FORM of reframing is making plausible interpretations that help.
When you realize the first explanation you make of an event isnt
a good one, ask yourself, What would explain this event
equally well but make me feel better or help me get more
done? We're looking for a strong explanation of the event.
Ideally you want your explanation to motivate you or energize
you, or at least not bring you down.
For example, I found a great reframe in
the book, Pain Free: A Revolutionary Method for Stopping
Chronic Pain. Most people, when they experience pain in their
body, think they need to rest. This is a natural response to
an acute injury. But if the pain becomes chronic, people continue
with this thinking, and the author says this is a mistake. When
pain is chronic it is from what he calls motion starvation.
In other words, the human body needs to
move in a variety of ways. Modern life doesnt require that,
so we often go days at a time moving very little (sitting at
a desk, sitting in our car, sitting in front of the television,
sitting in front of a computer), and what movements we do are
in a narrow range. Over time, this motion deprivation causes
The author reframed the cause of the pain.
Rather than the usual explanation (if you're in pain, you should
rest), the pain is from motion starvation, and the solution is
more movement or a greater variety of movement.
This reframe, this entirely different way
of looking at the same thing (the pain) would cause the opposite
kind of behavior.
The question is, of course, which frame
is correct? We now have two different explanations for, say,
chronic back pain. Do you know which is the best explanation?
If you've got back pain and you have just learned about this
reframe, you really don't know if it's a better explanation or
not, do you?
To find out which explanation is better,
you'd need to find out which one has the better result. Ive
tried both explanations and the "motion starvation"
explanation is the better one in my experience. Resting increases
chronic pain; movement variety of the right kind decreases it.
A good reframe is a strong explanation
of the situation a way to re-interpret the situation so
you are more effective, so you're more likely to get the results
For example, at one point in WWI, two million
Allied soldiers were ordered to stop retreating and go on the
offensive. This new battle raged for two days when Marshal Foch
sent his general this message: My center gives way. My
right recedes. The situation is excellent. I shall attack.
Foch had been in command of the center
of the whole line, and his renewed offensive essentially saved
Paris. He reinterpreted dire circumstances as a perfect opportunity,
and we can now see, after the fact, that his interpretation was
a stronger one (more effective, more likely to get the result
Foch wanted) than the most natural one that would occur to most
people in similar circumstances (namely, "we're completely
Military situations lend themselves to
legendary moments such as these, when all seems lost and when
demoralization means certain and final defeat. Morale is often
the crucial deciding factor in military engagements (and in your
In the 1950s Marines were completely surrounded
by the Chinese in Korea (at Chosin). Someone asked Col. Lewis
Chesty Puller if he realized they were outnumbered
and encircled. Those poor bastards! he replied, Theyve
got us right where we want em. We can shoot in every direction
Hows that for a reframe? They could
shoot in any direction and be sure of hitting the enemy because
they were surrounded! Think about how that point of view would
influence morale. If Col. Puller didnt have a record of
success behind him, of course, his men might have thought hed
lost his mind. But they knew he was an effective leader, and
his attitude gave his men determination and fortitude. It was
a strong interpretation of the situation. It made them more effective.
Contrast Col. Pullers reframe with
the natural and automatic reaction, Were completely
surrounded and outnumbered. Oh my God! Were gonna die!
The soldiers didnt know if they were
going to die or not. It might have been likely, but that doesnt
make it certain. So this is a perfect situation for a reframe
because you cant determine the truth or falsity of any
guess about the future. The only valid criteria for interpreting
the event in those kinds of circumstances is to ask, What
One point of view that would not help is,
Were all going to die! Col. Pullers point
of view worked a lot better.
look at another military example, this time from the Civil War.
Unconditional Surrender Grant, as he became known during the
war, often saw apparently bleak circumstances in a way totally
different than his fellow officers. And this different way of
looking was one of the most important keys to his amazing success
on the battlefield.
Grant was once away from Fort Donelson
when his officers and troops engaged in a brutal conflict, and
when Grant returned, he found very low morale among his men.
When the Confederates attacked, they had
been carrying full packs on their backs. Nobody had recognized
the significance of that fact until Grant arrived on the scene.
They were too demoralized to think straight.
Grant thought the only reason the Confederates
would attack carrying packs is because they were trying to fight
to get away rather than trying to win the battle.
In a dispatch, Grant pointed out that although
his men were demoralized, I think the enemy is more so.
He reframed the situation, in other words. He saw it from a different
point of view than his officers. The Union troops were not merely
demoralized and tired from the battle they were fighting
an enemy who was even more demoralized. And to Grant, that meant
that whoever attacked now would probably win.
Grant had enough evidence for either point
of view: Either they were defeated...or they could attack again
and probably win. The question was, Which was the most
effective way to see this? Which way would bring the best results?
Based on what he knew about morale, Grant
made his decision. He rode his horse along the line of his disheartened
troops, yelling out that the Confederates were trying to retreat,
and he urged every man to refill his ammunition pouch and get
ready to attack.
Fort Donelson fell. It was one of the most
significant Union victories of the Civil War.
In war, as in many other challenging endeavors,
morale makes the difference. And morale can be changed with a
reframe. Demoralization can be transformed into steely determination
and that is a powerful change to make on a battlefield (and in
other difficult or challenging situations).
It was a particular talent of Grants
to see things from the enemys point of view. War tends
to generate fear, of course, and fear narrows your focus. Fear
gives you tunnel vision. Soldiers tended to focus on their own
dire situation and not see the big picture. Have you ever had
that problem? Next time, try reframing your "dire"
situation and see what happens.
Grant was often able to reframe circumstances
by widening his point of view, by bringing in more of the scene,
and many times this broader point of view made it obvious that
the circumstances were less dire than they seemed (to a person
with tunnel vision).
Once it was pouring rain, and when Grant
rode up, Major Belknap anxiously told Grant their troops were
in trouble because of the rain. The roads were hopelessly muddy,
they could hardly move, and Confederates were close.
Grant replied, Young man, dont
you know that the enemy is stuck in the mud too?
Major Belknap hadnt even thought
of that. He had been so focused on the fearful and frustrating
situation of his own troops, hed forgotten that it was
raining on the enemy too! His morale was immediately improved
by this new reframe.
Try that next time you face an obstacle
to your goal. Widen your point of view, and try to reframe the
circumstances in a way that increases your determination.
Read next: Behold
the Power of Reframing