A very old Chinese Taoist story describes a farmer in a poor country village. His neighbours considered him very well-to-do. He owned a horse which he used for ploughing and for transportation. One day his horse ran away. All his neighbours exclaimed how terrible this was, but the farmer simply said “Maybe.”
A few days later the horse returned and brought two wild horses with it. The neighbours all rejoiced at his good fortune, but the farmer just said “Maybe.”
The next day the farmer’s son tried to ride one of the wild horses. The horse threw him and the son broke his leg. The neighbours all offered their sympathy for his misfortune, but the farmer again said “Maybe.”
The next week conscription officers came to the village to take young men for the army. They rejected the farmer’s son because of his broken leg. When the neighbours told him how lucky he was, the farmer replied “Maybe.”
Do you have a problem that’s been hanging around and you just can’t seem to shift? Perhaps you’re struggling with someone at work, or not sure where to go next in your career but when you try to address it, you end up with the same old stalemate. Suddenly blaming the other person, or threatening to throw in the towel is starting to look attractive.
The fresh ideas you need to break the impasse and end the suffering, require you to see things with fresh eyes! But how do you do that? How do you see what’s currently not in view?
Reframing involves seeing things from a different perspective, in a different light, from an alternative point of view. You probably do it occasionally, for example when you see the funny side of something. Or perhaps you were able to look back and realise how losing your job was the best thing that could have happened. But how do you make reframing a habit you can use at will?
Reframing really can be a truly valuable technique in all areas of your life. But looking at things from a different perspective isn’t about taking a Pollyanna approach where everything is wonderful. The aim is to achieve a new perspective on reality that can give you more options and opportunities than if you stuck with your existing ‘frame’ on a particular situation or event.
Politicians are experts at reframing situations–they seem to be able to twist any outcome to their advantage. In the same way, how you perceive a situation is up to you! You can choose how to frame it – tragedy or comedy, positive or negative, an opportunity to complain or to grow.
We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.
This little maxim attributed to writer Anais Nin was a lightbulb moment for me in my journey as a coach, and is something I return to again and again. There is no one version of events–there are as many interpretations as there are people, beliefs and influences to shape them.
When you recognise there are multiple ways of interpreting any situation, it can be a huge source of relief. Suddenly its less about absolutes and whether your particular viewpoint is true or false, right or wrong, but whether sticking with it (sometimes like a tenacious terrier) is holding you back or helping you to move forward.
So how are you currently framing the issues in your work and life?
Like a picture frame, a frame marks off some part of the world. You don’t see the frame directly. Each frame gives the advantage to certain ways of thinking, while it places others “out of the picture.” The idea is to shift the frame so you can see new pieces of the picture that may have been currently out of view (at least to you – the people around you may well be aware of them)
Would seeing your colleague’s responses as reasonable rather than as a personal attack allow you to identify a way forward? Maybe it’s not a career change you need but a change in attitude to allow you to take up new directions within your field that better fit your lifestyle or goals.
Its helpful to keep in mind that you may have to give something up in order to see the alternative advantages in a situation. An example would be when you get sick or injured during an especially busy time at work and need to take time off. Instead of being frustrated or upset you could relish having the unexpected time to rest and reflect on your priorities while your colleagues pick up the task. You may find that your team are more than capable without you, which may help you develop better work life balance and connection to your family as a result.
As well as ascribing new meanings to a situation, it can also reframe the context. You do this by thinking about a situation where the behaviour or event in question would be useful. For example your sensitive colleague that annoyingly seems to read into everything, might be the just team member you need most in high stakes situations where emotional intelligence is required to avoid future miscommunications and conflict. All behaviours can be valuable within the right context.
Take a leap
When you’re open to new perspectives you have the possibility make leaps in your development.
‘Our key to transform anything lies on our ability to reframe it.’
Reframing teaches you not to judge a situation too soon or until it is played out. It teaches you that there are valuable opportunities to learn and grow in all situations. When you are unhappy in life it’s usually a sign you have stopped growing and are resisting something we need to face (and until you face it, you’ll stay stuck!).
Think of an issue you are struggling with at the present time and see if you can reframe it. The harder it seems the more beneficial it will be to free yourself from old thinking and find a new perspective.