Lately I’ve been doing a lot of reevaluating in my life. This hasn’t necessarily just been looking at my circumstances, but looking at how I look at my circumstances. See, the picture we paint for ourselves every day as we go through life is the picture we then use to guide us further.
What if in life you got to draw out your own map? Imagine an adventurer who sets out to find a lost treasure, and treks for months through the jungle; hungry, sleep deprived, and having risked his life, he finds what he set out to find. It isn’t what the myths and legends led him to believe, and it won’t make him rich when he returns home, so does he return with his head low and the voice in his head calling him a failure?
Only if that’s how he perceives himself. Only is he has framed this result negatively. Instead, what if he saw the very experience, the very fact he faced the world and returned a wiser man, a victory in itself? It’s in our interpretation of the world that we can find riches beyond any silver or gold.
Reframing is the process of realigning our negative perceptions of the worlds in a way that prevents them from becoming like quicksand. It’s easy, when something doesn’t go our way, or something unexpected happens, to suddenly think “well, that’s life and there’s nothing I can do about it” or “how typical, trust this to happen to me“, but what if we could see things in a different light? What if we weren’t victims of circumstance?
See, reality isn’t set in stone. Our idea of reality, especially the role we play within it, is entirely subjective and open to interpretation. In fact, it is just that interpretation that we often use to paint things in a negative light. We’re quick to judge ourselves, and we’re rarely as accepting of our own trials as we could be.
A lot of the negative biases we have come from limiting beliefs we have about ourselves. If deep down we believe “I’m not enough” for example, then whenever an opening for this belief to rear its head is there, that’s what we’ll get. Say we apply for a job and get knocked back, rather than saying “well, I did try my best, so they must have had some other really good applicants” we attack ourselves by thinking “I shouldn’t have bothered applying, of course they weren’t going to take me”. It can be difficult to spot ourselves doing this, so if you want to start breaking these negative patterns there are a few things you can do.
One thing I’ve had recommended to me is journaling, and it’s one of my favorite tools (not just for reframing – journaling has a whole variety of positive effects, and is one of the reasons I write this blog). Taking time to write about your experiences can help you pick up on the way you interpret events. It gives you some space and provides clarity from your own thinking, as if you’re now observing a character in a novel, and you can start to pick apart their thinking.
In time, this will help you pick up on these patterns of negativity in real-time. You’ll be able to catch yourself and say hold on, why did I just think that? It’s a funny feeling when you first become aware of thinking about your thinking. As adults we rarely take the time to consciously reevaluate our thoughts. Children do this automatically, and are constantly – often consciously, sometimes not – shifting paradigms within their minds.
At a younger age, our brains adapt quickly to the world and learning is automatic, or comes about through experience. As we grow, we become more rigid in our thinking and often put our own programmed beliefs before the facts; that isn’t to say we can’t still do something about it. In fact, psychologists are finding that our brain plasticity never really goes away, so we’re free to reshape our neural pathways throughout our life with a bit of effort.
I’ve started using reframing in a broader application than just turning negatives in to positives. Lately I got knocked back from a job I really wanted, but I didn’t have any negative reaction. In fact, by the time I got the reply, I’d already taken what I had to from the experience. I found myself automatically reframing the experience of simply applying for a job I wanted, and perceived my actions as acknowledging my validity as an applicant in going for that job. The role was something that, even a few months ago, I’d have likely told myself I was unqualified for, yet here I was applying for it – in effect saying to myself, you’re just as qualified as the next guy to go for it. When I got the reply saying the job had gone to someone else, but that I was a close second, that became the ‘gold’ I took from the situation.
See, life happens on several levels. If we look at the case there with me and the job, we can see on one level that it’s simply somebody applying for a job, and not getting it – nothing too special about that. Yet, experienced subjectively, we can say – on a more conceptual level – that this is me going out of my comfort zone, acknowledging my skills and abilities, and seeing a greater vision for myself. I could have seen it as me chancing it, going out of my depth, and taking an unnecessary risk – had that been the case, would I have even applied?
Again, with the knock-back: it could be seen as me putting myself out there only to be turned away, or me having that self-acknowledgment reciprocated. So there is turning the negative in to positives, and then there is taking the greater concept from a situation and using it as a learning point and fuel for your growth. You can bet I’ll be applying for more of the jobs I actually want from now on.
Our brains are meaning-making machines, but they aren’t simply passive in their interpretation of the world. They operate on whatever software we install in them. Becoming aware of your inner-world – and how intertwined it is with this apparent outer-world – is a good first step in coming loose of the shackles that have held you in the past, and lets you begin living your life.