University of Arkansas

Walton College

The Sam M. Walton College of Business

The Power of Reframing

The Power of Reframing

January 7, 2021 | By Stacey Mason

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The inability to move forward – to get unstuck – is usually tied to how we see the problem.

Essentially, the way we see the problem is the problem. For this scenario, let’s say “the problem” is something akin to a major client presentation that went poorly, a muddled conversation with a key executive, a technology rollout that had a few bugs, the relocation that fell through at the last minute, or maybe a less than flattering 360 feedback session.

The trouble usually begins with the backstory. This backstory, the mental recapping of the event, is flawed in some way: not enough data points, wrong assumptions, inaccurate conclusions, and excessive rumination to the point of tainted thinking. And let’s be honest, we are our story. Maybe not the story of the actual events themselves, but certainly the story we tell ourselves about the role we played in those events.

To rewrite the story in our heads is not an attempt to change the facts, but rather to see those facts from a different point of view. Perspective, wisdom, enlightenment – you get there by recalibrating your thoughts.

Getting unstuck – moving forward – involves reconsidering it from a different perspective, and usually with far more kindness than we afforded ourselves initially. This different perspective can be gained by reframing the conversations you normally have with yourself. I’d like to offer up three questions that you might take into consideration during this self-talk, and then one powerful reframing word.

Rather than focusing on what went wrong, try asking what went right?

Humans have a strong tendency toward a correction of errors methodology – to discover what went wrong so as to fix it for next time. That thinking leaves little room for processing what went right. There is a high probability that at least a few things in your backstory went brilliantly well. It’s worth mentioning that nothing is all wrong; even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

Instead of swirling in an emotional abyss, take a step towards logical processing and ponder what did I learn? This question releases some of the emotional energy and begins to engage the brain through logic. Now when faced with a similar situation in the future, you’ve gained the intellectual perspective needed to re-script your behavior. Funny thing is, life has a way of repeating itself.

The moral of the story is: Take the lesson, leave the angst.

Flip the conventional thinking about strengths and weaknesses and ask what if? What if in the retelling of your storyline your (perceived) greatest weakness is viewed as your greatest strength?

I know a young man who is often distraught because he is overly emotional; he can and often times does openly cry when confronted with trying situations. He feels this is a personal weakness. What if the ability to feel that emphatic is his greatest strength (a gift really) and he is merely sitting in the wrong seat on the wrong bus?

The ability to reframe how we see our truest selves may allow for us to entirely reimagine our lives.

And as for that one powerful reframing word: Yet. And it belongs in an equally powerful sentence: it hasn’t happened, yet. (It being the eloquent conversational-style when interacting with executives, the pending relocation, the mastering of that next skill.) I love that I’m learning to play the piano, although I haven’t mastered it – yet.

Yet gives us hope. Yet provides the possibility of it occurring at some point in the future because yet is a place we haven’t arrived at…yet. Yet creates space, sets an intention, and positions us for mindfulness. And mindfulness creates the best conversations you will ever have with yourself (when stuck or otherwise).

Being stuck certainly isn’t fun. But it can be temporary.

You always have the option of rewriting your storyline with a broader perspective by reframing your thoughts. Reflecting on what went right, what did I learn, and what if can be of tremendous help. And I imagine there are many more questions you could be asking yourself, you just haven’t discovered them - yet.

Ancora Imparo…. (Still, I am learning)

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Stacey MasonFounder of The Improv Lab, Stacey Mason has immersed herself in the field of Applied Improvisation for the last decade after co-founding several comedy improv troupes and training with various actor-teams including Second City in Chicago. Her corporate background includes nearly 20 years at Walmart in Logistics, Global Supply Chain and Merchandising/Replenishment before shifting towards culture coaching, stewarding the Walton Institute, Walmart’s flagship culture program. She partners with Walton College Executive Education on innovation programs and other initiatives