Let’s start with a definition of terms, from Wikipedia:
Cognitive reframing is a psychological technique that consists of identifying and then disputing irrational or maladaptive thoughts. Reframing is a way of viewing and experiencing events, ideas, concepts and emotions to find more positive alternatives.
In other words, reframing is taking an issue, situation, or interaction and turning it around in your head in order to see it from different perspectives. For the visual learners out there, look at it as separating the issue from your Self, setting it on the floor in front of you, and walking around it.
The concept of separating an issue from your Self might seem…woo-woo, or just a tad odd to some of you. No worries. The first step is to understand that what you’re experiencing is not who you are. The situation you find yourself in is just that, a discrete thing. It’s something that’s happening in this moment. The Self that is experiencing it exists independent of that situation.
Internalizing this fact is what will allow you to view the incident as something you can set down in front of you and examine. This lets you see it from many different angles, taking in multiple perspectives on the issue. Do several laps. Really let each distinct perspective sink in and make an impact on how you view this thing that is your situation.
In performing this separation, you will gain distance from the issue. This will allow you some room to breathe, to really examine the issue from these alternate perspectives and get a better grasp on it. You’ll see additional possibilities that may have been hidden previously due to the cultural blinders we all wear. These blinders are the inherent biases we all carry with us every day; the things we think we know and the societal assumptions we make, often unconsciously.
Time for a personal example.
For something like 15 years now, I’ve worked in IT support in one way or another. I figured out years ago that this was not the field I was supposed to be in, yet with the passing years and increasing experience, it becomes difficult to make any substantive career moves. I didn’t get into this field for any of the reasons people expect. I don’t particularly like computers. I like helping people. I like being able to help them solve a problem that allows them to be their best selves and do what they need to do more efficiently and effectively. It turned out I had an ability to fix computer and software issues. Don’t ask where that came from. No clue.*
After going through my own health journey over the last several years, I discovered a new field called Wellness Coaching. Coaching relies on skills that I seem to have innately. Things like listening intently (and listening before speaking), only asking deep questions that cause people to really think through their answers, and using intuition to interpret the pauses in conversations. This leads to discoveries on the part of the client, helping them find their way to their own definition of wellness.
Fast forward to the present. I’ve completed a Graduate Certificate in coaching, incurring the student debt I’ve read so much about recently, and have moved back to Seattle. Yet here I am, on the hunt for another IT job. How to make sense of this perceived lack of movement away from IT? That’s where reframing enters the story.
This part hit me in a blinding flash of ‘Duh’ the other day. My training in coaching positions me nicely to fill the role of team lead, or senior member of a support desk team. These roles often come with the expectation of mentoring/coaching younger members of the team, along with the usual customer interactions. I can now use the traits I already possess and felt like I had to quash behind my mask of IT Guy. When I can tell a coworker is having a bad day, I can gently inquire and see if talking about it helps them move on and refocus their energy on the day’s tasks. I can use my intuition to help with reviews. the possibilities are endless now that I’ve made the cognitive shift to seeing my traits and training as boons to my IT career rather than as a failed attempt at changing careers altogether.
This perspective shift, or reframing, changed my view on the time and money I put into this certificate. I now see it as a way to further my current career trajectory. And at the same time, it gives me a way to use some of those traits that were previously getting in the way and causing a disconnect in my day to day life.
That example kind of got away from me, yet remains on point for this topic. You can do this exercise with any situation you encounter. Whenever you find yourself saying, “OK, here’s what happened, now what do I do?!?!” Or, “here’s the only option I can see…” This is your cue to try reframing. You may very well end up right back where you started, and that’s OK. If so, you’ll get there having examined the situation from all these perspectives and you’ll be confident that your course of action is right for the situation and the moment.
Next time, I’ll go into a bit more depth on those culturally based blinders I briefly mention above. They deserve more time and attention than I could give them here, at least without making this more of a tome than it already is.
* OK, that’s not strictly true. I’m pretty sure it relates to where I fall on what’s called the Global ⇔ Sequential Thinker spectrum. I’m all the way global. This means that I look at a problem and see it all at once as a single, unified whole. Sequential folks see things as a series of logical steps, to be followed in order, one at a time. The benefit to me in being a global thinker is that I can often see where the glitch is with only a minimum of input from the customer and/or a minimum of poking around – rather than following a series of 10+ steps, most of which are irrelevant to the problem at hand.