The Mindful Reframe: A Basic Practice
Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.
W & J Staff Psychologist
Have you ever found yourself looking for a new picture frame? Perhaps you are giving a picture to a loved one or framing an art print. There are many options you can choose from and each can have a subtle, but definite impact on the image or artwork. We might take a significant amount of time to consider various frames or try out different frames to see how they look.
Just as we frame a picture, we also frame our experiences on a daily basis. We frame larger experiences and major life transitions as well as small or momentary experiences. However, unlike going to the frame store and diligently considering the options, we often frame our own experience without even realizing it or noticing the frame. Likewise, we often return to similar frames again and again, depending on our personality, mood, or current levels of stress. This makes a lot of sense because we tend to stick with the frames that have worked for us in the past, even if there are better options out there.
Reframing is a useful concept and a common intervention in counseling. Although simple, it can be incredibly powerful. Reframing can provide a greater sense of agency and help broaden the possibilities for how we respond to challenges. When combined with mindfulness, reframing can also become a way of increasing our awareness in the present moment as we become increasingly aware of the frames we hold.
The following steps can be used to practice mindful reframing:
1) Notice the frame you are currently using.
What is your current perspective?
2) Consider other frames that might fit.
Is this perspective helpful? How else can you view your circumstances?
3) Select a new frame and see how it looks.
Does this new perspective provide more options?
4) Notice how the new frame impacts your experiences and mood.
Do you feel differently when looking at things from this new perspective?
5) Notice how you are thinking with your new frame.
How are you thinking about your experiences or circumstances now?
Reframing can also be viewed as shifting to a more optimistic perspective. This is seen in the long-standing notion of viewing a glass as half empty or half full. If you find a useful or widely applicable frame, you might consider writing it down and returning to it again. Below are a few examples of reframing or reframes to help you get started.
Examples of reframing:
A problem as an opportunity
A mistake as an opportunity to learn or grown
A delay or cancellation as an opportunity to practice patience or mindfulness
A rejection as evidence of having courage to take a risk
Missing a loved one as an opportunity to appreciate having someone to miss
Chaos or a business schedule as a reminder that we are fully engaged in life
Sadness as an opportunity to practice self-compassion
Mindful reframing can be a helpful practice or tool for increasing your attention to the present moment, shifting your perspective and considering alternative ways of viewing your experiences. It can be particularly helpful when faced with challenging experiences or feelings. Remember, we are not trying to change our experience or dismiss the difficulties we face. Rather, we are simply taking a moment to acknowledge our current frame or interpretation, consider alternatives, and move forward with more options for understanding day-to-day challenges. As the psychiatrist and Nazi Holocaust survivor, Viktor E. Frankl writes, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”