How To Reframe Your Thinking: A Change of Perspective
Sow a thought, reap an act; Sow an act, reap a habit;
Sow a habit, reap a character; Sow a character, reap a destiny.
When my doctor told me, “You need heart surgery immediately,” I thought it was the end. Of course, he was trying to communicate that a successful operation would save my life, but all I could envision was my heart stopping and the horrifying darkness of death. I was scared out of my wits.
I fled to Wisconsin’s Northwoods, a place I had been going to all my life, a place that represented calmness and peace for me. There, I could be free to deal with the enormity of the task ahead. At our cabin on the lake, I would sit for hours in a boat or on the dock. I let myself breathe deeply, see the darkness, feel my fear. Then, I envisioned the operation, and began to reframe my view.
In the new view, my heart had a brand spanking new valve. It was working. I was alive. All I had to do next was regain my strength, and allow the support of my loved ones to help me through it all. I ran through this scenario in my mind’s eye dozens and dozens of times between my time at the lake and my surgery a week later, and it made all the difference. By looking at my situation from a different perspective, by managing my thinking, I was able to replace fear with hope, doubt with confidence, and worry with positive expectation. I created a mindset for healing and wellness.
Changing Your Perspective Can Help You Reframe Your Thinking
We gather meaning from the way we see things. If any part of our frame changes, then the meaning also changes. It can happen by accident or by a deliberate process. The important thing to remember is that we do have the ability to shift our point of view and “see things” in a different light.
It is possible to see a barrier as an opportunity or an opportunity as a barrier, that is, to see something benign as a threatening event or a threatening event as benign. For example, being a perfectionist can cramp productivity, because nothing can ever be perfect. On the other hand, being a perfectionist can give one the edge to catch and solve potential problems before they happen.
Imagine that you hear the blasting sound of sirens—fire engines, ambulances, and police cars—in the distance. Your heart races as you imagine some horrible accident. Later, you are watching the local news and see that there was a parade down Main Street. You now realize that the fire engines, ambulances, and police cars were part of that parade and that the sound was actually part of a celebration.
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Take a large breath and recall a specific time you were on a vacation and imagine you are back in that moment. Is it rainy, sunny, windy, hot or cold? What color is the sky? Are you alone or with someone else? You can take any situation from your past and restructure a memory. It may seem real to you, but is it real? It is to you, but it’s taking place in your imagination. This is another example of visualization. We visualize all the time and we usually don’t realize it. It is those pictures and images or mental movies in your imagination that have a huge impact on how you feel.
Reframing our thinking and how we think reflects how we picture or hold images in our mind, which in turn determines what we feel. Images and pictures that we visualize as big, bright, close, and vivid have greater emotional impact than images that are small, dull, and far away. I realized this some years ago when my company created a documentary about age regression through hypnosis called Through the Portal, which we sold to the Sci-Fi Channel. In order to produce the film, we had to make a number of creative and logistical choices, all based on the vision of what we wanted the end result to be. In my mind I saw a program that would show five people going into a regression. The simple arena-style set was designed to fill a large, nondescript studio space. We used four cameras to capture the action. One of the director’s tasks was to ask the camera people to go extremely close to the faces of the people being regressed in order to connote high emotion. The set had to be lit in such a way that it was very bright and crisp, because emotionality that is shadowy would be creepy. It was powerful!
Think of reframing as making a movie—recreating, changing or tinkering with the elements that make a mental movie, picture or image. That is where the power of the imagination comes in. It can be used for changing negative habits or self-image, workplace negotiations, giving presentations, teaching, athletic endeavors, fear of flying, and many other things.
Now, I would like you to do a reframing exercise at its most basic level:
- Vividly recall a person from the past who has hurt your feelings or made you angry. Imagine that person’s face two feet in front of you. Notice the discomfort or unhappiness that person generates in you.
- Imagine moving the image of the person’s face fifteen feet away from you.
- Next, make the image of the face smaller by shrinking it in your imagination to the size of a doll’s head.
- Now, make the image of the face black and white.
- Next, make the image transparent so you can see through it.
- Now, make the image fade away and disappear.
Notice how much better you feel? You just changed the way you feel by changing the memory. By changing the memory, you will change the impact that that person or situation has on you in the future. You have just used your imagination to reframe – to make something better rather than letting your imagination get the best of you.
Do this reframing exercise one or two more times using other people or situations that have caused you emotional upset and that keep replaying in your memory. You really can influence the subconscious Elephant!
Your Turn Again
- Imagine—make up—a mental movie of something that would make you feel happy “as if” it were happening now. Imagine you are viewing this movie on a big screen.
- Now, imagine that you are walking or floating directly into the “you” in the movie. See it through your eyes, smell it, hear it, feel it. It is happening to you now, in the moment. You are the picture. Go for the details.
- As though you were turning up the volume on your iPod, radio, television or computer, imagine that you are making the movie bigger, brighter, louder, and more vivid—full of sound and detail.
How does this exercise make you feel? Don’t you experience an elevation of your spirit through having created this imagined mental movie, charged with positive emotions?
When applied correctly, the power of your imagination can reframe your thinking and enhance the quality of your life on every level.
“I just wanted to take a moment and tell you that I have finished reading the most brilliant book. From the time I received it in the mail until a few moments ago in reading the last words – “IMAGINE THAT!” is genius!”
– Shard Drury, THE 360 Career Coach
James Mapes is the founder of Quantum Leap Thinking™, creator of The Transformational Coach™, expert on the psychology of “applied imagination,” best-selling author, highly acclaimed business speaker, consultant, seminar leader and personal excellence coach.