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This article is excerpted from the book, Viewfinder: How to Change the Way You Look at Things. Read more about it here.



WE'VE BEEN exploring the power of reframes to renew your motivation and strengthen your determination. Read the first article about reframing here: A Way Of Looking. Three very good ways to reframe a circumstance is to see it from another time, another place, or another person.

Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist before he was sent to a Nazi concentration camp. While in the camp, he was severely underfed, he had to work in very cold weather with inadequate clothing, and all the while he witnessed unbelievable atrocities every day. It was more than many could take.

To ease his suffering, Frankl once recast his horrible surroundings into a different frame: He imagined when it was all over, he would give lectures on the “psychology of the concentration camp.”

This reframe made his circumstances look different. It gave him a certain distance from it, an objectivity, and he said it helped him maintain his strength. It helped him endure.

It also gave him a future to look forward to, and a reason to live.

So Frankl looked at his circumstances from another time, a time in the future. Lane Nemeth reframed her circumstances by thinking of her business as another person, as if her business was a child of hers. Lane was trying to get a toy company off the ground and she ran into typical setbacks — debt, excess inventory, high interest loans. She was on the brink of bankruptcy. She was demoralized and thought about giving up.

But then she reframed the problem. “If this were my daughter,” Lane asked herself, “and she were seriously ill, what would I do?”

Of course, she wouldn’t even consider giving up. And it wouldn’t matter how difficult it was, she would do whatever needed to be done. And so she did what she had to do to save her ailing business. She cut payroll. She got another bank to help. And it worked.

Reframing her failing business as her suffering child gave her the motivation to persist and succeed. It gave her the will to do what was necessary. It was difficult and sometimes her decisions were painful, but that is often what it takes to make something happen.

Reframing the suffering itself is often a powerful generator of motivation.

When Morgan Freeman was first starting out as an actor, for example, he struggled with the few acting jobs he could find, and the ones he found were flops. He made almost no money, and would sometimes go days at a time without even eating because he just didn't have enough money to buy food. He worked in low-paying jobs to make ends meet.

A lot of successful people have a similar story of suffering, of privation, of long hours and the prospect of a bleak future. How do they continue to press on? Have you ever wondered? They understand that this is what it takes. That’s how they do it. They ask themselves: “Do I want it badly enough?” That is a kind of reframe of the circumstances.

In other words, instead of “poor me, I suffer so,” it’s more like, “everybody wants to be an actor, but I’m willing to work harder and suffer more than my competition if that’s what it takes to make it.”

The movie, As Good As It Gets, had lots of great lines, but one in particular I’ve used many times on myself. Melvin (Jack Nicholson) is thinking about going to visit Carol (Helen Hunt) and tell her how he feels about her, but he is very nervous. He really wants to go, but he’s scared.

He’s talking to Simon (Greg Kinnear). Simon says to Melvin (giving him a pep-talk): “You can do this, Melvin! You can do this.”

Melvin says, “She might kill me if I go over there.”

Simon’s comeback is a classic. “Well, then get in your jammies and I’ll tell you a story!”

I’ve said that line to myself when I was thinking about avoiding some suffering (inconvenience, effort, privation, anxiety, embarrassment, rejection, or hardship) for the sake of an important goal.

The line kind of reframes the “problem” doesn’t it? It actually frames it as a challenge — do you want it or not?

For Melvin, who really loved Carol, the question was, “Do you really want her? And if you don’t want her, if you’d rather play it safe and live without her, if you’d rather live out your life always wondering what might have happened if you had mustered a little more courage, then get in your jammies and I’ll read you a story!”

The unsaid part is: “But if you’re willing to risk being embarrassed or rejected, if you’re willing to suffer to get what you want, then get moving!”

That’s a great reframe. You will get a lot farther in this life and toward your goal if you would simply be willing to suffer — to see the suffering as legitimate and worthy and necessary to get what you want.

I know a woman who wanted to get a job in the accounting department of a large firm — a job she had education and experience in. She sent out 11 resumes and heard nothing back. She gave up on the idea and kept doing what she was doing — something she doesn’t like (selling computers).

She was hurt by the lack of interest. She thought she had something to offer these firms. The way she put it was “I was under the delusion I was desirable.” The lack of response told her otherwise, or so she thought.

And sure, one way to interpret the lack of response is to think, “I’m not as desirable as I thought.” But what’s another way? What’s an alternative explanation for this setback? How would you reframe it? I’m sure you can think of hundreds if I gave you enough time — hundreds of other ways to frame this event that are all more or less plausible.

We’re not talking about facts here. She doesn’t know the facts. She doesn’t know why there was a lack of response. So her interpretation of it has to be based on something else besides accuracy.

Because she doesn’t really know, her interpretation should be based on what will serve her. The first explanation she made — the one that popped into her head and she felt stuck with — doesn’t serve her. Thinking she is undesirable makes her want to crawl back into her shell and never venture out again. The interpretation doesn't help her get what she wants.

One of the traps of negative emotions is they make you narrow and uncreative. In a better mood, she would see there are other possible explanations. But the explanation she came up with first was so depressing, she was unable (without the knowledge you now have) to think of something else.

As you can see, she needed a reframe. She needed to see the same event in a different frame, a frame that would help her, that would prevent her from feeling bad, that would motivate her to strive for her goal. In this case, she wanted a better job in a field she liked.

I came up with a few ideas off the top of my head. She could look at her rejection in any of the following ways and she would have more motivation to pursue her goal, more energy, and more creativity and power, and she would feel better. The lack of interest from those companies might have been because:

1. Her resume needs to be improved. This explanation could motivate her to learn more about resumes, or hire a resume consultant, or just spend a few weeks making it as good as she could.

2. She didn’t show up in person. This reframe would encourage her to show up in person and at least find out if that makes a difference.

3. They already get hundreds of resumes every week. They don’t even bother looking at one until an applicant shows up at least three times — this weeds out the ones with only a weak desire. This interpretation would motivate her to try much harder, to remain determined and to keep trying. Her first response, her natural, automatic response only made her want to give up.

4. Maybe she doesn’t really want to be an accountant. Maybe her heart isn’t in it, and this was a lucky coincidence that she didn’t get any interest from these companies. This would motivate her to give it some thought. Is she sure this is what she wants to do? And if she gave it some thought and decided the answer was yes, she would feel more motivated because she clarified her goal. If she found out she really doesn’t want to do it, she would be free to find something she really wants to do.

5. Maybe the lack of interest is only because of the season. Maybe at this time of year, they don’t hire new people. This would motivate her to find out when is the best time to apply, and while she’s at it, she could try to find out what is the best way to apply.

I could go on and on, coming up with reframes. Any of these and any of hundreds more would be useful interpretations to make, and would motivate further action. And any of them are better than the demoralizing point of view that came naturally to her.

As it turns out, the real explanation was: Large corporations move slowly. Shortly after our conversation, she got two calls back, long after she had already given up. She had only worked in small firms before, but her recent resumes were only sent to large corporations. She didn’t realize they moved so much slower.

Many people, of course, don’t even get as far as she did — they’re too afraid of feeling that kind of rejection so they wouldn’t even send out the resume. The good news is, you’re probably not one of them. The bad news is: That means you’re going to have to deal with rejection. Depending on what you want to do, you might have to deal with quite a lot of it. The way you reframe it will make a huge difference in how you feel and in how successful you will be eventually.

Writers, for example, typically experience lots of rejection. The manuscript for the book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values, was rejected by over 120 publishers. That was in 1974. It is still selling well. Even today, 34 years later, its Amazon sales rank is 1,180th — out of four million.

When Dr. Seuss was in high school, his art teacher told him, “You will never learn to draw.” In college, his fraternity voted him Least Likely To Succeed. His first manuscript, And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street, was rejected by 27 publishers before it was accepted.

Danielle Steel has over 550 million books in print and she was in the Guinness Book Of World Records for having eleven consecutive books on the New York Times bestseller list. But the first five novels she wrote were turned down and have never been published!

Clearly, each of these authors found a way to reframe rejection in a way that didn’t destroy their motivation to persist.

The ability to reframe has served me well. For example, when I first started giving public speeches, I began at service groups like Rotary Clubs and Kiwanis, and I was basically their 20 minutes of entertainment, and that’s how the audiences took it. I didn’t like that. I wanted them to listen intently and take it seriously. When they listened so casually, it was disheartening to me.

But I reframed the situation. I decided I would make them get how important this was. I came up with a lot of different reframes, but this particular reframe appealed to me the most.

At the time, my speeches were about the Antivirus for the Mind. I had seen it do great things for people and it had made a huge difference to me personally, and I would be damned if I would let those people walk out of the meeting unmoved by it. I was determined to speak in such a way that they would get it.

Whenever I felt downhearted or discouraged or nervous about an upcoming speech, I would say to myself with feeling, “I will make them get how important this is.” And I said it to myself many times while I was speaking.

And I did get them to listen. I sometimes even yelled at them! I was impassioned and determined to get through to them, and they sat up and took notice. People would come up to me afterwards to tell me how much it meant to them.

I’ve used reframes in so many ways. For example, I sometimes run into people (or hear from them online) who are against my work, who feel that self-help stuff in general is nonsense, and that people are genetically predestined to be as happy or optimistic or depressed as they are, and it gives people “false hope” to tell them otherwise. Trying to help people become happier or more successful, they imply, is all just a big scam.

This used to feel demoralizing. My natural, automatic “frame” was: “I’m not appreciated.” Or sometimes I thought, “There is just too much negativity in the world.” And I felt negative feelings.

But I reframed it. “This is a noble struggle,” I would say to myself, “People are suffering and feeling unnecessary negative emotions, and I know some things that can help them.”

In my more dramatic moments, I would frame it more like this: “The forces of Darkness are enveloping the world and I am fighting the good fight. I’m fighting for the cause of sanity and health and happiness.”

Part of my way of reframing my mission is to think about the women who fought for the power to vote in America. Lots of people were violently against them in their struggle. It took more than seventy years of hard fighting to win the vote. It seems hard to believe now. It seems so self-evident that women should be allowed to vote! But it was hard going and people were against them.

And yet, isn’t that what made their struggle noble? That it wasn’t the popular thing but that it was right?

Happiness and optimism may not be popular but they are right and good and have positive, healthy, sanity-producing side-effects, not just for the person who is feeling better and getting more done, but for other people in their lives — children, spouse, friends and family, people they work with — everybody is influencing everybody else, and someone who thinks better, who makes strong, healthy reframes on unexpected, unfortunate events helps others see things more sanely just by example.

Anyway, because I know all this, I am able to reframe negative responses to “self-help” and accusations of giving “false hope.”

Whatever you have that brings you down, try to see it in a different light. Try to reframe it in a way that gives you strength, that boosts your fighting spirit, that makes you want to persist, and that helps you feel motivated and determined to accomplish your goals.

Read next: The Classic Reframe: It's a Learning Experience.

Go back to the beginning of the series: A Way of Looking

This article is excerpted from the book, Viewfinder: How to Change the Way You Look at Things. Read more about it here.

Author: Adam Khan
author of the books, Self-Help Stuff That Works and Antivirus For Your Mind
and creator of the blog:
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