Many wise people have observed how most of us dislike change, even hate it and fight against it, and many equally wise people have observed that change must take place. If we want to improve our lives, we must accept change. And, as many other wise people have said, changes or a reframe of our thoughts precede changes in our experiences. 

One of our blocks may be to that word change. We worry, “I’m going to be shaken out of my routines, my familiar places and activities, my long-held goals, my cherished expectations.” Seen this way, change feels like we’re being forced to alter our ways of being and beliefs into other shapes, like pulling dried taffy. We feel we’re too entrenched and just can’t change; we’re really afraid, and so we may give up “trying” to change. But change doesn’t listen. Inevitably, it sweeps over us, drives away our fragile sense of security, and gives us miserable life experiences. 

But . . . we don’t have to succumb to miserable life experiences.  Instead of thinking we must change when something in our lives isn’t working, or we feel swept up in the need to change, we can think of our need as reframing. 

What Is Reframing?

Reframing has been with us since people realized they could think. Simply put, it’s seeing and labeling things in another way. Politicians do it all the time (not “go to war” but “deploy”); preachers do it (not “lazy bums” but “our less fortunate brethren”); detectives do it (not a “socially disenfranchised individual” but “the perp”); and parents do it (not “my son is creating great neo-fusion-rock-n-rumble music” in the garage but “a racket and waste of time”).

We can think about reframing with other, more expansive words that may make us feel less helpless: 

  • Relabel, restate, reinterpret, recast, reslant, refocus, reformulate, rethink.
  • Reconstruct, recreate, reconstitute, remake, redesign.
  • Remold, reshape, refashion, rebuild, redirect, reposition.
  • Shift, convert, transform, alter attitude and perspective.

These definitions can erase and replace our old damning labels so we can:

  • Restore, reinstate, and reconnect with our best selves and highest dreams.

Who Is Reframing?

In many fields, people are reframing former precepts, often called paradigm shifts (paradeigma in Greek means pattern or example). Our views of the universe have changed radically based on new discoveries (quantum physics, dark matter). Our views of the human body have expanded tremendously with alternative and holistic practices (food as healing medicine, yoga for stress, mind-body connection, increasing acceptance of spiritual healing). Personal growth and fitness magazines regularly feature articles to help readers re-view their attitudes (get off the couch, get up once an hour, get off the chips). 

Author Sharon Boone advises readers to reframe themselves audaciously by turning their “so-called faults into assets.” Some of her examples: from “procrastinator” to “contemplative,” from “impulsive” to “spontaneous,” from “scatterbrain” to “multitasker,” and from “pessimistic” to “realistic” (“Turn Your Flaws into Advantages,” Mind Body & Spirit Fitness, October 2003, 86-90).

Reframing Our Stories

In counseling and psychology, reframing is often seen in terms of clients’ personal “stories,” their outlooks and perspectives about their lives. Cybil and Steven Wolin, the founders of Project Resilience, an organization dedicated to helping people overcome troubled pasts, point out how our stories affect us: “The organizing themes of some people’s stories are constructive . . . other stories are destructive” (“Reframing,Project Resilience.com. http://projectresilience.com/ framesconcepts.htm, p. 1).

You probably know many people with destructive organizing themes about their lives—they’re the victims, the ones life has treated unfairly, the unlucky ones, the ones who keep you on the phone with a litany of horrible events/circumstances/otherswhodone’emwrong.

Occasionally, though, people surprise us with positive themes. A friend who had recently gotten divorced told me he was quite bitter about the split, in which he lost his business. He said he was swearing off women, at least for a while. Then, perking up, he said, “I can always make money. Tomorrow I’ll look into some new business possibilities.” He reframed his “loss” into an opportunity.

Unlike my friend, many of us may hug our destructive stories like childhood dolls. I recently heard this one from a 42-year-old man:

I came from a poor family. My parents couldn’t afford to send me to college, so I never got anywhere. I’m not dumb, but I’ll never be anything more than a laborer because I know the world doesn’t recognize someone without a college degree.

Of course, we could list many successful people who had some or no college, followed their dreams, and became very successful: Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Rachel Ray, Halle Berry, Henry Ford, Ted Turner, Pablo Picasso, Eleanor Roosevelt, William Faulkner, Thomas Edison, Walt Disney, Frank Lloyd Wright.

The Project Resilience founders tell us, “Reframing capitalizes on the subjective nature of personal stories to uncover underlying, underemphasized themes in people’s stories that are potentially helpful” (p. 2). 

Reframing example

How would reframing help the man whose story I heard? A reframing might go like this:

My parents could never send me to college. But I’ve made the most of what I’ve got. People respect me in my job, and I’m very good at it, even if it isn’t in a big office. Why couldn’t I take a few classes at night? I know more about building construction than all those supervisors and engineers I work for. Who knows, I might get a college degree yet.

Wayne Dyer in 10 Secrets for Success and Inner Peace recommends accepting our past, honoring it, and finally transforming it with “a new job description” (p. 75).

If You’re Fighting Change

When you feel you cannot change unpleasant circumstances that have arisen, ask yourself a few questions:

  1. What exactly must change? 

If, for example, you’re facing a relationship breakup or divorce, granted it’s hard and it hurts. But you know it’s the right move. What must change could include your living situation and maybe your children’s, your financial picture, possibly your job, your need to explain to family and friends, your self-image. Make a list, especially if you feel overwhelmed. (It’s okay to be scared.) Monumental as some of the items may seem, at least the list is finite. And take one thing at a time. 

  1. What can I do to see this change as good?

Reflect on what good can come from this change. In our example, a sense of relief and no more fights or frosty silences, a feeling of independence, a chance for adventure and discovery, stimulating challenges, opportunities to do things and go places you didn’t feel you could before because of partner censure or lack of interest or cooperation. 

  1. What positive, even great, things can I see in this change?

First, recognize all of your positive responses to the second question and know that you are up to the challenges and growing because of them. (Resilience!) Very possibly, you will gain a renewed reliance on the Source of all for guidance and instructions in the steps to take.

  1. What can I do to anticipate good from this change?

Anticipate good from the change by declaring what you want and imagining the right outcomes. Whatever you assert and believe, life will prove you right. As real as the outward events seem, they don’t make the difference. Our expectations and consciousness do. “Out there” is “in here.”

The profound words of metaphysician James Allen in As a Man Thinketh remain true:

Every man is where he is by the law of his being; the thoughts which he has built into his character have brought him there. . . . Good thoughts bear good fruit, bad thoughts bad fruit. The outer world of circumstance shapes itself to the inner world of thought. (pp. 19-21)

More direct is Seth’s assertion in The Nature of Personal Reality: “You make your own reality” (p. 20). That is, we create our experiences from our thoughts (pp. 9-11). Gregg Braden more recently echoes these statements in The Spontaneous Healing of Belief: Shattering the Paradigm of False Limits: “We’re clearly the architects of our lives” (p. 79). When, as architects, we reframe our mental “house,” we shatter our former sets of hampering beliefs, break down the walls of our resistance, and almost look forward to the changes. We make room for the new edifice of better and more satisfying experiences. 

Accept the Change and Reframe

When you reframe, you see yourself and your circumstances with new eyes, new definitions, and new assumptions, as in your answers to the questions above, even if the results are not in front of you yet. The hoped-for circumstances cannot help but appear as you keep concentrating on your new thoughts. Dyer talks about the shift in terms of intention: “Change the way you look at things, and the things you look at change” (p. 173). A Course in Miracles puts it this way: “From new perception of the world there comes a future very different from the past” (Workbook, p. 447).

This new perception—your determination to reframe—may be the greatest thing you will gain from the change. Fill your mind with the new advantages and focus on them. As you do, you will reframe more easily and become more positive. 

Instead of fighting against and recoiling from change, you will embrace it and even look forward to it. As we retell our stories positively and reframe our perspectives, we will express ourselves differently and experience life differently. Give yourself credit for your new perspective and reframe; see yourself in a new light. Instead of fighting against and recoiling from change, you will embrace it and even look forward to it. 

© 2023 Noelle Sterne