Choose your frame, change your experience

Posted by Kenetha Stanton on

a collection of frames in many sizes, styles and colors

When we frame pictures to put on our walls, we choose frames that will highlight or focus the viewer's attention on the parts of the picture we want to accent.

The placement of the picture within the frame, the use of a mat (or not), the color of the frame, and frame's style all contribute to the way the picture is seen, even though these choices don't alter the picture itself.

We do the same thing (much less consciously) with life every moment of every day.

Framing our lives

In this case, our "frame" is the collection of labels we attach to each experience or situation that dictates how we see what is happening.

This frame is created out of a mix of our past history, our personality, our mood at the moment, and our beliefs about how life works.

These frames don't change the situation itself, but they can radically change our experience of it, which changes our reaction to it and therefore influences the future trajectory of the situation as it progresses.

For example, a frame that is labelled "What a hassle!" will highlight all of the hassles inherent in a situation where we are facing a change. This frame bring our frustration to the fore and leaves us with a negative reaction to the change we are facing.

But framing the same situation in a frame labelled "What an adventure!" changes our whole outlook. Yes, the hassles are still there and still have to be dealt with, but when they are seen as an expected part of a bigger adventure, they seem much less overwhelming.

Similarly, a frame of "Disaster! End of the world!" is going to create a very different experience than one of "Clean slate for a fresh start," even when those frames are placed on the exact same situation.

The power of frames

This all sounds very Pollyanna-ish, and I resisted this kind of re-framing for years on that basis.

I was convinced that I was being more authentic by staying true to my feelings and not lying to myself about the "reality" of what was happening, but the truth was that my default framing choices consistently managed to focus in the worst aspects of the situation and kept me stuck, in pain, and depressed.

I consistently chose frames like "Woe is me," "Life is too hard," "It's not fair," "I can't do this," "I'm not good enough," and "Nobody appreciates me."

Those things sure did feel true and honest much of the time because all I focused on were the places in each situation that matched the frame. All evidence to the contrary got ignored.

Needless to say, my default framing choices were not helping me create the life I want to live or to become the person I want to be.

Embracing kintsugi as a frame for some painful experiences in my life changed that.

The frame of kintsugi did not deny the brokenness that had happened or try to hide the resulting scars. Instead, it refocused my attention in the midst of that very brokenness to the gold of the healing that was also taking place.

It embraced the truth of the brokenness (and all of its associated pain) and also moved me beyond that reality to the bigger truth of the healing that was managing to bring good even out of the pain.

That shift in frame changed everything for me! It opened the door from the stuck place I had been and gave me room to grow and heal and move beyond it.

It also showed me the power the frame I choose has on my life and that I have the power to change any frame that isn't helpful.

Knowing your frame

The process of shifting from less helpful frames to more empowering ones is an ongoing, lifetime project.The first step to changing anything is knowing what you are starting with. Do you know what your default frames are?

But the first step to changing anything is knowing what you are starting with. Do you know what your default frames are?

Your common frames can be found by looking at frequent themes that reappear again and again in your life.

Consciously listen to the ongoing inner dialogue in your head. What words and themes keep showing up as you talk to yourself about your experience?

Pay attention to what you say to others when talking about your experience. What do you focus on? How do you tell the story of your situation?

Those common words and themes can help you discover the nature of your current frame for that situation.

How might that frame be affecting your experience of the situation? Is it helping you grow into the person you want to be? Is it helping you create the life you desire?

If your frame doesn't seem to be helpful, the next challenge is picking a new frame.

Choosing a new frame

The key to choosing a new frame is not in denying the truth of the situation; it's in discovering what is also true about it.

For example, every ending is also the start of a new beginning. Both are equally true.

A frame that only focuses on the ending will keep you stuck there, while a frame that acknowledges the loss (and associated grief) while also looking ahead to the new beginning taking shape gives more space to grow and heal.

A frame that only focuses on the brokenness is likely to keep you stuck in pain and bitterness as you hide your scars in shame. A frame that acknowledges the brokenness while also celebrating the healing as it happens and seeking the ways that good can grow out of that brokenness opens many new avenues for healing to blossom.

Now that you know your current frame (and its limitations), what other frames are available that encompass what is also true about the situation?

As you consider the other frames, what possibilities do they offer for more space to grow, heal, or become the person you want to be?

Would you be willing to choose one of those new frames to try out for a while?

Be patient with yourself as you practice choosing your new frame.

I've found that choosing a new frame is a process as much as an event. My old default frames are stubbornly persistent, and I must choose my new frames over and over again as the old ones rear their heads.

But they do shift with practice, and the difference they make in my experience of life is worth every bit of the work to make that shift!

What frame will you choose today?

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