Reframing is a technique used in therapy to help create a different way of looking at a situation, person, or relationship by changing its meaning. Also referred to as cognitive reframing, it’s a strategy therapists often used to help clients look at situations from a slightly different perspective.
The essential idea behind reframing is that a person’s point-of-view depends on the frame it is viewed in. When the frame is shifted, the meaning changes and thinking and behavior often change along with it.
Reframing is a way of changing the way you look at something and, thus, changing your experience of it. It can turn a stressful event into either a major trauma or a challenge to be bravely overcome.
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If we can reframe the way in which we think about things that have happened to us, how much can we manipulate our own brains?
The narrative you tell yourself about yourself is the operating system that gets you through life. It’s the track that keeps playing inside your head, telling you to go this way and that way. It is what navigates you through life.
Your brain travels with you all day long. Within your brain is a library of life long learning and all of the history about yourself. This history is your memories. These memories are the stories of what happened to you in the past and although they may feel real as you recall them, they are not necessarily accurate depictions of what truly happened.
In the past ten years neuroscience has discovered that these memories that you have actually change every time you think about them. Every time you pull up a memory it changes as you share it in the present moment. The memory becomes new with the emotions and situation that you are feeling in the present moment. The very act of remembering can change your memories and reform your story of the past.
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Simulating the Future
Now your brain does another thing that is very important to your survival. The brain is here to simulate, adjust and constantly change to help us have better versions of our lives. With this in mind your brain tries to predict the future. This is what dreams and decisions do. This is their role. When you are dreaming and when you are thinking your brain tries to simulate the future and make predictions about what will happen next.
Memories In The Present Moment
And here you are in the moment. This sliver of time called the present moment. Here is where you control everything. What you eat, do, say, see and feel. How you interact with the world. The great thing about being in the present moment is that you interact with everything around you and you can change things about yourself and your life right here in the present.
How Your Memories Work with Your Present Moment
When you are in the present moment and you begin to think about a past memory your memory becomes modified by the moment. It changes as you recall it and you actually have a new version of that memory. A memory that is not what really happened, but a newer version of what happened.
These malleable memories are a significant discovery because it means we can actually change our memories and in turn change our past and ultimately change the story we tell ourselves about ourselves.
We have the power to change what happened in the past to empower us to move forward. We do this when we give our memories new meaning. We can manipulate the story about that memory to make us move forward in a new way by changing the meaning and significance of what happened to us.
To realize that you have the choice to reinvent the memories that you have to make you stronger is truly enlightening and empowering. You can change the experience of everything including the meaning you give it and this in turn changes your version of your current story and ultimately reality.
The end result is that we control the stories that we have about ourselves and realize that we don’t have to be controlled by the experiences we had. It is immensely freeing.
We can actually make ourselves happy, we can make bad things look better. It is all done by virtue of telling ourselves a different story. Looking at the memory differently and saving it back in our brain as a new memory. We have this ability to change the story every single time we think about it.
The Outcome – A Completely Different Version of Our Reality.
Combine this action of making new memories from the past with more empowering thoughts and messages and a devotion to continual learning about ourselves and we begin to push ourselves to have new experiences. All of this activity creates a completely different life.
The story you tell yourself, the narrative you listen to in your mind, might be a story of suffering and inadequacy, a story of not being good enough, about failing. This depressing story will literally become your story and your identity.
An Example of Reframing My Memory of Failure to Empower Me
My parents were never impressed with any grade less than a A+. Not even an A. So I struggled with trying to get A+s on all of my tests, but sometimes I just couldn’t. Physics did not come easy to me. Algebra and geometry were terrifying. I loved biology but hated chemistry. This made me a C+ to B- student. I was average. I didn’t want to be average, I wanted to be smart. I wanted to be A+ but it didn’t feel possible. I loved school. I really enjoyed going to class, working with others and learning, but retaining anything was very challenging, so taking tests was extremely difficult. I was in a slow reading class for most of my life. My SAT scores were below 1,000 combined. I was discouraged. I knew I would never get into my dream college or be considered someone who was going to contribute big ideas that would effect the world. My self-confidence was extremely low and I was disheartened. This set me on a path of struggle for much of my life.
Now 40 years later, I no longer see myself as average. The story I know to be true about myself is much different now. I know now that I love learning and I am a life longer learner. I wake up early to read and learn something new every single day and then I write about it, especially if I am deeply interested in the subject matter. I changed the story I was telling myself because after applying myself I realized that I am eager to learn. I am curious and I ask a remarkable amount of questions. I learn faster than most people and I love learning about everything, especially advancements in science. I no longer see myself as a C student, as a person with average intelligence. No, I see myself as someone who is smarter than many people, ahead of the pack, current on advancements in technology and incredibly creative at combining ideas to formulate new ones. Now, this new story is setting me on a path to success and yes this to is a new story for me. You see, I get to decide what all of this learning means to me and how it will help me forge my dreams.
I changed my story when I made the decision to tease out the memory of my love for learning and leave everything else behind. My parents are no longer able to judge my grades and the only person I have to report to is me. This changes everything about how I see my intelligence. My new story is completely different than when I was a teenager in senior year trying to apply to universities that wanted nothing to do with me.
I have always told my daughters that they can do anything they set their minds to and now I am amazed as I learn that neuroscience is confirming that this is absolutely true. This is what excites me and I am set on fire with the idea.
Remember, you have the power to change the stories you tell yourself so that you can achieve more of what you want.
The challenge gets greater when you begin to tell yourself even bigger stories about who you are and where you are going.
Moran Cerf is a neuroscientist and business professor at the Kellogg School of Management and the neuroscience program at Northwestern university. Dr. Cerf is also a member of the institute on complex systems.
Tom Bilyeu is the host and creator of Impact Theory Hosted by Tom Bilyeu, which explores the mindsets of the world’s highest achievers to learn their secrets of success.