We view the world through frames: our mind needs classes and categories to think, to represent information, and to make decisions. Whenever you think, you use frames of reference to quickly make sense of the world. We use so many frames, and so often, that we don’t even notice them the majority of the time; they are invisible, but their very invisibility is their power. If we have preconceived notions of how a situation will unfold, or how a person will act, then that will dictate our reactions.
For instance, you give your friends a “Friend” frame, and your manager a “Manager” frame. Each of these frames comes with expectations of the other person’s behaviour – For instance, you would expect a friend to make plans with you to go camping for a weekend, but you would react very differently if your manager asked for the exact same thing.
Framing is a critical part of our mental map of the world, but it can also be a pitfall. By framing, we create roles, but those same roles can make us jump to conclusions without considering other meanings outside of that role. At the Morpheus Clinic for Hypnosis, we work with our clients to change their unconscious “frames” that are creating problems in their lives. By reframing, we don’t change what happened, but instead, our reaction to what happened. As Shakespeare said: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Today, let’s go through some reframing, from the perspective of a fictional, but typical, client at our office.
Let’s introduce our client: Charles, a man in his mid 40s, has been moderately overweight since he was a child. Now that his own children are reaching school age, he is trying to improve his own eating and fitness habits, to help his children carry on healthier habits as they age. When setting up his sessions, he mentions that he tried to lose weight in the past, but he feels “He’s meant to be overweight forever, like his parents and sibling.”. We will be going through 5 powerful reframes to address his goal.
Our first step is identifying Charles’ frames about himself that may be creating problems in his weight loss. There are two parts to every believe or frame: The external behaviour, which leads to an internal state. In his case, his external behaviour is “I have been overweight since I was a child.”. It is simply something that has happened, it is not inherently good or bad. The internal state is the message the client has taken from their experiences, in this case: “I believe I will be overweight forever.”. His frame of “I will be overweight forever” isn’t conductive to losing weight, so, during his sessions at the Morpheus Clinic for Hypnosis, we would work with him to reframe his model of the world into one where he feels he can lose weight.
Attitude is important in reframing. We’re challenging people’s beliefs, and their mental model of the world, which can be challenging! It is important to keep a friendly attitude, and look at this as a chance to explore new models of the world. Let’s go over a few patterns used in hypnosis to break down negative beliefs, and create a more forgiving frame.
For our first reframe, let’s detail the strategy. With Charles, we break down the fixed belief into a step-by-step process that goes inside the client’s mind. In this case: If you are always going to be overweight, what are the steps to staying like that? If you tracked your food intake and made sure you were eating fewer calories than you were taking in, would you still stay overweight? How can you be sure that you will always be overweight? Always is a long time, a lot can happen. By detailing his “strategy” to always be overweight, we break the internal state in his mind by pointing out that there is no real way to guarantee that he will always be that way, even if he planned for it.
Another powerful way to reframe an issue is to challenge the belief by using the client’s higher values. In this case, although Charles is overweight, he does not want to continue to be. We can use his higher value (in this case, wanting to improve his quality of life.) to help break the negative frame. To do this, we may want to talk about how much better his life would be if he was physically fit. If he wants to feel good, how much better will he be feeling if he chooses fresher meals, and truly appreciates the food, instead of just eating for the sake of it. Every aspect of his life would be improved if he felt healthier and fitter, so why not believe that he can?
The way we view the world is tied into our own identities. To a certain extent, Charles self-identifies as “an overweight person”, and has incorporated that idea into their sense of self. If we challenge his belief, we need to provide a different idea that he can identify with. Instead of that identity, is there another, more positive way of thinking about himself? Instead of a person who is doomed to always be overweight, could he also identify as an adult who is now in control of their life, and now has the opportunity to decide a new lifestyle for himself.
Lifestyle, like we discussed in the last reframe, is important to a person’s self identity. We can use that to help reframe weight loss, since that is just one small aspect of Charles’ lifestyle, his personal “ecology”. Instead of focusing on the negative, we can focus on all the things in his life that will be better after he has lost weight. He’ll be able to go out and play more with his children, he’ll be able to eat healthier, tastier foods. He’ll feel better at work since he is more comfortable with his weight, and clothing will fit him better. What’s not to like about that?
A final way to reframe an issue is to look at the final outcome, the outcome of outcomes. In Charles case, he believes he will “always be overweight”. Let’s take that to the extreme. If he continues to keep his current weight, how much more damage will he deal to his body? How could he have a good retirement, if he’s not in good health? If he can’t do everything he wants to do with his children now, imagine how much less he will be able to do with his grandchildren.
Reframing is a powerful technique to create an environment in which someone can come up with better solutions for themselves. Belief is a choice, not an automatic behaviour, but without specifically trying to identify the deeper impact of the belief it can be hard to change. Reframing brings the belief to the forefront and allows the person to really inspect it. You can try reframing yourself: pick a goal you would like to achieve, and try to write down and concerns you may have about achieving that goal. Beside these concerns, try writing at least one other way of thinking about that concern that may be a more positive, or motivational way of framing your goal. By consciously deciding to frame things in a more positive light, we gain more control of how we react to the world.