Resilience Skills : The benefits of reframing your negative thoughts
Have you ever visited a relative’s house and thought that the picture they have over their mantelpiece is ugly and overbearing with its heavy, intricate gilt frame? Imagine if the next time you visited, that frame had been replaced with a lighter, plainer one which allowed you to appreciate the detail of the picture more clearly and thus view it in a new light … the picture wouldn’t have changed but how you perceive it has. Then imagine how refreshing it would be to be able to do the same thing with your attitudes and feelings towards events and experiences in your own life?
The good news is that this is possible and it is probably the reason why the technique has become known as ‘reframing’. It is useful to help us identify our negative thoughts and replace them with more positive or re-worked ones. It allows us to see that a problem may actually be an opportunity, a weakness really a strength, or an unkindness more a lack of understanding.
One of the important things to remember is that you are not setting out to change the content of the event or experience but your feelings towards it. So reframing will leave the facts of the situation alone but challenge the way you think about it. Politicians tend to be highly practised at it, we will all have witnessed their ability to put a positive ‘spin’ on the bad news they are delivering!
There are so many occasions when reframing can be useful that it would perhaps be most helpful to gives three types of negative thought and illustrate how reframing could be used on each occasion:
- Lack of belief in yourself – if you don’t challenge negative thoughts which limit your belief in yourself, it can lead to you not achieving what you want. For example, you may say “I won’t apply for x as I’m not good enough at y”, you could reframe this as “I really want to do z so I am going to apply for x. I know they need y which isn’t one of my strengths but I could certainly work on it and I can also offer w”. This way you are weakening the negative belief you have about your ability to do y and not allowing it to get in the way of achieving one of your goals.
- “Life’s OK but surely it could be better” – how often do you do one thing, have a good time but then hear about what someone else got up to and wish you’d done that with them instead? Reframing this kind of thought would involve taking a moment to highlight what you particularly enjoyed about your experience that you may not have got from your friend’s, rather than allowing yourself to feel that, in retrospect, your experience was negative.
- “I know I should but …” – this is where reframing can be used to help specific projects in your life. Say you are trying to lose weight, you’ve had a bad day, the fruit bowl is empty and it is blowing a gale outside but you know you will resort to the biscuit tin if there is nothing healthy to eat. To save yourself from the negative thought of “Great, I’ve had a bad day and I’m about to break my diet cos there’s nothing healthy to eat here”, you could reframe it to, “Ok, going out is the last thing I feel like doing but I know I will feel great when I have been out, got some fruit, had a bit of exercise to boot not to mention the fact it’ll save me from breaking into the biscuit tin when I need something to eat later.”
A useful tip when thinking about negative thinking is to watch the language you use, strong language tends to invoke strong feelings. Having the thought “I really hate Jo Blogs” will make you feel far worse than thinking, “I’m really not a fan of Jo Blogs”.
With a bit of practice, you will find reframing your negative thoughts becomes second nature and concur with the author Brian McGreevy,
“If a problem can’t be solved within the frame it was conceived, the solution lies in reframing the problem.”
This is one of a series of articles on aspects of resilience. You can access them all from this post Resilience Skills: An A-Z of definitions of the terms used.