When we’re stuck it can be helpful to find a different perspective, see ourselves or our challenge from a different angle. It’s called reframing, and in Dave Gray’s excellent book Liminal Thinking he points us to this tool at thnk.org. (Yes, it’s missing the vowel. Maybe some team-spirited person said “There’s no I in think!” and it stuck.)
You don’t have to think hard to use the tool. It’s mostly a mechanical process, which helps keep emotional Resistance out of the way.
Here’s how it works.
Overtly Challenge Your Assumptions
Now the trick: you write the opposite of each statement.
I call it a trick because you’re not asked to understand, believe, trust, or otherwise engage with these opposites. Just write them.
Based on those opposites, you write a final statement reframing your original statement differently: as an opposite.
Nonsense. Piffle. Balderdash. Tomfoolery.
You’d think, eh? Not so.
I’ve said before that reality doesn’t exist out there, it exists in our minds. The physical mechanical act of writing those sentences changes your brain’s perspective.
Don’t believe me? I don’t blame you. I don’t believe me either.
Get Out of the Kitchen
I can’t stand the heat. For family reasons, we moved from northern Wisconsin’s glorious invigorating 6-month winters to southern Arizona’s perpetual blistering blazing boiling summers. Last summer, I was miserable in a way you’d have a hard time imagining if I wasn’t a skilled writer capable of composing that last sentence.
This summer, determined to Do Something About It, I used the Reframe tool.
Here are my initial statement and supporting beliefs:
Here, the opposites:
And a text summary:
Toward the end of the text summary is the secret.
We Choose What We Believe
Yes, another thing that doesn’t feel true, but it is. We think our beliefs are simply the factual conclusions we’ve drawn from the reality around us. If you’d like to challenge that misconception, read the aforementioned Liminal Thinking and Kathryn Schulz’s Being Wrong. Between them they upset my apple cart a skosh. Not that I’ve fundamentally changed what I believe, but they convinced me of the difference between what we know and what we believe and why both have value.
When I finished using the tool, I thought the resulting statements were ridiculous. I put it aside for later when I’d have more time to either studiously ignore it, or actively ridicule it.
In the past month, with days reaching 118º yes one-hundred-eighteen degrees I have been far less unhappy about the heat. Sure, we live indoors, using air conditioning like it was cheap (because comparing Phoenix to Sacramento it is; we’re paying 40% of what it used to cost us in Sacramento 7 years ago.)
Still, my attitude about the heat changed. And with it, some behaviors.
What Really Changed
Up north, you do everything midafternoon when it’s warm and sunny. When we moved south, I never changed that habit.
Shopping at 3pm in Phoenix is stupid. Because I already knew I hated the heat, I did what I did and hated it even more.
Did you know you can go shopping at 6am? Or 9pm?
The tiniest openness to new beliefs about the heat opened a crack into my psyche which turned into new actions, greater awareness, and less angst and whining.
You’ve heard it; you’ve said it: focus on what you can control, not what you can’t.
This tool was the catalyst for new thinking that’s making my life measurably more comfortable, physically and emotionally.
You Thought This Was a Writing Blog
Use the Reframe tool about your greatest writing challenge.
Come back here and share the text summary in the comments. Not later, when you see whether or not it works. As soon as you’re done.
Then come back in a month [I’ll post a reminder] and tell us what happened.
I’ll be doing the same thing in the AntiResistance forum. If you’d like to see my angst on full display, join me there. (Forum members, here’s that post: http://somedaybox.com/forum/general/reframing-a-writing-challenge/.)
From the same article:
“Structuring your life is a skill. People who do the same activity, like running or meditating, at the same time each day have an easier time accomplishing their goals, he says — not because of their willpower, but because the routine makes it easier.”
Willpower gets used up and simply cannot be used until it is replenished.
Habits, once established, require no willpower.
I’m planning more articles on developing the writing habit. In the meantime here are some I’ve already written:
- This post includes a list of books I highly recommend for understanding and building habits.
- Expand your scope. An orderly life benefits your art.
- A simple, nearly unfailable procedure I’ve created for building a writing habit (and not, as many folks do, building the habit of not writing.)
This is an area where knowing your specific struggles will help be research the best advice to share.
Where do you struggle to create the habit of writing?
Humans share a handful of fundamental fears. The psychology of fear is complex enough that searching the internet for “fundamental human fears” will provide a million websites by a hundred thousand experts sharing a thousand lists of the true absolute definitive fundamental human fears.
- fear of rejection
- fear of shame
- fear of loss of control (sending our creative work out into the world to be eaten alive by critics, for instance)
You have these fears. No matter how well-adjusted you are, no matter your support network, self-esteem, accomplishments, social status, level of confidence, or anything else, you have these fears.
And just as you can’t choose not to feel the pain when you stub your toe or get punched in the head, you can’t simply choose not to feel the pain of rejection, shame, or loss of control.
Because they’re the same pain.
Let’s ask a UCLA professor of social psychology to weigh in, eh?
We chatted for an hour about brownies. I would make a big batch and bring them to the gig.
At some point I got out of bed, still on the phone, opened the door, and walked through the next room toward the kitchen.
He was sitting, no clothes at all, on the bed by the window, sunrise streaming across the white sheets. He stopped talking as I walked through, but he didn’t look at me.
Before I got to the kitchen I woke up.
Some people can’t move on because they’re stuck
because they can’t move on
because they’re stuck
like this clown, who thinks it’s her fault.
I wrote the chorus to this as a straight country mandolin song and just couldn’t find this guy’s story. Somehow, realizing it could be gypsy jazz led me to his cluelessness and the story.
It was too easy.
The intense moment of exhilaration passed, leading to saner thoughts. Reason, not emotion.
Perhaps I had only delayed their meeting, not prevented it altogether. Return to 2019 and see what family history said? Certainly, but if you’re already at the store you don’t go home to see if there’s something else on your shopping list.
He had seen me. She had not.
Rushing through the crowd as rudely as I’d pretended to be to my grandfather, I saw her. May as well follow her to be sure.
Up East Lane toward Main she moved in and out of sight, the crowds from the train station being thicker here. The crowds dispersed at Main Street, walking east or west or climbing into carriages or sparkling automobiles. Once we crossed Main Street she and I were virtually alone. She turned left on Oak Lane, as I’d assumed she would.
Before we got to the grand Victorian at the corner of Oak and Third, she stopped, whirled, and came back my direction. Since she had no reason to know who I was, I simply continued walking, and made as if to pass her, tipping my grubby cap as she approached.
“Why are you following me?” Her voice was loud in the empty street.
I tried to step past, tried to remain calm. This was not what I’d expected.
“Why should I follow you, madame? I’m simply enjoying the sunshine and fresh air, and we happened to be going the same direction. I apologize if I startled you.”
I took another step. She blocked my way.
“You were at the station. I saw you accost that man. Now you’re following me. I ask again, why?”
Time for action, not words. I tried to step around her but she grabbed my arm. I put my hand on her wrist, trying to gently pull it from my own, but her grip was stronger than I’d expected.
“Take your hands off her, you thug.”
Surprised, I let go and turned to face the speaker, whose voice I recognized, of course. My grandmother covered her mouth with her free hand. A tiny squeal escaped past her fingers.
My grandfather, for the second time that day, punched me square in the face. This time it was hard enough to knock me down, bloodying my face. By the time I got up and cleared my vision, they were gone.
So that’s how you want to play it, eh, Time? I accept the challenge.
I set out to prevent my grandparents’ marriage, even if it killed me.
It was reckless, but I had nothing left to lose, and if I was right, everything to gain.
As he stepped off the train, I accosted him, rudely.
“You’ve trodden on my shoe, sir.”
He stepped back, knowing well he’d done no such thing.
“I’m most sorry sir.”
As he made to pass by, I stepped in front of him.
“It was freshly polished.”
I’d moved from inconvenience to annoyance, meaning, he took notice of me as a person, not only a noise in his way. Looking down, he could tell my shoes hadn’t been polished in a very long time.
“That is difficult to believe, sir. Let me pass.”
“You’ll pay the tuppence to have them shined again.”
“Tuppence? If you paid a ha’penny for that shine you were diddled. I, on the other hand, will not be.”
“Pay, sir. Or shall I call a constable?”
“Step aside. Let me pass. I have business to attend to, fool.”
Of course, I didn’t step aside, and of course, he drew back his fist and hit me, hard, in the face.
I knew my grandfather’s temper. I knew my grandmother’s eventual abhorrence of it. I knew that if she saw it, from just over there where she awaited her prospective (but not anymore) husband, she would leave the station and never look back, as she’d always told me after his unmourned death.
What I didn’t know, when I shifted painfully through the ether of time from early 2019 to the date of their meeting in 1937, was whether preventing their meeting would, in fact, alter my physical existence as one of their progeny.
As I said, nothing to lose.
But now, knowing what I know, everything to gain.
Just spent a frustrating hour on the phone with AT&T. Normally, they’re just fine. We’ve had our cell service through them for years, and everything has been simple and obvious and working.
Sunday, I called to order a new line and a new iPhone. They let me choose a new number I liked.
It was easy; too easy . . .
My column on why I’m losing weight struck an unpleasant chord with some folks when I first published it. It’s common to hear stories of people trying unsuccessfully, sometimes for years, to lose weight.
Another angle on the same issue: When your income gets an unexpected and temporary boost, through a bonus at work or a project you hadn’t expected, do you bank the money, or reward yourself with a new toy or dinner out?
We experience it every single day of our lives: even though we know what’s good for us, day after day we do what’s fun, what’s easy, instead of what’s healthy and rational and good for our future self.
Do you ever stop to wonder why?
Engaging in what might euphemistically be called a “lively” conversation often gets the better of me. Someone makes a statement I find patently ridiculous, and I feel the need to educate them.
As I’m writing, I can already envision their response, to which I’m already formulating my rebuttal.
My what? So, I’m already assuming they’re going to argue with me? Well, if that’s my attitude, it’s no wonder what I wrote garners an angry response.
We all have ’em, the voices in our head that tell us we’re not good enough, whatever words they use to say it. We’d all love to silence the voices.
But there’s still hope.
Continue reading “Don’t Silence the Voice in Your Head, Replace It”
Your brain is a battlefield. Two warring forces wage a constant struggle for dominance.
Okay, they’re more like a couple teenagers fighting over who gets the window seat on a long drive. Chances are, you keep giving the same kid the window seat.
And putting the other kid in the trunk.
We all know the cliché: “You don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression.” Opinions formed during the first moments of a relationship are usually long-lasting. This leads to all sorts of social manipulation to make a good impression: dressing your best, smiling a lot, leaning forward in your chair, all that stuff the job-hunting websites write about.
Recent science teaches us that’s less effective than the advice your mom always used to give you: “Just relax and be yourself!”
Why do first impressions matter? Do we have any control over them?