I first started practicing positive reframing—without knowing what it was—in the fall of 2002, in one of my early political campaign jobs. In our Team Black Hawk County headquarters, we were all scrambling to get the office ready for volunteers. We had printed out call packets, set up chairs, and stocked up on snacks. The office was looking pretty good… when suddenly it sounded as if an elephant was falling through the ceiling. I looked up just in time to see all of the cubicles collapsing like a row of dominoes in the middle of the office. The culprit? We had propped rebar (steel rods) for barn signs against the sides of the cubicles, and now we had an enormous mess. But instead of yelling or crying or cursing (well maybe after cursing), we had a good belly laugh and reframed the situation: “It’s funny because it’s a disaster.”
The purpose of a positive reframe is to interrupt our thoughts before we begin to dwell, complain, or ruminate. Integrating a positive quote into our identity can transform our lives. Last fall, I met a brave woman with multiple sclerosis who shared her favorite reframe – passed down from her father – for the daily challenges that she faces: “You can’t control the wind, but you can adjust your sails.” Quotes, idioms, and parables act as teachers in moments of uncertainty. They enable us to overcome, to power-through, and to create new meanings.
Here are 5 of my favorite reframes:
It’s funny because it’s a disaster. This reframe is best in situations when there’s not much else to be done besides laughing and getting to work. Collapse all of the cubicles in your office? Spill coffee on your shirt right before an important meeting? Kid having a meltdown in the grocery store? Stop in your tracks and shout: “It’s funny because it’s a disaster.” Repeat as necessary.
Human beings are fascinating / interesting / one-of-a-kind. Choose your own adjective to describe that person who drives you bananas. Often we take things personally, then get worked up, then get even more worked up when we retell the story to our friends and family. Instead, tell yourself that human beings are fascinating, and move on. No need to go from 0 to 60 for someone who may not even be aware of their actions.
If I can take it, I can make it. During screenings of How to Run 100 Miles, people often ask me how I dealt with the mental challenge of running 100 miles. Part of my mental game was building a library of positive stories to serve as a reference points. If you saw the movie Unbroken, you know the line: “If I can take it, I can make it.” No one should ever have to endure the amount of suffering that Louie Zamperini goes through during his life. My translation = I can suffer through running 100 miles, especially when I chose to do it.
Life is a gift. “Every experience, no matter how bad it seems, holds within it a blessing of some kind. The goal is to find it.” –Buddha. This quote embodies one of the lessons in the book Positive Intelligence. When life throws you a curveball, find three positives from the situation. When we think about the positives, we stop our brain from ruminating on the negatives and we begin to focus on the solutions.
I’m fantastic but working to get better. I first heard a version of this phrase from the motivational speaker Zig Ziggler. When you say this sentence with passion, your audience will either break into a grin or think you’ve lost it (or both). Try it out the next time you’re going through TSA or the checkout line at the grocery store, and see what response you get.
In the words of Maya Angelou: “Don’t let the incidents which take place in life bring you low. And certainly don’t whine. You can be brought low, that’s OK, but don’t be reduced by them. Just say, ‘That’s life.’”
What’s your powerful reframe? Send it my way! Thanks for all that you do to make the world shine.