A couple of weeks ago I mentioned positive reframing in my post “So How Bad Was It?”.
So what exactly is a positive reframe?
It’s a tool, used intentionally, that helps build emotional resilience, making it easier to bounce back following adversity.
Positive reframing doesn’t deny a negative thing has happened. It involves more than making lemonade from the lemons you’ve been handed.
It goes beyond looking for the silver lining to dark, gray clouds, making lemons from lemonade, or plunking on a pair of rose-colored glasses and pretending everything is fine…when it’s not.
What it does do is insist that you can’t focus exclusively on a single incident out of context.
My first encounter with the idea of positive reframing came years ago when I was in college studying art history. The topic was Renaissance painters, specifically Brunelleschi and his introduction of perspective to create a sense of depth in his work, and we joked that perspective was a use it or lose it technique.
But over the years that thought has stuck with me and resonated deeply with me. I can use my perspective or lose my perspective. The choice really is mine.
And that’s where positive reframing comes in because it’s all about using perspective.
I live close to the Missouri State Capitol building, and I enjoy walking around the Capitol grounds. On the north side of the building is a bronze statue which depicts the signing of the treaty that led to the Louisiana Purchase.
When you stand very close to the bronze, all you can see is James Monroe’s shoe. It’s shiny from years of small children rubbing on it. Move back a little bit and there’s Robert Livingston (US Ambassador to France), and there’s Barbé (Napoleon’s treasurer) both standing.
Move back a little further and there’s a fountain in front of the sculpture.
Step back even more to see the expanse of the Missouri River — where Louis and Clark once traveled West — appear as a backdrop.
When you stand back like that it makes for a gorgeous view…but it’s a lot harder to notice James Monroe’s shiny shoe.
I think life works exactly this way.
USE your perspective.
Expand the backdrop.
Decrease the negative by increasing the positive…even when it feels like there is nothing but devastation and despair.
Here’s one way to do it.
Think about something negative that happened to you in the past.
Begin by stating the facts as clearly, succinctly, and objectively as possible.
Maybe it’s something small like “Last night I burned the T-bone steaks.” It could be something more serious like “I hit a deer and totaled my car.” Maybe it’s something devastating like “I had a miscarriage.”
Then take a step back and put a “but” on the end of that statement.
“Last night I burned the T-bone steaks,…BUT our bottle of wine still tasted great with the frozen pizza.”
“I hit a deer and totaled my car,…BUT I wasn’t hurt.”
“I had a miscarriage,…BUT everyone at the doctor’s office was incredibly kind.”
Do this several times, each time adding something else you notice.
“Last night I burned the T-bone steaks,…but the smoke alarm didn’t go off and announce my achievement to everyone in the neighborhood.”
“I hit a deer and totaled my car,…BUT that’s why I have car insurance.”
“I had a miscarriage,…BUT my friend who had a miscarriage last year came over and sat with me and I felt less alone.”
So the story of last night’s dinner isn’t just about burned steaks, it’s about wine and a frozen pizza and an absence of fire trucks. The saga of the car isn’t just about crunched metal, it’s about being grateful for continued good health and the forethought to have car insurance. The story of the loss through miscarriage is also a story of kind health care providers and loving friends.
And that’s what positive reframing is all about — stepping back and taking another look at the situation to see what else might be there, too.