlling a skid, and that it was a novice’s mistake to focus on the outcome he wanted to avoid (not hitting the wall), whereas the professional driver focused on the desired outcome knowing that increased the likelihood of success.
Another classic reframe occurred during the 1984 U.S. Presidential campaign when much attention was focused on Ronald Reagan’s age. Reagan astutely reframed the debate by saying, “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”
Still another excellent example of reframing comes from the work of Milton Erickson, the famous hypnotherapist. A father brought his daughter in for therapy saying she was stubborn, strong willed, and refused to listen to him or her mother. Erickson replied, “Now isn’t it good that she will be able to stand on her own two feet when she is ready to leave home?” The father sat in contemplative silence for a few moments and then he and his daughter left. That was the entire therapy. The “cure” consisted of the father reframing his daughter’s behavior as something valuable, a trait useful to her later in life.
The essence of reframing is the awareness that there are countless ways to view every situation. All too often we choose our frames out of habit, or reflex, or without conscious thought of the consequences. It behooves us (at least the intelligent ones among us who wish to be effective in creating the change we seek) to choose a frame that moves us forward, that empowers us, that serves our purposes.
How aware are you of your frames? Think of at least five frames you have and of at least three disparate ways to view each one. Which viewpoints bring you the greatest peace of mind, put you in the most resourceful state?