Framing Again — HOW To Look At An Obstacle In Another Light
Contributing Author: Kirsten Pabst, NDAA Well-being Task Force Chair
Re-framing is the practice of thinking about a challenge in a new way, one that offers context or breaks the problem down into manageable chunks. It is a deep examination of a story’s narrative and where in that story our mind does what human minds do — connect dots. Sometimes the dots should be connected, but sometimes the connections are nothing more than our brain’s attempt to make sense of the world around us — as it tries to protect us from all known and unknown danger.
“I’m getting this lousy assignment because my boss doesn’t respect me.”
“The judge doesn’t care about victims.”
“The appellate justices are so out of touch, they forgot what it is like in the trenches.”
Do you ever find yourself making assumptions but deep down inside you know there is more to the story?
Unlike the Pivot — turning to look in a new direction instead of just stopping when we bump up against an obstacle like a brick wall — reframing requires looking more carefully at the obstacle and acknowledging that it might be something other than it appears.
Here’s an example: instead of looking at grocery shopping as a chore, try re-framing it as an opportunity to obtain nourishment for your family. Ok, maybe this is a better example. Instead of thinking,
“I can’t go. People might get killed or hurt if I don’t miss grandma’s birthday (or dinner with friends, my kid’s soccer game, etc.) to get that case filed this weekend.”
“Criminals hurt people, I don’t, and I have to prioritize my workload or, in the alternative, work with my organization to make the workload sustainable. This could be grandma’s last birthday and nothing is more important than the people we love.”
If this is a forced repetitive choice you must make, you may conclude after a closer inspection that the job isn’t sustainable and find another where you won’t have to miss your important life events.
We work in a world which requires evidence to support our conclusions, so why do we rely on so many assumptions in our daily lives? The following exercise, excerpted from my workbook Thriving Through Chaos — Survival Gear for Criminal Justice Professionals, is designed to assist the process of deconstructing a story so that what is left is true, allowing us to respond appropriately, with kindness, and in line with our values. We look at the actual thing in front of us — not how we feel about the thing. Marcus Aurelius described it best. “Strip away the legend that encrusts it” and see it for what it really is. [Meditations, VI.13]
Tool: Framing Again
Reframing is the practice of exploring alternatives by closely examining a story’s narrative for assumptions and then keeping only the parts of the story we know to be true. It helps focus on the thing, rather than our feelings about the thing.
1. Write down a short (1–2 sentences) situation which evoked feelings of irritation or hurt feelings.
[Example, “My boss didn’t say anything about my trial/project/presentation.”]
1. Shift gears now and settle into a growth mindset.
2. Write down 5 (or more) alternate explanations why the person may have done what they did. The explanations don’t have to be correct, accurate, helpful, or even realistic. The process of considering many explanations will help you decide how you will catalog the event and/or respond, if at all.
“1. She thought I did a terrible job;
2. She had so many meetings she forgot it was that day;
3. She is depressed and too distracted to notice even important things right now;
4. She is waiting to host a party in my honor;
5. She is an alien from a planet where they don’t do projects;
6. She’s a terrible manager and wasn’t raised to appreciate others;
7. I didn’t do a great job and she’s taking time to formulate constructive criticism;
8. She assumes I am confident enough to know when I do a good job and hasn’t had a good opportunity to express her authentic gratitude.”
1. Which one is most generous and possibly true based on known facts?
2. Which one is closest to true, based on known facts?
3. What is the best way to respond?
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Next time your mind utters a negative thought and you get the sense there may be more to the story, pull out your proverbial magnifying lens and take a deeper look. You may see something that helps answer the question or eases your discomfort about the situation — or you just might decide it is time to have that difficult conversation you’ve been putting off. Either way, the process will help bring clarity.
Kirsten Pabst chairs NDAA’s Well-being Task Force and serves as the County Attorney for Missoula County, Montana.