Overcoming negative self-talk and creating motivation using reframing
by Pamela Kingsland MSc, BSc (Hons) Psychol, AFBPsS, FMAC, ACIB
“My life has been filled with terrible misfortunes, most of which have never happened.”
What a great quote. It has been attributed to many people as far back as to Roman times and contains a basic truth. It humorously summarises something about us highly imaginative human beings that is so true, so important, and so often ignored.
As well as the day to day narrative (self-talk) that runs through our minds, we are often subject to negative thoughts about ourselves, our situation, or other people; in some cases visions of horrible things that may happen to us, and reasons not to do the things we want to do. And yet in the end, these horrible things rarely happen, or maybe not to the extent that we tortured ourselves with, and in the process of thinking how bad things ‘might be’ we may stop ourselves from trying something new.
As a business leader you are in a unique position to help your people to ‘reframe’ stories about themselves, their colleagues and the organisational purpose that can be motivating and energising. This does not mean being unrealistic, but it does mean not painting a picture of negativity which will only get in the way of success.
As an individual you can use reframing to literally self-direct any aspect of your life.
We need to understand and be clear that in the main (other than in physical accident situations where our nerves are responding to damage) it’s our thoughts, the stories that we tell ourselves and the scripts that play in the back of our minds, that are what cause our emotional response as opposed to the situation itself.
We fail to realise that we are in charge; that we are the storyteller, and importantly that we have the power to change the story.
As has also been often said, it’s not what happens in life but how you respond to it that counts…..I would add it’s the story you tell yourself about what you think is happening that leads to how you respond.
The worst part is that these thoughts can disturb us for so long and yet we never do anything about them as we think they are inevitable and we do not realise that we have the power to do anything about them!
Well, that’s about to change.
Luckily, we have a powerful technique available to us called “reframing”. Reframing involves identifying our unhelpful thoughts and replacing them with more positive or adaptive ones.
When Is Reframing Useful?
You can reframe literally any thought you ever have, but if you did that you would never have a chance to relax and enjoy life! So, it is a better use of time to focus primarily on reframing your negative thoughts or overcoming mental barriers to doing new things.
If you listen to your thoughts for long enough, you will probably notice that there are a few negative ones. I have found that there are many types of negative thoughts that helpful to reframe and we will cover some of the most common ones in the third part of this three-part series of articles.
One key area where reframing can have dramatic results, and that I see occurring very regularly with my coaching clients, are in challenging Limiting Beliefs. A limiting belief is a thought that prevents you from accepting your full potential. These are the “I’m not good enough” thoughts. The consequences of accepting your limiting beliefs rather than challenging them can be severe; you end up not achieving what you want. When you counter a limiting belief by reframing thoughts based on them, you weaken the belief and reduce the chance of it getting in the way of your goals.
So, reframing is changing the stories that we tell ourselves, the old scripts that replay in our minds; it is also like updating a piece of old “software” that might once have served you well, or intended to keep you safe, but is now holding you back.
Principles of Reframing
There are a few key principles to keep in mind when considering the reframing technique.
- The first basic principle is that events or situations do not have inherent meaning; rather, you assign them a meaning based on how you interpret the event.
This can be difficult to accept but is a key principle.Even when something seemingly horrible happens to you, it feels horrible because of the way you personally interpret it. This is absolutely not to make light of tragedy. It is normal to feel a range of emotions when something seemingly bad occurs. Without minimising its impact, even a “bad” event can be given a more “helpful” meaning.
- The second principle is that every thought has a hidden “frame” behind it. The frame is your personally constructed set of underlying beliefs and assumptions.For example, when you think “I’ll never get that promotion I want because I’m not a political person’, part of the frame you hold is that ‘only political people get promoted here’. Your ‘frames’ are derived from your own person beliefs, knowledge, experiences etc and no two people have the exact same frame.
- The final principle is that there is usually a positive intention behind every negative thought you have even though you may sometimes have to dig hard to find it. This is where clients most often need the support of a coach or psychologist to uncover what their brain was trying to do to protect them.That inner voice of yours that expresses negativity is only doing so because it wants to help you in some way. It may be that you want to avoid stress or fear, it may be that patterns of avoidance were set up very early in your life, it may be that your frame needs updating now you are an adult. That doesn’t make the negative thoughts right or acceptable, but it does mean that your inner voice is not an enemy to be resisted. By finding the positive intentions behind your thoughts, you can work with your mind to find a positive (or more helpful) reframe. That is far more effective than chastising yourself for having negative thoughts in the first place!
In this first part of my three-part series of articles on ‘Changing the Frame’ we have just begun to scratch the surface of ‘reframing’, a human ‘superpower’ that in my opinion should be widely taught.
In part two of this series I will help you to understand HOW to reframe.