Reframing Exercise I: Turning Lemons into Lemonade

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Here is a simple set of exercises to help you decrease your internal stress load by reframing.

1) Write down negative self-talk: For two days pay attention to your self-talk (the things you say to yourself but do not speak out loud). Notice, in particular, the negative messages you give to your self and the things you tell yourself when you are upset. Jot these things down in a single column on a piece of paper. It is easier to keep track if you carry a little notebook with you. For example, Jane ate three doughnuts for breakfast and then thought of herself as fat and ugly with no willpower, so she wrote down:

bulletno will power

2) Scoring: After the two days, sit down with your list and add up how many negative messages you gave yourself. This will give you an idea of how much energy you are putting into making yourself feel bad. Anything over 2 or 3 a day is wearing a negative groove in your mind. Then count how many times you gave yourself a particular message (for example, Jane told herself she is fat 10 times) and mark that total beside each message. Using those totals, rank your messages from most frequent to least frequent. This will give you a clearer idea of what you feel the most stressed about. In our example, Jane was in a difficult relationship with food and her self-image.

3) Discovering what you want: Across from the negative message, write itís opposite in positive terms. For example, Jane wrote slim next to fat, beautiful next to ugly and strong will power next to no will power. Now look at the top 5 messages in your positive list and think about what would be different about your life if all, or most, of the things in this positive list were true. This will help you to understand what it is that you want in your life that you currently do not feel you have.

For example, when Jane thought about being slim, beautiful and having lots of will power, she realized it would make her feel more in control of her own life (more powerful), respected by other people and more lovable. What she really wanted was empowerment, respect and love but she had been focusing instead on her appearance and eating habits. In a way this gave her some sense of control in her life because these were more tangible things to deal with. Now write down what your lists reveal that you really want in your life that you currently do not have.

4) Reframing: The next step is to look at how you can reframe the troublesome areas of your life so that they can start giving you what you want, instead of what you do not want. For example, after writing down what she wanted, Jane decided that the best place to start was to find a way to get respect and love through her relationship with food. This was the most difficult and frustrating area of her life at the moment. She began to see that her body was like a child depending on her care, rather than an out of control tyrant. When she felt cravings for fattening, unhealthy foods she recognized that her body was sending her a signal that she should listen to, just as she would respond to a child crying.

5) Act according to your reframed perception: Once you have reframed that difficult situation, begin interpreting everything that happens in that situation according to your new positive framework and then act accordingly. In the example of Jane, instead of trying to either suppress or give in to her cravings, she used cravings as opportunities to discover what she needed at that moment so she could take the appropriate action. She may have needed food, or she may have needed exercise, or rest, or a deep breath, or to speak her mind at home or work.

By using food cravings as an aid rather than an obstacle to getting what she wanted, Jane found her relationship with food improved tremendously. She began by reframing her perception of her body from tyrant to dependent child and transformed her eating habits into an opportunity to learn how to give herself what she really wanted rather than a reason for not getting what she wanted. By treating her body with love and respect she ended up empowered to find the things she wanted in other areas of her life as well. Reframing shifts your focus from the wall to the doorway.

Changing Habits takes much repetition: Habits become automatic - routines that take hold over time, without our realizing it. So, bringing them into awareness is a crucial step toward changing. As we pay more attention, many situations become cues that stimulate us to break old habits and try new responses instead. The more we mentally prepare for a task the more we activate a part of the brain that performs executive functions and moves tem into action (the prefrontal cortex). Without preparation, the prefrontal cortex does not activate in advance. Thus the greater the prior activation, the better we do at the task. Such mental rehearsal is important for overcoming old habits and replacing them with a better way.

The prefrontal cortext becomes particularly active when we have to prepare to overcome a habitual response.  Old responses don't just magically disappear. It takes commitment and constant reminders to stay focused on undoing those habits. Over time, the need for reminders will diminish as the new behavior becomes a stronger pathway in the brain.

Click here to Explore Your Belief Systems

Click here for the Six-Step Change Model for changing your thoughts and increasing your happiness

Click here for the ABC Change Model for learning optimism

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