Our words shape our reality, and they are based on the stories we tell ourselves about the world, ourselves, and others. 

This is why reframing is crucial for leaders and human beings overall: it’s a terrific tool to shape the reality you want. Reframing is a way of viewing and experiencing events, ideas, concepts, and emotions to find more useful alternatives. It is a practical and valuable tool to shift perception, including your perception of yourself, or others’ perceptions of themselves. 

Think of reframing as putting on a different pair of glasses. What would you see if you put on a pair of sunglasses with a heavy tint when you were in a dark room? You would see shadows, and dark forms that you couldn’t identify. 

What would happen when you took off those glasses? You might see the most beautiful room in the world.  

When you switch your glasses, what you see changes. Reframing, mentally and linguistically, does the same thing. It changes the story you tell yourself about something. 

How To Change Your Story 

Some time ago, Harvard researchers proved that the stories we tell ourselves shape our world. The good news is that we can always create new stories about the decisions we’ve made about ourselves, our abilities, and the world—and change our experience. 

Here are two examples. 

In Business 

Initial story: It’s really hard getting a job fresh out of college these days. The market is crowded, and overqualified people are competing for every single job. No wonder I’m unemployed— it’s tough. 

Reframe: It’s awesome that there are a lot of people job hunting right now because it gives a person the opportunity to really bring his or her “A Game” in order to stand out. I’m sending my résumé in creative ways to get an interview, I’m doing more research than I have ever done to prepare for interviews, and then I’m following up after the interviews using cool and creative methods. I am learning a ton! 

See how the meaning shifts from the defeat of deciding that job hunting will be hard (which means it will be, because that’s the story the person is committed to), and in to a sense of power, can-do, creativity, and agility? 

In Personal Life 

Initial story: I was a girl in a household of boys. My brothers and parents wanted another boy, so I was perpetually left out and labeled as a disappointment. I’ve never been good enough. 

Reframe: I grew up in the perfect family that would enable me to learn how to see and honor my unique value. I was given great opportunities to be independent and forge my path in life. I also learned to be self-reliant, which has made me strong and fearless. 

See how the meaning she is making shifts from disempowering to empowering? 

Use Your Reframing Tool Daily 

While tools like the Distorted Thinking Decoder and Neuro Storytelling help you reframe your situation, you can also reframe all sorts of scenarios daily. Here’s how it works. 

Imagine your spouse has just made the morning coffee. While scooping the grounds into the coffee machine, he or she has spilled a considerable amount on the counter. They don’t notice this, and move on to the next item in the morning routine. 

You could focus on the “bad” behavior, complain about the mess, start a fight, and have no coffee (or affection) that morning. Or you could practice reframing in one of at least two ways: 

  • Context reframing: These reframes work on the principle that every behavior is useful in some context. So when we change the context, we also change the meaning we make about another’s behavior. In this spilled coffee example, you could use a context reframe as follows: “Your spilling coffee means we are so much more privileged than 80 percent of the world who can’t afford to have coffee with breakfast!” This is exaggerated, yes, but it illustrates how drastically the meaning can change when you expand and change the context. 
  • Content reframing: Content reframes work by changing the actual content of the meaning you give the behavior. In the spilled coffee example, a content reframe might be, “Your spilling coffee doesn’t mean you made a mess. It just means you were rushing to make sure I was taken care of.” 

The behavior and the facts of the matter are the same; we’ve just altered our self-talk to make different meaning from the coffee grounds on the counter. After all, at the end of the day, do you care more about some coffee grounds or about your relationship? 

In the same way, which do you care more about in business: success as a team or assigning blame and shame? 

The Net-Net 

  • When you change the story, you change the meaning, and you change how something feels: empowering or disempowering 
  • Reframing helps us make new meaning quickly and easily 
  • Reframing is a practical tool to shift perception, including your perception of yourself, things outside of you, or others’ perceptions of themselves 

Christine Comaford  is a leadership and culture coach who helps businesses achieve growth. Learn more at SmartTribes Institute and see  Power Your Tribe: Create Resilient Teams in Turbulent Times  and  SmartTribes: How Teams Become Brilliant Together.