Reframing to enhance our mood and personal effectiveness
Some mornings I wake up feeling amazing. From head to toe, I feel energised and full of life. I have such a sense of inner strength, I believe I can take on the world. Without once hitting ‘snooze’ on the alarm, I am up, and despite looking out through my foggy rain-soaked window at a murky sky, I can see beauty outside and imagine the potential that the world is offering me. As I breath in deeply, I affirm in my head and my heart that today, nothing is going to get in my way.
Other mornings are not like this. The struggle begins with trying to open my eyes, and it is down hill from there. The mantra ‘what’s the point?’, plays in my head, over and over, on an annoying loop and my world looks grey and seems to hold less potential for me and everything seems to move to a sluggish dull beat. Then, there is the bulk of the other mornings, the in-between types. The snooze button is hit numerous times and the rhythm of the day is unpredictable, with variations of peaks and troughs. In sharing my experiences of my types of mornings with others, I have collected a bank of anecdotal evidence to suggest that I am not alone.
These changes in mood and energy can lead to feelings of frustration. This is not unusual, especially when we compare how we feel or what we can achieve in an open, positive state of mind rather than when we are minds are more closed to options, groggy or tired. To attempt to manage my own frustrations, I began to explore strategies that I could use to shift into a positive and energised state of mind on those mornings or indeed moments, when I am really not feeling or thinking that way. One of the solutions I found works and which is heavily supported by psychological research is the strategy of reframing (e.g., Ruppert et al, 2018).
Reframing describes an approach to alter how we are thinking about something in order to help us to think in a different way. Reframing can be positive (which helps us to shift to a more open and typically more beneficial state of mind) or negative (where we move a closed and less productive state of mind). As the name suggests, positive reframing is a strategy that has been found to alleviate stress, increase productivity and engagement through, as Locke et al. (2019) explain, this is a strategy which allows us to evaluate our evidence for and against our biased thoughts. When we feel down, tired or not very resilient, our level of biased thinking can increase which can have a direct negative effect on our mood and wellness.
There are many strategies that we can use to positively reframe our thinking and two of the approaches I have found effective in developing skills are:
- Self-inquiry to identify a range of options
- Self-talk to stay on track
According to research on resilience conducted in Roffey Park Institute, when we want to shift our perspective, we take a step-back to create the space we need to view the challenge in a different way. This does not mean that we ignore or pretend that the challenge does not exist. Instead, it is about allowing ourselves space to ask kind questions which can help us to explore aspects of the challenge with fresh thinking. Questions here might include; ‘what is it about this situation that I am finding particularly challenging?’, ‘have I ever experienced a challenge like this before or do I know someone who has who could share some insight with me?’, what are all of the options open to me in approaching this challenge?’. This last question which focuses on the exploration of options. When we are feeling stressed, anxious or overwhelmed, it can be difficult to realise that there is always more than one solution or approach that can be taken. By taking this step-back, asking and answering questions that will stretch your thinking in the situation, options or alternative ways of thinking begin to come into view. As Roffey Park Institute research explains, taking perspective helps people to focus on those things they can change and accept those they can’t.
We tell ourselves stories all the time. Typically, these stories serve a useful purpose and help us to make sense of the situations we find ourselves in. However, some stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves, can do more harm than good. Regardless of why we use stories, the reality is that most of their content has been created by us with little facts and evidence and much inference, speculation and interpretation. Self-talk refers to those messages we send to ourselves such as “I am not good enough”; “I messed up again, as usual”, “I don’t deserve to be happy”, “I am going to fail”, I think you get the message. There are of course examples of self-talk where we might say “I am really amazing”, “I deserve to be completely happy”, “I can do this”, “I will shine at this event”. Research suggests that people tend to engage in negative self-talk at lease three times more often than positive. Regardless of the fact, that amount of self-talk we engage in will differ, it is quite likely that there you are sending yourself many negative messages daily.
The first step in using positive self-talk to reframe is to pay attention to current self-talk patterns. When do you notice it? What messages do you send? Why are you using it? How helpful is it in helping you to reframe or maintain current thinking? Once you have developed a greater awareness around how you are using and what typically triggers your use, move to the second step. This where you consciously increase the flow of positive self-talk messages by substituting them in, in place of negative ones. Using positive self-talk regularly can help you stay on track or shift to new way of thinking. As will any technique for positive reframing, the more you practice, the better you will become and over time the easier it will be to shift into a more positive and productive state.
Be kind to yourself as you develop these practices, some moments will be more challenging than others and by focusing on the progress you are making, to whatever degree that may be, rather than any setbacks you are having, you will find your ability to positively reframe will become easier and more automatic