Reframing in its simplest form is changing a negative statement in to a positive one by changing the frame of reference used to perceive the experience. There are two major types of reframes, or ways to alter our perception about something: context reframing and content reframing. Both alter your internal representations by resolving internal pain or conflict, therefore putting you in a more resourceful state.
Context reframing involves taking an experience that seems to be bad, upsetting, or desirable and showing how the same behavior or experience is actually a great advantage in another context. Children’s literature is filled with examples of context reframing. Rudolph’s nose, which made people make fun of him, was actually an advantage and made him a hero in the context of a dark and snowy night. The ugly duckling suffered great pain because he was so different, but his difference was his beauty as a full grown swan. Context reframing is invaluable in business. Our mismatching partner was liability until we realized after the brainstorming process that he could be a great asset as a backup, as the one to note in advance any potential problems.
Great innovations are made by those who know how to reframe activities and problems into potential resources in other contexts. For example, oil was once considered something that destroyed the value of land for crop. Yet look at its value today. Several years ago, lumber yards had difficulty disposing of large amounts of waste sawdust from their mills. One guy took that waste and decided to put it to use in another context. He pressed it together with glue and lighter fluid and created something called Presto Logs! After contracting to take away all the worthless sawdust from saw mills, in two years he developed a multimillion dollar business, with his major resources costing him nothing! But that’s all an entrepreneur is: someone who endows resources with new wealth producing capacity. In other words, some one who is an expert reframer.
Content reframing involves taking the exact same situations and changing what it means. For example, you might say your son never stops talking. He never shuts up! After content reframe, you might say that he certainly must be a very intelligent young man to have so much to say. There’s the story of a famous army general who was known to have reframed his troops during a heavy enemy attack by saying. We’re not retreating we’re just advancing in another direction. When a person close to us dies, most people in our culture are sad. Why? Many reasons – feelings of loss, for instance. Yet some people are joyous. Why? They reframe death to mean that the deceased is always with them, that nothing in the universe is ever destroyed, that things just change form. Some consider death as graduation to a higher level of existence, so they are joyous.
Another kind of content reframe is to actually change the way you see hear, or represent a situation. If you’re upset about what someone said to you, you may envision yourself smiling as he says the same negative words expressed in the tonality of your favorite singer. Or your may see the same experience in your brain, only this time the speaker surrounded by your favorite color. Or you may even change what he says to you in the first place. As you re-experience it in your mind, you may hear him apologize to you. Or could see him speaking to you from a perspective that puts you very high above him. Reframing the same stimulus changes the meaning sent to the brain and thus the states and behaviors associated with it.
There was a touching and powerful article in the Baltimore Sun not long ago. Republished by Readers Digest, it was entitled, A Boy of Unusual Vision. It was about a young boy named Calvin Stanley. It seems Calvin rides a bike, plays baseball, goes to school, and does just about everything else that eleven year olds do – except see.